Sebastian Vettel quickly put the disappointment of Italy behind him by setting the fastest time in first practice for the Singapore Grand Prix. Red Bull endured their worst weekend in nearly two years at the high-speed Monza track but the bumpy streets of Marina Bay appear to be playing much more to the strengths of the RB8.
The drivers didn’t enjoy the smoothest start to FP1 with heavy rain during the afternoon leaving the track damp in places at 6pm local time. As a result, the installation laps were generally completed on intermediate and wet tyres with the Mercedes teammates almost tripping over each other as they toured round.
Kamui Kobayashi was the first to set a representative lap time on dry tyres but predictably, the pace picked up as more rubber was laid down. Nico Rosberg pulled half a second ahead of the Sauber on his first run before both were beaten by Kimi Raikkonen, the Finn breaking into the 1:52s in his Lotus. The times were tumbling at a rapid rate and it wasn’t long before Vettel was lapping in the 1:51s, as were Pastor Maldonado and Nico Hulkenberg.
The McLarens which had dominated the previous three races had made a quiet start but Lewis Hamilton came alive with half an hour to go, first pipping Vettel on a 1:51.172 before lowering the benchmark time by a further half second shortly afterwards. The reigning champion, sporting his customary change of helmet design, seemed like the only man capable of challenging Hamilton’s time and challenge it he did, with a 1:50.566 proving to be the best lap of the evening.
As expected, the bumpy chicane at turn ten was causing many a problem with Romain Grosjean marking his return to Lotus by sending the E20 skywards over the kerbs. Michael Schumacher also made an error which caused damage to his front wing endplate while Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg also took the escape road on flying laps.
Moments after losing the lead, Hamilton returned the pits ending his session ten minutes early, and it was left to his teammate Jenson Button to provide the late headlines, clocking a 1:51.459 to snatch third from Fernando Alonso with Pastor Maldonado edging out the second Red Bull of Mark Webber for fifth.
The Force Indias of Nico Hulkenberg and Paul Di Resta finished seventh and eighth ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and Sergio Perez who escaped without damage after going straight on at turn nine. Bruno Senna was eleventh ahead of Marina Bay lap record holder Kimi Raikkonen, Kamui Kobayashi and Michael Schumacher as Mercedes debuted a new exhaust system on their W03.