5 things we learned from Friday practice at the Singapore Grand Prix
F1 drivers got their sweat on in Singapore for the first time in three years when Friday practice got under way at the Marina Bay Street Circuit. Ferrari set the pace as rivals and championship leaders Red Bull struggled to light up the timesheets…
1. Ferrari hold narrow lead
Ferrari had hoped the nature of Singapore’s street circuit, with its array of low-speed corners, would suit the F1-75 – and the early signs are that it does, as Carlos Sainz headed Charles Leclerc in a one-two for the Scuderia.
They are around a tenth of a second clear of Red Bull in terms of short run pace and are feeling comfortable about the data gathered when they filled the car up with fuel in preparation for Sunday’s race, even if the numbers suggest they are a fraction behind their championship rivals.
Sainz managed to find the limit quite quickly, which bodes well for the remainder of his weekend, but it wasn’t as smooth for Leclerc, the Monegasque spending a long time in the garage to miss out on valuable track time.
Qualifying is very important in Singapore as it’s tricky to overtake and that puts the Italian team – who are around a quarter of a second quicker than Red Bull in the low-speed corners – in a decent position for the weekend ahead.
2. Tough day for Red Bull, but pace is there
This wasn’t the smoothest of days for Red Bull, as while Max Verstappen enjoyed a reasonably fruitful FP1, he lost a bunch of time in FP2 as set-up changes took longer than expected.
That said, even with a lack of mileage – the championship leader completed just seven laps in FP2 – he still managed to pump in the fourth quickest time in the closing minutes.
His team mate Sergio Perez had some engine trouble and then struggled to find a rhythm as he played catch-up. The Mexican concedes they have plenty more to find overnight.
But if both drivers can make a big step, our data suggests they could usurp Ferrari as the favourites this weekend, particularly when it comes to race day where the points are handed out.
3. Mercedes make promising start
Singapore hasn’t been the kindest to Mercedes in the last few editions of the event, while the three-year break from the country will not have helped them understand how to get the tyres working around the street circuit.
But it was one of their smoothest Fridays of the year and, while their trackside chief Andrew Shovlin said they picked up a bit more locking, with neither Lewis Hamilton nor George Russell managing a clean lap, the data suggests they aren’t quite as far off as Hamilton reckons they are (the Briton thinks they’re trailing by a second).
In qualifying trim, the reigning world champions are just under a tenth behind Red Bull based on our data and 0.24s off the ultimate pace. It’s the same margin to the front in race pace, too, with the Silver Arrows well clear (more than 0.6s) of the chasing pack.
“It’s been a decent start to the weekend and it looks like the car has potential for a decent result here,” adds Shovlin.
4. Alpine sit pretty in fourth
Alpine have long looked like the fourth-best team in terms of pure performance this season and their speed in Singapore did nothing to suggest they have lost that accolade.
Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon both got the upgraded floor – the latest in a string of upgrades the team have consistently brought this season – and the early signs are that it has performed in line with expectations.
The duo looked quick in Singapore – and while Alonso didn’t complete his programme following a suspected gearbox oil leak, the Spaniard was pleased with the ultimate performance of the car.
They are quite some way off the frontrunners in qualifying and race trim, but they have a healthy advantage over nearest rivals Alfa Romeo, who have showed an upturn in form here, in the region of 0.2s.
5. McLaren braced for one of their ‘tougher’ weekends
McLaren had the most impressive list of upgrades for Singapore when the FIA published their list of each team’s new parts – the British team bringing a new floor plus tweaks to the cooling louvres, diffuser, sidepod inlet and front corner to the car of Lando Norris.
But their pace on Friday was not quite as striking, with Norris admitting the team are a long way off rivals Alpine, while his team mate Daniel Ricciardo (who's set to get the upgrade in Japan next time out) said his day was “certainly a bit of a struggle” as a host of changes they made didn’t deliver the intended outcome.
They’re sixth-best in both the low-fuel and race pace stakes, the papaya cars’ low-speed performance really hurting them, with only three teams slower in those types of turns.
Race pace-wise, they were a match for Alfa Romeo, though, so the potential for a point or two remains come Sunday – though of course that won’t meet their high standards.