Fernando Alonso started quickest and finished that way during two close-set, night practice sessions for the inaugural Grand Prix of Singapore, Formula One's first foray into racing under artificial light. Over view of the...
Fernando Alonso started quickest and finished that way during two close-set, night practice sessions for the inaugural Grand Prix of Singapore, Formula One's first foray into racing under artificial light.
First concern for all was visibility, which all applauded, then course condition. Descriptions carried a central theme: "very bumpy" (Alonso, Robert Kubica, Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel, Rubens Barrichello), "some bumps" (Felipe Massa), "quite bumpy" (Heikki Kovalainen), "incredibly bumpy" (Nico Rosberg), "hot and bumpy" (Kazuki Nakajima), "too bumpy" (Kimi Raikkonen), "really bumpy" (Timo Glock, Giancarlo Fisichella, Jarno Trulli), "several bumps" (Adrian Sutil), "bumpiest" (Sebastien Bourdais), "bumps are an issue" (Nick Heidfeld), and "cobbled streets of Paris" (David Coulthard).
Sutil said his legs bounced into the Force India's monocoque on some of the bumps. "Sometimes it actually hurt," he said.
Renault's Alonso was quick out in first practice -- adjusted on the time table to take place later than the originally planned afternoon affair -- after which Lewis Hamilton of McLaren Mercedes led the usual McLaren-Ferrari clamber to the top. Then Alonso stuck his lap time, 1 minute, 45.654 seconds on the 3.148-mile course, to the top again at the end of the second 90-minute session, which finished at 11 p.m. local time. Hamilton took fastest lap of the two sessions with a 1:45.518 set in first practice.
"Through certain corners there was lots of bottoming, and when you hit a bump it would throw the car around quite a bit, but it's an amazing venue," Hamilton said. "On my first proper run, I managed to find a half-decent line, but the car was still bottoming in places. On first impressions, there seems to be quite a lot of grip on the track, so you can brake quite late into the slower corners. It is a very physical circuit, more than I expected, actually. You need to put a lot of work into the car to get a good lap. I'd say it requires double the energy of Monaco over a single lap. One lap around here is like two laps of Monaco."
McLaren driver Kovalainen was fourth and followed Ferraris in both sessions, behind Raikkonen in first practice and behind Massa in second. Rosberg of Williams and Kubica of BMW Sauber traded the fifth and sixth places from one practice to next. Toyota's best effort was by the engines in the backs of Williams as Nakajima joined teammate Rosberg in the top 10; the Japanese was ninth in second practice. Glock gave the factory Toyota team its best effort in 10th after second practice.
The hour allowed between practice sessions wasn't much for teams needing to repair prangs, most notably the Red Bull team of Mark Webber, who crashed after his first flying lap of the first session. He made it back on track with less than a half-hour left in the second session. Also crashing was Honda's Barrichello.
"It's a nice track," said Webber, who finished 11th-quick in second practice. "They've done a good job with it. My first session was much too short as I got into the little chicane a bit too hot and hit the wall. I should have gone down the escape road, but hindsight is a great thing. I damaged the front right corner and also the steering rack, which gave the guys a lot of work to do in a short space of time. I owe them one. Even though we lost a lot of track time, I feel we've made a reasonable recovery. Running at night seems OK, but I might make a few tweaks to my visor and tearoffs."
Driver vision will be aided by electronic versions of flags. Besides the traditional flags, course workers will display electronic boards conveying necessary information, such as local yellows.
Scuderia Toro Rosso driver Bourdais, an F1 rookie, is the driver most familiar with street course design of high catch fences that give a rat-in-a-maze overview; he spent years in Champ Car competition.
"There are no worries about running under the lights and I even ran with a lightly smoked visor," the Frenchman said. "There are hardly any shadows, and you can see very well. It's a very nice track but, unfortunately, the quick parts are the bumpiest and so we are having to run the cars quite high, which obviously reduces performance. Globally, the car is not too bad, and today we have been trying to find the best setup and assess the two types of tire."
Bourdais ran 14th-quickest, only one place behind his German teammate, wunderkind Vettel. Tire choices are between Bridgestone's soft or softer compounds.
Massa, in addition to following Hamilton on the timesheets in both sessions as well as in the drivers' title chase, found the Champ Car in him when he discovered himself up an escape road without turning room. He reversed then whipped the rear of the F2008 around to get back on course. (It's only rumor that he went looking for railroad tracks.)
As well as night vision, track layout garnered discussion. Toyota's Trulli spun the TF108 near the pit-lane entrance so flipped a yewie and went to his pits. Stewards determined he ran afoul of a rule stating drivers must proceed in race direction and must not cross the white line delineating the pit deceleration zone. Trulli was hit with a talking-to and a 10,000-euro fine, about $14,600. Trulli was 19th in both sessions.
"In first practice, unfortunately, I had a spin at the last corner and I wanted to move off the racing line as safely as possible, so I decided to go down the pit lane," Trulli said. "I took the quickest and safest option available to me and the other cars. I have been penalized and I accept that, but I know I did the safest thing for me and the other drivers. It is one of the quickest corners on the track and you don't want to have a crash there."
Pit access might need attention overnight; Kovalainen warned that the pit entry "could be quite difficult if a driver decides to pull into the pits at the last minute."
Night and humdity in the city-state made up of 63 islands at the tip of the Malay Peninsula and once called the hub of the British Empire in Southeast Asia offer no release from equatorial heat. Air and track temperatures were roughly the same, a bit above 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
"You would expect the conditions to be cooler, but this has to be one of the hottest Fridays that we've ever had, and it's just so humid," said Jenson Button, who put his Honda eighth-best in second practice. "The circuit is interesting to drive and it's very bumpy, which adds to the excitement as the bumps bounce the car all over the place. We spent both sessions trying to improve the ride quality and balance of the car by testing many different things, and the outcome was largely positive. We didn't get the best out of the car on my final run with the new tires, due to too much understeer, but it was still nice to end up eighth-quickest."
Sunday's race is scheduled for 8 p.m. local time, which makes its live broadcast time the same as for European races.