Singapore Grand Prix: Friday Analysis

As the sun set in Singapore, Formula One took to the city streets and it was business as usual for an in form Red Bull team, as Sebastian Vettel posted the fastest time of the day – an impressive 1:44.249. The time set in the second session was a full 0.6 seconds faster than teammate Webber, who in turn, finished a further 0.5 seconds clear of Nico Rosberg in P3. Moreover, Vettel’s long run performance matched the grandeur of the short runs, as the German posted a long line of daunting times. The stint which Sebastian demonstrated suggested that Red Bull have the biggest advantage over the competition that they have had all season. Now, the question remains – can anyone challenge the Vettel and Red Bull dominance?

FP1

The only night race on the 2013 calender, yet FP1 commenced within the final minutes of daylight. However, all eyes were firmly on the latest redevelopments of the circuit, with notable changes making the headlines prior to this weekend. The notorious “Singapore Sling” or Turn 10 as it was officially known, has been significantly altered, with the tricky treble kerb being replaced by a sweeping left hander. This modification has been several years in the planning, as initial safety concerns regarding run-off area and the proceeding bridge have been inexplicably quelled. Other than the inclusion of a double layered tecpro barrier, it is difficult to spot any modifications which have made a previously prohibited change possible this year. 
Regardless, this adaptation as well as a number of re-profiled kerbs has seen a huge decrease in lap times, as Lewis Hamilton’s FP1 timesheet topping attempt was well over three seconds faster than Sebastian Vettel’s time last season. 
With the top teams looking to evaluate their latest upgrades and the middle to low tier teams trying to gain an understanding of the circuit while limiting mileage, it was a slow start to FP1, as Sergio Perez became the first driver to set a lap time, 30 minutes into the session. McLaren were one of the many teams who have failed to bring a final haul of upgrades to their 2013 car – hardly surprising considering their dire position in this season’s championship. As a result, both McLaren’s looked to be rooted within the midfield, as the technical circuit is likely to reflect the weaknesses with the car and their apparent grip deficiencies. 
While FP2 was a story of Red Bull control, FP1 was Mercedes’ time in the spotlight. Hamilton’s early pace suggests that the Silver Arrows may be able to compete for Pole Position once again, and with levels of degradation being reasonably low on the super-soft tyre, both Hamilton and Rosberg could experience successful Sunday’s. With a upgraded front wing featuring on the W04 this weekend, the team are still vieing for victories in 2013.
Meanwhile, FP1 for Red Bull was used as a development session, as both Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel trialled a redesigned rear wing, featuring new flap angles; similar in appearance to the Hungary specification wing. Flo-vis paint was the order of the day for the championship leaders in FP1, with Mark Webber finishing P2 and Sebastian Vettel P3.
Meanwhile, Lotus showed great promise, as both Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean displayed glimpses of speed. Raikkonen finished the first session in P5, while his teammate was just behind, despite losing an hour’s running due to an enforced steering change. However, it appears that despite a raft of tweaks to the F138, neither Fernando Alonso nor Felipe Massa are able to unlock pace from the car. Alonso languished in P7 while Felipe was only P12, following a skirmish with the wall on the exit of Turn 21. He will not be the only man to make contact with that particular concrete this weekend.

FP1 Timesheet
01 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:47.055 20 laps
02 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:47.420 +0.365 20 laps
03 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:47.885 +0.830 19 laps
04 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:48.239 +1.184 23 laps
05 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:48.354 +1.299 18 laps
06 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:48.355 +1.300 12 laps
07 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:48.362 +1.307 21 laps
08 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:49.267 +2.212 20 laps
09 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:49.348 +2.293 23 laps
10 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:49.355 +2.300 21 laps
11 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:49.481 +2.426 20 laps
12 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:49.493 +2.438 16 laps
13 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:49.510 +2.455 21 laps
14 Jenson Button McLaren 1:49.608 +2.553 20 laps
15 Paul di Resta Force India 1:49.887 +2.832 18 laps
16 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:50.092 +3.037 20 laps
17 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:50.222 +3.167 17 laps
18 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:50.757 +3.702 16 laps
19 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:52.359 +5.304 16 laps
20 Max Chilton Marussia 1:52.673 +5.618 15 laps
21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:52.920 +5.865 24 laps
22 Charles Pic Caterham 1:53.647 +6.592 23 laps

FP2

While Mercedes managed to edge Red Bull off of top spot in FP1, it was a different story in the second session of the day, as Sebastian Vettel demonstrated his strong position at the head of the pack. It was yet another one-two in FP2 for the team, as Mark Webber posted a time good enough for P2; 0.5 seconds clear of Nico Rosberg in P3. A daunting statistic, which shows that Red Bull are firmly in the driving seat this weekend. 
However, the timing screens only relay half of the story. Red Bull’s short run pace is to be admired – but their jaw dropping long run performance has stunned the field. Vettel posted times consistently 0.5 seconds faster than anyone, through a stint where tyre degradation on the Red Bull was at a premium. Sebastian however, downplayed his chances of a comfortable Saturday evening, as all top drivers do. Following FP2, the German stated: “The time we set was a surprise today, I got a good lap in, but I don’t think it’s completely representative. We seem to be quick, but I think Mercedes will be very strong in qualifying tomorrow.” 
In retrospect, Sebastian may be hinting at Hamilton’s fastest time; the Brit was undoubtedly hampered by traffic and could have matched or even bettered Mark Webber’s personal best. In reality, regardless of fuel load differences, a full second gap to Vettel would not have been overhauled and Mercedes will need to rediscover some pace in order to topple Vettel’s control. 
It was a bitter-sweet day for Romain Grosjean and Lotus. The Frenchman suffered a recurrence of the technical gremlins which restricted his FP1 running and was consequently halted after just 18 laps. However, when Romain was circulating, he was posting competitive times and was able to snatch P5 away from Alonso on the final timesheet. “We had a lot of problems today with the car which meant I didn’t complete many laps,” Grosjean acknowledged. “It wasn’t the ideal situation, but nevertheless the baseline we have here is pretty good. Hopefully we can get on top of the issues we had and have a strong car for qualifying as track position is pretty important here. Tyre degradation was better than we expected with the super soft performing well, so we’ll have to look closely at the data for the rest of the weekend.”
McLaren meanwhile, experienced a more promising FP2 compared to their lackluster first session. Jenson Button was able to post times similar to that of the Lotus and Ferrari, with some key setup changes between the two sessions proving pivotal. “This evening the car felt better, but it’s strange how much of a difference there seems to be between the tyres,” he said. “I found about 3.0s from my Prime run to my Option run.”
      

FP2 Timesheet  
01 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:44.249 34 laps
02 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:44.853 +0.604 30 laps
03 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:45.258 +1.009 34 laps
04 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:45.368 +1.119 33 laps
05 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:45.411 +1.162 18 laps
06 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:45.691 +1.442 32 laps
07 Jenson Button McLaren 1:45.754 +1.505 30 laps
08 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:45.778 +1.529 32 laps
09 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:46.002 +1.753 27 laps
10 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:46.025 +1.776 31 laps
11 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:46.406 +2.157 34 laps
12 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:46.429 +2.180 33 laps
13 Paul di Resta Force India 1:46.606 +2.357 33 laps
14 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:46.808 +2.559 36 laps
15 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:46.870 +2.621 33 laps
16 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:47.287 +3.038 29 laps
17 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:47.434 +3.185 33 laps
18 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:47.761 +3.512 25 laps
19 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:49.434 +5.185 34 laps
20 Charles Pic Caterham 1:49.526 +5.277 34 laps
21 Max Chilton Marussia 1:49.619 +5.370 33 laps
22 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:49.731 +5.482 30 laps   

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