September 20th, 2013 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow) - Lewis Hamilton has finished the first practice for this weekend's Singapore Grand Prix at the top of the lap times for Mercedes, setting a fastest lap over a third of a second quicker than Mark Webber in the leading Red Bull. Last year's winner Sebastian Vettel was third in the second Red Bull ahead of Nico Rosberg in the other Mercedes.
Typically of a street circuit, the session saw lots of drivers slipping and sliding around the track as there was very little rubber down. But the surface soon improved, so much so that Lewis Hamilton commented on it to his Mercedes team over the radio. But a few drivers got caught out by the slippery track: Fernando Alonso seemed to be doing a lot of work to keep his car going in the right direction, while Sergio Perez and Kimi Raikkonen had to take to run off areas and execute 180 degree spins to get back onto the track when they got their braking wrong. A few drivers also brushed the walls with their tyres as they explored the track limits.
The lap times are considerably quicker than last year. Hamilton's leading time is 3.5 seconds faster than Sebastian Vettel's FP1 best from 2012, and just seven tenths of a second slower than last year's pole position time. And that's on the prime tyres. The softer option tyres will only appear on track for the first time this weekend during FP2, when it 's likely that last year's pole time wil be beaten. Part of the time improvement is due to the revised "Singapore Sling", the awkward triple apex chicane that has been replaced by a smooth left-hand corner for this year. But it sems that the resurfaced parts of the track are also providing significantly more grip than expected, which could account for some of the rest of the difference.
For Lewis Hamilton, his strong FP1 result was a statement of intent. The last two races - in Belgium and Italy - have not yielded the results Hamiton was looking for, and he is looking to get back on top in Singapore. Starting the weekend with the fastest time in FP1 will only give Hamilton confidence for the rest of the weekend, but he will be all too aware that there are no points for practice.
Lotus drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean returned to relative competitiveness, after struggling in Italy. Raikkonen set the fifth fastest time, just one hundredth of a second faster than Grosjean, who spent most of the session stuck in the garage while Lotus attended to a steering issue on his car.
Fernando Alonso set the seventh fastest time, 1.307 seconds off the pace, ahead of Jean-Eric Vergne's Toro Rosso, Sergio Perez's McLaren and the Sauber of Esteban Gutierrez.
At the back of the field, the usual order was reversed. Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton set the 19th and 20th fastest time, ahead of the Caterham pair of Giedo van der Garde and Charles Pic. While it's still early in the weekend, the FP1 result could be an indication that Marussia have made a step forward in their quest to hold on to their current 10th place in the Constructors' Championship.
Full results from FP1:
|2||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:47.420||0.365||20|
|3||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:47.885||0.830||19|
|15||14||Paul di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||1:49.887||2.832||18|
|16||15||Adrian Sutil||Force India-Mercedes||1:50.092||3.037||20|
|21||21||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham-Renault||1:52.920||5.865||24|