Lewis Hamilton has ended the opening practice session of the Singapore Grand Prix fastest for Mercedes, after a busy start to the weekend for the Formula 1 paddock. The 2008 World Champion was followed by the Red Bull duo of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel in 2nd and 3rd, with team-mate Nico Rosberg a distant 4th.
After Sebastian Vettel’s dominant drive to victory at the Italian Grand Prix last time out, the Formula 1 circus reconvened for the first of seven flyaway races around the illuminated streets of Singapore. The opening practice session began under slightly overcast conditions, with the sun beginning to set over the glorious Singapore skyline. The Marussia duo of Max Chilton and Jules Bianchi became the first two drivers to take to the iconic street circuit, as the opening session of the weekend began.
The Banbury-based duo were quickly joined by many other drivers out on track, as the usual installation laps ensued up and down the paddock. After a flurry of track action, the street circuit fell eerily silent as all of the drivers returned to the confines of the pit-lane. After several minutes of no track action, Sergio Perez finally shattered the silence as he returned to the track for McLaren. The Mexican sensation was quickly followed by the Caterham duo of Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde, as Perez produced the first timed lap of the weekend with a 01:53.245.
As more drivers quickly returned to the Marina Bay Street Circuit, Sergio Perez continued to improve for McLaren as Giedo van der Garde lightly tapped the barrier during the final sector but luckily escaped unscathed. Sergio Perez eventually worked his way down to a 01:50.103, before Pastor Maldonado rose to the top for Williams with a 01:49.827. Williams continued to produce competitive lap times, as Finnish rookie Valtteri Bottas soon thwarted his team-mate with a 01:49.510. However, the Grove-based outfit’s reign was eventually brought to a conclusion, when Red Bull star Mark Webber managed to produce a 01:48.865.
Despite a slow start to proceedings, the times at the top quickly began to tumble as the likes of Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso finally took to the Marina Bay Street Circuit to begin their preparations for the weekend ahead. Nico Rosberg momentarily rose to the top for Mercedes, before Mark Webber quickly reasserted his authority at the top with a 01: 48.365. Lewis Hamilton soon managed to rise to the top for Mercedes, with the 2008 World Champion completing a 01:47.872. Despite the improving times, Mark Webber continued to return to the top for the reigning Champions, with the 37-year-old producing a 01:47.699.
As the opening session of the weekend progressed, the Australian sensation managed to improve at the top once again, before Lewis Hamilton immediately lowered the benchmark even further with a highly competitive 01:47.055. With only 20 minutes of the session remaining and the illuminated circuit becoming more predominant as the last of the sunlight faded, many drivers began pushing to the limit as they continued with their preparations for the weekend ahead. Sergio Perez ran straight on at Turn 7 and was forced to complete a half-spin to return to the action, as Pastor Maldonado ran wide at Turn 2.
Lewis Hamilton remained fastest as the session drew to a conclusion, with the top three remaining unchanged with Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel a close 2nd and 3rd for Red Bull. Kimi Raikkonen was one of many drivers who continued to make errors as the session drew to a close, as the Finn spun at Turn 13 and Giedo van der Garde once again tapped the barrier but without damage. Lewis Hamilton will unquestionably be looking for a return to his winning ways this weekend around the Marina Bay Street Circuit, in a bid to somehow reel in the rampant Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel.
TRACKSIDE IN SINGAPORE – Trent Price
Trouble for di Resta
Rear-end issues plagued Paul d Resta thoughout Free Practice One, with the Scot snatching the rear brakes on coners nine, twelve, thirteen, eighteen, nineteen and twenty. In short – too many to mention. Problems on down-shift exacerbated the issue, although di Resta also frequently rode the kerbs on entry, pointing to a potential problem on turn-in.
Webber finds form
Unlike di Resta, Mark Webber appears to have gotten his head around the intricasies of the Marina Bay circuit early into the grand prix weekend. In our Thursday report, Mark detailed the issues that had prevented him from taking the top step in Singapore and by Friday’s evidence he appeared to have arrested the issue; slotting in a lap some four-tenths qucker than team-mate Vettel. Mark cited the succession of 90 degree right/left corners as a particular headache, however given his ability to blitz his rivals through the final Barcelona chicane, it was only a matter of time before the Aussie veteran found some form with consistent lap times.
Yes, only one session in, but for Alonso to be one second down on Hamilton could be a worrying sign given both drivers were on a similar number of laps. Fuel figures are sketchy at this stage but with Alonso pitting on lap seven, eleven and sixteen, one would not suspect he was running a heavy fuel load – usually reserved for Free Practice Two. As the closest man to Vettel (albiet by some 50-odd points), its doesn’t auger well for the lenghty championship battle many were hoping for, but then only a fool would right off Alonso…
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic and Richland F1.