Free Practice 1 started in front of near empty grandstands. However, the lack of fans could be forgiven due to the fact that Singapore is a night race whereas FP1 takes place during the early afternoon. As such, many question as to how much information can be gained during this session. Whether useful or not, the driver leading the way after the opening session was NAME whilst a variety of problems came to other noteworthy challengers in contention of victory on Sunday.
Charles Leclerc commented yesterday how street circuits are his favourite kind of circuit and he showed that by leading the board early on with a 1:44.723 which was already over 1.3 seconds quicker than that of his teammate Sebastian Vettel.
Scuderia Ferrari was on the lips of many watching on as the cameras clicked away capturing images of the newly updated Scuderia Ferrari nose, designed in a way to increase downforce on the car. With Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport and Aston Martin Red Bull Racing yet to record a time after the first 15 minutes, time would tell if the Prancing Horse could stay leading the pack.
Meanwhile, Robert Kubica, having announced at the Drivers’ Press Conference the previous day that he would no longer remain with the ROKiT Williams Racing Team in 2020, was the third car on track to record a time – albeit almost 6 seconds slower than the impressive Monegasque racing in red. This time, from the returning Polish driver, being yet another reason why he is no longer attached to the legendary British racing team.
Another driver potentially leaving Formula 1, was Nico Hulkenberg and he had a very impressive showing sitting in third place during the first half hour of the 90-minute session before eventually concluding the session in sixth place with his teammate Daniel Ricciardo down in eleventh. Many in the paddock are bemused as to how Romain Grosjean has not been dislodged by the talented German driver, however, if rumours are to be believed, the reason Hulkenberg’s position in F1 is at risk was due to wage demands. On this form though – F1 needs Nico Hulkenberg…but then again it would benefit from Fernando Alonso too.
Once Max Verstappen had successfully completed his first timed lap of merit, a 1:43.077, it was enough to take the top spot but only momentarily as Valtteri Bottas, who many have overlooked as a possible victor on Sunday, became quickest of the day to that point with a 1:43.041.
First and foremost, any competitor on track must keep their nose clean and intact. It is a well-reported fact that every Singapore GP has featured a safety car so the question was posed on Friday as to whether the cars could keep themselves out of the wall. Lewis Hamilton had a moment early on when he got squeezed close to the inside barrier by Carlos Sainz as they turned into Turn 18. No damage was sustained and it did the 5-time World Champion no harm as he jumped to the top of the board with a 1:42.412.
This proved the catalyst as the times fell dramatically with Max Verstappen getting out in front breaking into the 1:41s (1:41.938) wearing the soft tyre compound – whilst Scuderia Ferrari were navigating the Marina Bay Street Circuit on mediums. This impressive time recorded despite the vibrations felt by Verstappen as he told the team on his radio: ‘the car is bouncing massively’.
As the half way mark approached the top 10 was: Ham,Ver, Str, Bot, Kvy (flying under the radar on mediums), Hul, Gas, Per, Lec, Alb.
Meanwhile, it was out with the new and back with the old seeing on one side of the Scuderia Ferrari garage as the front nose of Charles Leclerc’s machine was replaced with the original design – how would that impact his performance? Unfortunately, we would not get to see as Leclerc was having a lot of problems shifting through his gears through Turns 18 and 19 and remarked "What should I do? I'm rolling to the pits - there is a problem," – a problem which would keep Leclerc in the garage.
Valtteri Bottas was on track giving it the maximum and remaining on top with a 1:41.336 but not to the delight of his race engineer as he was told to manage his tyre temperature: “Wheelspin out of eight was a killer - 8, 11 and 12 is where you need to look out for that wheelspin," Mercedes’ reign at the top was short lived with first Vettel (1:40.426) and then Verstappen taking top spot – 1:40.259 with both drivers running the soft compound.
Soon after, Valtteri Bottas pushed hard to get back in front but pushed too hard and ended up in the wall bringing a red flag to the session and more work hours for his mechanics. The Finnish driver lost the rear of the car going through the right-hander and his inevitable collision came as the oversteer kicked in resulting in his sliding wide impacting the barrier on the outside of the track. The clock continued to tick down with the session stopped until restarting with just over 15 minutes remaining. A short while later, Bottas would take full responsibility telling the watching television cameras ‘I lost the rear, some overheating, my bad.’
The Marina Bay Street Circuit should be the circuit that sees Sebastian Vettel bounce back but first he would have to get ahead of a flying Max Verstappen. This was a feat that the German 4-time F1 champ could not manage and so the session ended with Aston Martin Red Bull Racing showing their wings by having flown to the top. Red Bull are not getting ahead of themselves as shown by Team Principal Christian Horner ‘It’s been a solid start, the circuit is evolving rapidly. I think generally, pretty respectable.’
A solid start indeed for Aston Martin Red Bull Racing, now we wait and see if that can continue. If I was Sebastian Vettel, based on the fact he is just over two tenths slower - I would be very confident that Red Bull’s reign as quickest of the day…will be short lived.
Final order: Ver, Vet, Ham, Bot, Alb, Hul, Sai,Nor, Kvy, Gas, Ric, Gro, Gio, Rai, Str, Mag, Kub, Per, Lec, Rus