Sebastian Vettel started his race weekend off in style, topping both evening practice sessions of the 2012 FIA Formula One Singapore Grand Prix. The Red Bull driver’s fastest lap of 1:48.340, set in the Free Practice 2 session, was a full .311 above his nearest challenger, Jenson Button.
Championship leader Fernando Alonso timed in 3rd in his Ferrari, while Mark Webber followed him, boding well for Red Bull’s weekend. Lewis Hamilton came in 5th.
Vettel, flashing a new illuminated helmet, topped an FP1 session for the first time this year, unsurprising at the track he dominated in 2011. A Red Bull front row is likely for Sunday’s race.
But the first night of the Singapore GP was marked as usual by errors and close calls. Bruno Senna yet again crashed his Williams in a practice session, making slight contact with the wall at the Turn 21 exit and halting in the middle of the street track, bringing out a short red flag. Pastor Maldonado was plagued by lock-up throughout, and Kamui Kobayashi managed to spin after the checkered flag. Almost every driver felt the harsh rattle of Turn 10’s kerbs under their wheels, but surprisingly the “Singapore Sling” chicane caused no Practice accidents.
Even more surprising was the FP2 pace of the two Lotus-Renault cars--or lack thereof. Romain Grosjean (back in the car after being banned from the Italian GP) managed only 10th and Kimi Raikkonen 12th, this on a track expected to suit the corner-loving Lotus chassis. With Raikkonen recently promoting himself to 3rd in the points standings at Monza, a bad weekend for the Finn could not come at a worse time.
Also off pace were Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher, 8th and 11th, respectively. A much-hyped new exhaust system on their Mercedes cars clearly did not shave the tenths it was expected to, and they'll be playing catch-up by tomorrow's qualifying.
With those four big names down the order, the Sahara Force Indias were left to 6th and 7th positions, Paul di Resta leading Nico Hulkenberg.
While Sunday night's race is undoubtedly one of the most exciting grands prix of the season, more important to the teams will be Monday morning's points standings. With only races in Japan, South Korea, India, Abu Dhabi, United States, and Brazil remaining, all will be striving to catch and pass leader Fernando Alonso. Lewis Hamilton stands the best chance of this now from 2nd, and will be looking for a win to follow his in Italy and Hungary. The fight for it will begin tomorrow night, in knockout qualifying for the Singapore Grand Prix.