Hamilton well in front in Singapore FP1

Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time in FP1 in Singapore (Mercedes)
Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time in FP1 in Singapore (Mercedes)

Lewis Hamilton has set the fastest time in first practice for the Singapore Grand Prix by a convincing margin, over a third of a second ahead of the leading Red Bull of Mark Webber. Sebastian Vettel set the third fastest time, almost half a second behind his team-mate Webber, with Nico Rosberg fourth for Mercedes.

There are some changes to the Marina Bay street circuit this year. The notorious “Singapore Sling”, the turn 10 triple-apex chicane has been replaced by a smooth, quicker left-hand corner, to the general approval of the drivers. In 2010, Lewis Hamilton described the corner as “the worst corner I’ve ever driven in Formula 1,” which suggests it will not be missed at all.

That’s the only change to the layout, but there appear to have been some changes to the track surface. It’s normal to have a patchy surface on a street circuit, as the track uses public roads that have to be maintained from time to time. But this year it looks like large sections of the road surface have been replaced, possibly with better tarmac. Some parts of the surface are significantly darker than others, and they appear to be rubbering in faster than the rest of the surface, as Lewis Hamilton commented on his team radio during the session.

The result of the changes to the track, together with the inevitable car development that takes place in Formula One, is significantly increased lap times around the circuit. Hamilton’s leading FP1 time was 3.5 seconds faster than last year’s fastest first practice time. Hamilton’s time is also just seven tenths of a second slower than his own pole position time from 2012, and that’s before any of the drivers have run the option tyres at all this weekend, nevermind on low fuel.

It’s always tough to predict Sunday results on the basis of Friday running, but the early indications are that Mercedes and Red Bull are quick around the streets of Singapore. Ferrari have probably not shown their pace yet, which is not unusual for the Italian team at this stage of the weekend. Ferrari have brought some new parts to Singapore, including a new diffuser, and likely used the FP1 session to test the new pieces rather than look for ultimate lap time.

Lotus are also looking reasonably strong, albeit over a second off the pace of Hamilton in FP1. But they could well have much more pace available in the Lotus E21 than we’ve seen in the first session. FP2 and FP3 will provide a much better idea of the running order.

Somehow, all 22 drivers avoided crashing out of the FP1 session. The streets of singapore are slippery early in the weekend and the walls are always close under braking and on the corner exits. A number of drivers brushed the walls (Giedo van der Garde managed it twice) but there seemed to be no resulting damage. Kimi Raikkonen and Sergio Perez each had to execute a half spin to rejoin the track after getting their braking wrong and taking to a run-off area, illustrating just how accurate the drivers need to be to stay on line.

At the back of the grid, the order was reversed from the last few races. Marussia’s two drivers were quicker than their Caterham counterparts. Marussia started the season well, and as a result currently sit 10th in the Constructors’ Championship. Caterham have developed faster than Marussia through the season, however, to the point that they have seemed for most of the year to have a significant edge on their rivals. But in Singapore, for whatever reason, the order has returned to what it was when the season started.

Full results from FP1:

Pos No Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1 10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:47.055 20
2 2 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:47.420 0.365 20
3 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:47.885 0.830 19
4 9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:48.239 1.184 23
5 7 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus 1:48.354 1.299 18
6 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:48.355 1.300 12
7 3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:48.362 1.307 21
8 6 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:49.267 2.212 20
9 18 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:49.348 2.293 23
10 12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:49.355 2.300 21
11 16 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:49.481 2.426 20
12 4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:49.493 2.438 16
13 17 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:49.510 2.455 21
14 5 Jenson Button McLaren 1:49.608 2.553 20
15 14 Paul di Resta Force India 1:49.887 2.832 18
16 15 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:50.092 3.037 20
17 11 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:50.222 3.167 17
18 19 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:50.757 3.702 16
19 22 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:52.359 5.304 16
20 23 Max Chilton Marussia 1:52.673 5.618 15
21 21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:52.920 5.865 24
22 20 Charles Pic Caterham 1:53.647 6.592 23

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