SINGAPORE: Red Bull’s Max Verstappen lapped fastest in opening practice for the Singapore Formula One Grand Prix on Friday while Valtteri Bottas smashed his Mercedes into the wall.
The 21-year-old Dutchman set a benchmark time of one minute, 40.259 seconds over the first of the day’s two 90-minute sessions.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, a four-times winner at the twisting Marina Bay track but without a Grand Prix victory in more than a year, was 0.167 seconds adrift.
Championship leader Lewis Hamilton was third for Mercedes, 0.666 seconds off the pace but on a harder tyre compound. The Briton, who leads team-mate Bottas by 63 points with seven races to go is also a four-times winner in Singapore.
“I think they are very much going to be the favourites here,” Red Bull boss Christian Horner said of Mercedes. “But we’ve got a competitive car and hopefully we can take the fight to them’’.
Red Bull have finished second in Singapore for the last five years.
Hamilton, last year’s winner, is looking to return Mercedes to the top of the podium after two successive defeats to Ferrari in Belgium and Italy. Bottas was fourth, but the Finn crashed out with a little under half an hour left on the clock when his Mercedes snapped out of control on the exit of turn 19 and ploughed into the barriers.
The accident brought the session to a brief halt as marshals worked to clear away his car.
Team boss Toto Wolff said it had been a case of driver error: “The lap was a bit messy already, but it’s always difficult to get the balance right between pushing and taking it easy.
“I think it has nothing to do with tyre temperatures, it was just sliding a bit.” Alexander Albon, in only his third race for Red Bull after switching from Toro Rosso, was fifth fastest on what is almost home territory for the British-born Thai rookie.
Nico Hulkenberg, out of a drive for next season, was sixth for Renault ahead of McLaren pair Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris.
Daniil Kvyat was ninth for Toro Rosso ahead of French team-mate Pierre Gasly who rounded out the top 10.
Charles Leclerc, winner for Ferrari in Spa and the team’s home race at Monza, was only 19th. The Monegasque spent much of the session in the garage with gearbox problems.
Friday’s opening daylight session was unrepresentative of the rest of the weekend’s action, including qualifying and the race which take place at night under the floodlights. — Reuters