Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
After a 30-minute delay due to track repairs at Turn 3 and Turn 14, it was Lewis Hamilton who topped the timesheets for McLaren during the first practice session for the Singapore Grand Prix at the Marina Bay Street Circuit. The Briton lapped the circuit in 1m48.599s, and was followed by Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber on second and third place, 0.406s and 1.467s behind leader Hamilton. First practice was interrupted several times and the session was shortened to 60 minutes after marshals had repaired the kerbs at Turn 3 and 14 which were damaged in an earlier support race, and most drivers hastily went out for a quick shake-down to check if all systems worked and then went out again for a timed lap.
Ferrari’s Felipe Massa was the one who dictated the pace early on in the session with a time of 1m52.043s, still very far from the fastest time of the day. Both McLaren drivers Jenson Button and Hamilton were also on track early for their first run, but with the session now shortened it was difficult to get a free lap and many had to abandon their fast lap due to the traffic ahead of them. It also wasn’t easy to stay on track as the circuit was still very dusty and Nico Rosberg and Adrian Sutil were both seen short-cutting the chicanes after bouncing over the kerbs.
Webber and Vettel were also out quickly and Webber took second place behind Massa with a time of 1m52.869s, while Vettel was third with 1m53.252s. Also fast during the early part of the session was Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi who took fourth position at the time. Webber was again on a fast lap but soon ran into problems.
Webber made contact with Timo Glock some 30 minutes into the session, which forced Glock to limp back to the pits with a damaged left rear tyre, and after his mechanics had examined the damage it was decided the session was over for the German. Webber’s car was also damaged, images showed the Australian hit the back of the Marussia Virgin and he came in with a destroyed front wing. A new wing was quickly mounted and Webber could continue his run with just 25 minutes to go.
The session was stopped to clean up the pieces of the Red Bull front wing that littered the track, and at the same time Heikki Kovalainen had to park his Team Lotus car in Turn 18 with brake problems. Marshals had to extinguish the small fire the overheated brakes had caused, which was also the end of the Finn’s practice session. His car was towed away and Kovalainen resumed practice on foot to find his way back to the pits.
With less than 30 minutes remaining, again all drivers were poised to get on track as soon as possible and formed a queue at the pit lane exit, waiting for the red lights to turn green. When the session was resumed it was again very busy on track and was again a challenge to find a way through traffic to put a time on the clock. Paul di Resta was quick in his Force India and took fourth position, while Rubens Barrichello managed to take 11th. Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg were still outside the top ten; Schumacher took seventh place despite having locked up his front wheels at Turn 10, the Singapore sling, a turn that caused problems for all drivers.
Some 40 minutes into the session Button led the pack with a time of 1m50.952s, just two minutes later Vettel did what he always does and took over the lead with a time of 1m50.082s, almost nine-tenths of a second quicker than Button. After 45 minutes Hamilton finally put in his first timed lap and was fourth quickest. Vettel then showed he could go even quicker and was the first to record a time below the 1m50s and was fastest with 1m49.656s.
Both Ferraris were in the top ten, Massa was fifth and Fernando Alonso soon improved his team mate’s time to take fourth position. Seven was not the lucky number this session, and a piece of kerb came loose at the exit of Turn 7 after Massa had ran over it several times and the session was once again red-flagged. Teams again lost more valuable track time as the clock kept ticking while the red flag was out. The problem was soon fixed and with only four minutes to go practice was resumed and drivers quickly took to the track again - but only a few were able to improve on their time.
Kamui Kobayashi was out first and was soon followed by Alonso, Button and Massa. Again with almost all drivers on track it was hard to find room for a free lap and soon the race for the first position became a race against the clock, with just four minutes remaining. Button was the first to see the chequered flag and ended morning practice in fifth position, 2.353s second slower than his team colleague who ultimately was the quickest driver on the Marina Bay circuit.
Vettel managed to improve his time but it was not enough to take first position, while Webber couldn’t improve his time and remained third. Alonso became fourth for Ferrari, while Massa was sixth, some 3.444s off the pace. Force India drivers Sutil and di Resta did surprisingly well and scored seventh and eighth position respectively. Schumacher took the honors for Mercedes with a somewhat disappointing eight place, while Rosberg had to be satisfied with tenth.
Barrichello and Pastor Maldonado also did well and finished in 11th and 13th position, separated by the Toro Rosso of Jaime Alguersuari who was 12th fastest. Sergio Perez and Kobayashi took 14th and 15th, beating the Lotus Renault of Bruno Senna who took 16th with a time of 1m53.765s, a little over five seconds slower than leader Hamilton. Buemi took the second Toro Rosso to 17th place, while Vitaly Petrov took the second Lotus Reanult to 18th place.
At the back of the field were the usual suspects, Team Lotus being once more the fastest of the newest teams, Jarno Trulli took 19th and Kovalainen 20th place. Marussia Virgin were 21st and 22nd with Jerome d’Ambrosio and Glock. Daniel Ricciardo was the fastest of the HRT drivers and took 23rd place, while Narain Karthikeyan who had taken over Vitantonio’s car for the morning session was 24th and last, more than ten seconds behind the number one, Hamilton.
Therefore a very problematic first practice session, and hopefully the problems with the kerbs will be sorted out before the second practice this afternoon, most teams were not really able to record a decent time with all the interruptions and it is expected the really fast times will be set this afternoon, or should one say, this evening at Singapore.