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FRIDAY F1 PRACTICE: SINGAPORE – Auto action

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Twilight in Singapore provided the backdrop for the much-anticipated opening weekend of the Singapore Grand Prix.

From the start, Ferrari fans were hit with yet another wave of disappointment when Charles Leclerc reported brake problems, forcing the Manegasco to make an early return to his garage.

After sitting out almost half the session, Leclerc returned to finish 3rd, just four tenths off the fastest time.

It was an impressive sight for all to see Alex Albon return to form after surgery to remove his appendix and respiratory failure due to related complications just two weeks ago.

The Thai driver finished the session in 16th place, ahead of his Williams team-mate Nicolas Latifi, whose debut session in Singapore saw him set the slowest lap time on the grid.

Mercedes’ pace looked mediocre in the first half of FP1 as George Russell initially struggled with the handling of his W13. Russell took a look at the barriers as he closed in and luckily avoided serious damage to his front wing in the first 10 minutes.

The Mercedes driver made peace with his car and ended the session in fifth place, 1.033 seconds behind his surprise 1st place team-mate.

Several midfielders temporarily appeared in the top 5. Lance Stroll reached 2nd in his Aston Martin, 0.985s off Verstappen, then in 1st, relegating Fernando Alonso’s Alpine to 3rd midway through the opening session.

Alpine will carry out major upgrades in Singapore, but will forego their use in FP1, opting instead to save them for the more representative FP2 session.

Ferrari initially started FP1 with setup testing. Sainz requested an early change to his Ferrari from the start after setting the fastest time, which left him more than two-tenths off Perez’s P2.

After making some adjustments to his F1-75, the Spaniard returned to the track on a new set of hard tyres. The return was followed by a dangerous moment when Sainz slipped and got caught just centimeters from the close walls of the Marina Bay Street circuit, the first of two such incidents for Sainz.

The second-year Ferrari driver ultimately finished 6th, 3 behind his teammates.

The Red Bull session went smoothly until the closing stages. The two drivers consecutively set green and purple sectors on their laps, but a drive shaft problem on Perez’s car forced him back into the garage.

Verstappen stayed off the track, consistently holding onto 1st place with his impressive time, however he pirouetted at turn 15 to get back on track.

Lance Stroll brought out the only red flag of the session, becoming the first victim of Singapore’s unforgiving walls when his Aston Martin failed to spin mid-turn, sending him into the wall at Turn 5.

In a surprise end to the seemingly normal FP1 timesheets, Lewis Hamilton managed to take his Mercedes to P1.

Recap of Friday’s training sessions in Singapore

On the old soft tires for 4 laps, Hamilton clocked a time of 1:43.033 to beat the Red Bulls and Ferrari to take the top spot in FP1 for the first time this season.

​​​​​​​While teams lost time in the opening session due to the red flag, not much value was lost as FP1 lacked a representation of the true conditions the cars will be running in this weekend’s main sessions.

FP2, which features both qualifying and the start of the race, is a direct reflection, minus the chance of rain over the weekend.

Under the floodlights, Ferrari closed the front row, followed by Mercedes and the ridiculous Red Bull.

In representative conditions, Carlos Sainz took first place with a fastest time of 1:42.587 ahead of his teammate in second and Russell in third.

Leclerc again missed out on the first half of the session as the floor of his Ferrari was removed to further test the problem and scan his car in the garage.

Stroll managed to make an appearance in FP2 after his earlier crash, while his veteran team-mate Sebastian Vettel started his session with a moment reminiscent of Verstappen’s lock-up in FP1 at Turn 15, as did Haas’ Kevin Magnussen.

Both Red Bulls had long pits for set-up changes, with Verstappen taking to the track with just over 35 minutes on the hards, followed by Perez.

Verstappen finished FP2 in 4th place, three tenths off the lead, while Perez finished 9th, 1.319 seconds off the pace.

Latifi was on both the sending and receiving end of the traffic jams. The Canadian initially held off Hamilton on the flying lap before being frustrated by the indecisive Alfa Tauri on his way.

Drivers struggled to navigate the 23 corners of the Marina Bay Street circuit, with the likes of Kevin Magnussen, George Russell, Pierre Gasly and others going into the drains on their laps.

All teams opted to take part in qualifying simulations on soft tires in the second half of the session.

On their first flying laps on the soft tyres, Perez, Esteban Ocan and Sainz all touched the wall, avoiding damage to their cars and setting impressive times that exceeded those set in FP1.

In a dramatic turn of events, Pierre Gasly’s Alpha Tauri needed fire extinguishers when the engine cover unexpectedly caught fire as the Frenchman pitted. According to the fire brigade, the fire started due to improper fastening of the breather.

All were unscathed and Gasly returned to the track, finishing the session in 14th place. Another fuel system issue kept Tsunoda out for the rest of the session.

FP3 will start at 18:00 local time (20:00 Australian Standard Time) with qualifying on Saturday at 21:00 local time.

For more of the latest motorsport news, pick up the latest edition of AUTO ACTION.

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