Sebastian Vettel confirmed that Red Bull will rejoin the battle for F1 supremacy in Singapore after topping both free practice sessions under the lights of Marina Bay ahead of McLaren and Ferrari.
Having edged Lewis Hamilton to set the pace in the opening 90-minute session, run just as darkness fell over the city state, the German produced a more convincing display of his, and the RB8’s, potential in the second outing, which finished just an hour short of midnight but still in the warm and humid conditions that will tax all involved this weekend.
Knowing that he can ill-afford mistakes or mechanical mishaps in the remaining seven races if he is to overhaul Fernando Alonso and claim a third straight world title, Vettel began the Singapore weekend in imperious fashion. While those around him either proved simply unable to match his pace, or prone to errors while attempting to do, he clocked 1min 48.340secs on his low fuel, soft tyre run to cement his place at the top of the timesheets, fully three-tenths quicker than his nearest rival, on this occasion the other McLaren piloted by Jenson Button.
Hamilton, however, had appeared the man most likely to challenge Vettel, matching the reigning champion for much of the session before making one slip while on his most potent tyre/fuel combination. Coming at the end of the lap, there was no time to make up for the mistake, and the Briton, who arrives in Singapore fresh from victory at the Italian Grand Prix that propelled him back into second spot overall, had to settle for fifth spot behind Alonso and the second RBR entry of Mark Webber.
Button looked his usual smooth self as he claimed second spot, comfortably ahead of the points leader, while Webber was less than a tenth behind Alonso as Red Bull looked a more potent threat than of late. The Milton Keynes team’s biggest worry will be its reliability, particularly after Vettel was forced out of the Monza race with a third alternator problem of the season, and, while the German appeared to make it through the day unscathed, Webber was forced to pit during FP2 for a corner balance issue to be addressed.
The Red Bull again appeared to have the edge through the final sector of the lap, while McLaren seemed better earlier on, but it was the Woking team that looked better on longer, race-style, runs.
Behind Hamilton, Force India again gave a good account of itself on a circuit that Nico Hulkenberg believes will suit it better than either Spa or Monza. The German had to accept seventh place, one behind team-mate Paul di Resta, but the pair proved well-matched with just 0.039secs separating their best laps at the end of the night. The other Nico, Rosberg, hauled his Mercedes up the order after the Brackley team spent FP1 evaluating data on its new exhaust system and slotted in behind his near namesake, with Felipe Massa and Romain Grosjean both enjoying stronger second sessions to round out the top ten ahead of Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen.
Pastor Maldonado, on the other hand, slipped back from his top five spot in FP1, but there were bigger problems for Williams after team-mate Bruno Senna tapped the wall and spun his car across the kerbs at turn 19. There was sufficient damage to the left rear suspension to prevent the Brazilian from continuing – fortunately, this weekend he didn’t lose FP1 seat time to the watching Valtteri Bottas – and the session was briefly red-flagged to enable to recovery of his stranded machine. Senna dropped from eleventh in the opening session to 17th overall despite posting an improved time as he was unable to rejoin the session.
The bottom three teams were once again led by Timo Glock, proving that his FP1 pace in the Marussia was no fluke as he headed Heikki Kovalainen by three-tenths of a second, with team-mate Charles Pic again getting the better of Vitaly Petrov in an unexpected battle between the two teams.