FP1: Ricciardo leads Red Bull one-two in Singapore
Daniel Ricciardo tipped Ferrari to be the dominant force in Singapore ahead of the weekend, but when practice got underway at the tight-and-twisty Marina Bay Street Circuit on Friday, it was the Red Bull driver who came out on top ahead of team mate Max Verstappen.
After his and Red Bull's exploits in Monaco earlier this year, Ricciardo has been tipped by many to challenge for victory this weekend, and the early signs are positive for the Milton Keynes squad after the Australian edged Verstappen to top spot by 0.201s. In a further boost, both drivers showed early pace on soft rubber before delivering their quickest laps on Pirelli’s softest compound – the hypersofts.
The Bulls' nearest rivals were Ferrari, who led the way in the early stages before Red Bull laid down the gauntlet. Sebastian Vettel - trailing Lewis Hamilton by 30 points in the drivers' standings heading into this race - led the Prancing Horse challenge, finishing just 0.085s behind Verstappen – and four tenths ahead of team mate Kimi Raikkonen in fourth.
While it is perhaps no surprise that Red Bull and Ferrari occupied the top four places, there was a minor shock in fifth, with Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg winning that battle ahead of Mercedes driver and championship leader Lewis Hamilton, who didn't run on the hypersoft rubber.
In a promising session for Renault, the sister RS18 of Carlos Sainz also won his battle with a Silver Arrow, as the McLaren-bound driver finished seventh ahead of Valtteri Bottas - the Finn also didn't get a chance to don the pink-marked tyres.
One driver who did use that compound was Sauber’s Charles Leclerc – who is taking part in his first Grand Prix weekend since news of his 2019 move to Ferrari was confirmed – and he showed his pace by beating Haas’ Romain Grosjean to ninth.
Leclerc, however, suffered a disappointing end to his session when he clipped the wall coming over the Anderson Bridge, ripping his front-right suspension to pieces and forcing him to park his car in one of the many run-off areas. His Swiss employers will now be busy getting his challenger ready for FP2.
Given the start time of FP1, which was run in daylight conditions, the teams will be cautious to read too much into their running. Friday evening's second session, FP2, which will be run under floodlights, will be more representative of the conditions for both qualifying on Saturday and the race on Sunday, so the teams will be looking to stay error-free – something that was achieved by the majority in FP1.
There were, however, a hat-trick of spins early on in the first session, with Williams’ Lance Stroll and Bottas both getting their exits wrong at Turn 2, while Sergio Perez was pitched into a spin at Turn 20. They all recovered, and escaped without any damage.
And later on, Raikkonen made an uncharacteristic error when he left it late to brake at Turn 18, locking up and using the escape area to eventually return to the track, while Bottas repeated the Ferrari driver’s mistake a matter of minutes later.
So it’s Red Bull who have their tails up, with Ricciardo and Verstappen delivering a warning to their top-three rivals Ferrari and Mercedes. Who will come out on top in FP2? We'll find out later...