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WHO WILL BE FIRST AMONG EQUALS?
Singapore levels the Formula One™ playing field
18 September 2015, Singapore - Formula One™ insiders predicted that the 23-corner challenge of Singapore’s Marina Bay Street Circuit would level the 2015 playing field – and they were right, as Russian driver Daniil Kvyat stormed to the top of the time-sheets for the first time in his Formula One™ career after Friday’s two free practice sessions.
Red Bull and Renault seemingly set aside their divorce discussions for a few hours and patched their relationship up sufficiently well to have Kvyat first and team-mate Daniel Ricciardo third as Mercedes for once took a back seat.
Halfway through the 90-minute second session Kvyat, who missed much of the opening session with a fuel system problem, posted his fastest lap of 1 min 46.142 secs and dared the rest to catch him. They couldn’t, although Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen came close, finishing only 0.039 of a second behind Kvyat and 0.075 ahead of Ricciardo.
“It’s good to be P1 for the first time,” said Kvyat, but his feet were still firmly on the ground. “However, all the teams will be working hard overnight and we will have to see what the situation is,” he added. “So I don’t have any particular expectations for tomorrow.”
Lewis Hamilton’s own love affair with Singapore, where he has started from pole three times and won twice, hit a temporary road-block when the world champion could put his Mercedes-Benz only fourth-fastest.
“The car feels good but the others are much closer this weekend,” Hamilton said. “It's always the case here. There are no problems with the car but everyone looks closer, if not a bit faster. We'll still be fighting, we just need to work hard and find out where the time is.”
That put him ahead of three-time Singapore winner Sebastian Vettel in the second Ferrari, with Sergio Perez sixth-quickest in his Mercedes-powered Force India.
Nico Rosberg’s bid to cut back Hamilton’s 53-point lead in the Drivers’ Championship began unpromisingly when he could manage only seventh place in the second Mercedes-Benz, more than six-tenths slower than Kvyat.
To underline the unique Singapore experience, Fernando Alonso, a two-time winner in Singapore, lifted his struggling McLaren Honda comfortably into the top 10 in eighth place, with team-mate Jenson Button in 14th on a considerably more encouraging evening for the Anglo-Japanese alliance.
But what happened to Williams? The Mercedes-engined squad came to Singapore with updates they expected to help them challenge Ferrari, their immediate rivals for second place overall. But Felipe Massa in 11th place and Valtteri Bottas in 17th suggests that the Williams is not the ideal partner for the Singapore track, at least not yet.
The unfortunate Manor team book-marked the end of the first session and the start of the second with the two most significant incidents of the day, one for each of their drivers.
First Alexander Rossi, the American making his Formula One™ race debut in place of Roberto Merhi this weekend, lost control at the notorious Turn 18 and brought out the red flag with just three minutes of the first session left to run.
Then team-Mate Will Stevens brought the red flag out again within the first five minutes of the second session when he too lost the rear of his car and side-slapped the wall at Turn 11. While Rossi got back into the action with half an hour to go, Stevens was a frustrated spectator as his car could not be brought back in time for repairs.
There is a final free practice session at 6 pm on Saturday before qualifying at 9 pm, when Hamilton launches his bid for an eighth successive pole to match the all-time record set by Ayrton Senna more than a quarter of a century ago.