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Friday analysis - Mercedes far from streets ahead

19 Sep 2014

With the lap time difference between Pirelli’s soft and supersoft tyre compounds bigger than expected at 2.5s, practice in Singapore suggested that three pit stops will be required in Sunday’s race.

Most teams got their work done, but Pastor Maldonado’s accident in FP2 hampered championship leader Nico Rosberg’s fast runs on the supersofts, and reigning champion Sebastian Vettel lost almost all of FP2 to an engine change. Nobody, however, seemed to have any significant issues with the much-talked-about FIA ban on team-to-driver radio/pit board conversations. We take a team-by-team look at day one at Marina Bay…

Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton, 1m 49.178s, P2/1m 47.490s, P1

Nico Rosberg, 1m 49.205s, P3/1m 49.075s, P13

Mercedes merely smiled at Ferrari’s morning pace, having seen it all before from the Italian team this year. Of more concern was Hamilton saying his car felt wayward after set-up changes between FP1 and FP2, and then reporting a brake vibration. He was second in the first session and fastest in the second, however, and believes there is more to come. Rosberg was right behind him in FP1 and was fastest on the soft tyres in FP2, but lost out on the supersofts because of Maldonado’s crash just after he’d reset the ante in the first sector. Neither Hamilton nor Rosberg believed anyone will challenge them for pole, which means they feel they still have performance up their sleeves.

Ferrari

Fernando Alonso, 1m 49.056s, P1/1m 47.623s, P2

Kimi Raikkonen, 1m 50.783s, P7/1m 48.031s, P4

Ferrari had an encouraging Friday but it remains to be seen whether they can retain their apparent speed for qualifying. Alonso said his car was “reasonably competitive” which, given the small speed margin to Hamilton, suggests that he knows he has to factor fuel load into his calculations. Raikkonen reported some niggling reliability issues, which took away track time.

Red Bull

Daniel Ricciardo, 1m 50.122s, P5/1m 47.790s, P3

Sebastian Vettel, 1m 49.874s, P4/1m 48.041s, P5

Ricciardo didn’t have any significant problems and believes the race could be a lottery. He’s optimistic that, while he might not be able to match the Mercedes’ pace, he can get a decent result here. Vettel looked good in FP1, until his engine’s oil pressure dipped right at the end. The team did a fine job to strip the unit and get the RB10 running with 10 minutes of FP2 remaining, and the world champion did the rest in jumping from 22nd to a close fifth right at the end. The bad news is that the problem virtually guarantees he’ll have to take a 10-place grid penalty at some stage in the next five races, when he will need a sixth power unit.

McLaren

Kevin Magnussen, 1m 51.217s, P11/1m 48.358s, P6

Jenson Button, 1m 50.922s, P8/1m 48.435s, P7

McLaren had a big workload with lots of new aero parts to assess. Some things worked, some didn’t, and Button in particular complained of understeer, but they have a direction for tomorrow and both drivers believe they have a reasonable chance on the sort of high-downforce circuit that hasn’t previously suited the MP4-29. There’s cautious optimism here.

Force India

Sergio Perez, 1m 51.131s, P10/1m 48.653s, P8

Nico Hulkenberg, 1m 51.604s, P12/1m 48.751s, P9

Force India had one of those nice productive and problem-free days, and completed their programmes without interruptions.

Toro Rosso

Daniil Kvyat, 1m 50.990s, P9/1m 48.770s, P10

Jean-Eric Vergne, 1m 50.539s, P6/1m 48.800s, P11

Kvyat again impressed on a track new to him in an F1 car, while Vergne had problems with his brakes early in FP1 and with the ERS later on, but bounced back well from both issues.

Lotus

Romain Grosjean, 1m 52.906s, P18/1m 49.062s, P12

Pastor Maldonado, 1m 52.125s, P14/1m 49.139s, P14

Lotus had good and bad news. Grosjean made a decent performance jump in FP2, but that was when Maldonado crashed his E22 heavily into the tyre wall in Turn 10. His car is being rebuilt around a new monocoque this evening.

Sauber

Adrian Sutil, 1m 52.237s, P17/1m 49.170s, P15

Esteban Gutierrez, 1m 52.171s, P16/1m 49.290s, P16

Sauber had a reasonable day, once Giutierrez finally got going after some electronics problems in FP1.

Williams

Felipe Massa, 1m 51.953s, P13/1m 49.361s, P17

Valtteri Bottas, 1m 52.146s, P15/1m 49.971s, P18

Williams expected Marina Bay to present a few problems, though perhaps not to the extent of only 17th and 18th places. Both drivers said they struggled with the FW36’s balance, and especially with its wayward rear end.

Marussia

Jules Bianchi, 1m 54.113s, P19/1m 50.612s, P19

Max Chilton, 1m 55.170s, P22/1m 51.558s, P20

Marussia got back ahead of Caterham after the surprise in Monza. Fettling work on the set-up saw Bianchi do a great job in FP2, but Chilton had to stop late in that session with an undisclosed powertrain problem.

Caterham

Kamui Kobayashi, 1m 54.607s, P21/1m 52.075s, P21

Marcus Ericsson, 1m 54.475s, P20/1m 52.936s, P22

Kobayashi struggled with his CT05’s rear end and had a spin in each session to prove it. His car will get a fresh power unit for tomorrow. Ericsson used a high mileage unit, and looked reasonable in FP1 before losing ground again in FP2.