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VETTEL OFF TO A SINGAPORE FLYER
Singapore, 23 September 2011 – Sebastian Vettel threw down the gauntlet to the men who are trying to stop the Red Bull racer from clinching his second successive world title at Marina Bay Street Circuit this weekend with quickest time in Friday’s two opening free practice sessions.
The 24-year-old German, who has never been on pole or won in Singapore, has a 112-point lead with six races remaining and could become Formula 1’s youngest back-to-back title winner if the arithmetic works in his favour this weekend.
He has denied there is any extra pressure on him here and showed it with a best lap of one minute 46.374 seconds in the second free practice session, an average speed of over 171 km/h round the 5.073-km Singapore street circuit, to beat Ferrari’s double Marina Bay winner Fernando Alonso by two-tenths of a second.
“We worked on the set-up of the car, but the baseline was not too bad,” Vettel said modestly. “We still have to make a good step overnight. It looked pretty tight out there today.”
Vettel and Alonso were the only two drivers to break the 1:47 barrier, with Lewis Hamilton third for McLaren Mercedes and Felipe Massa in the other Ferrari fourth-fastest. Red Bull’s Mark Webber was the last of the ‘Big Five’ drivers in fifth place, and came out with the understatement of the day: “Seb’s going all right,” said the Australian, “so I just need to find a bit more and get into it tomorrow.”
Michael Schumacher, who has finished fifth in his last two Grands Prix, confirmed his resurgence with sixth-fastest time for Mercedes. “I like the race here,” said the man who has won more races than any F1 driver in history. “It is a bit like the modern Monaco, very exciting with more run-off areas."
Hamilton had been quickest in an opening session shortened by half an hour to allow repairs to the kerbing at Turn 14, dislodged during the day’s earlier support race practice, and was briefly red-flagged for further repairs after 50 minutes.
While Hamilton said the kerbs must be taking “some serious damage” from the cars, Lawrence Foo, Assistant Director of Technical & Race Operations for Singapore GP, said it was premature to speculate on the cause. “We have yet to carry out a full assessment on site,” Mr Foo explained. “We have had a preliminary meeting with FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting and we have identified the rectification measures required. This work will be carried out overnight.”
The second session got under way on schedule and it was Vettel who immediately went to the top. His dominance was briefly challenged late in the session when the drivers switched to Pirelli’s ‘super-soft’ tyre compound, worth around a second a lap here, and the Ferraris instantly benefited as first Massa then Alonso dislodged Vettel from first place.
With half an hour of the session remaining, however, Vettel – winner on all three previous street circuits this season – put in the lap that returned him to the top and kept him there.
The day’s big loser was McLaren’s Jenson Button, who missed the right-hander at Turn 14 just over an hour into the session and was unable to engage reverse gear to get the car back on track. The 2009 World Champion finished the day in ninth position.
While Adrian Sutil underlined Force India’s growing status with seventh spot, his teammate Paul di Resta was less fortunate on his first visit to the Singapore track. The young Scot got five laps in before pitting for lengthy repairs and did a creditable job to work his way up to 13th when he enjoyed just three laps more at the end of the session.
The drivers who fell foul of Singapore’s tight lines and tricky corners were Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi, who hit the wall at Turn 21 and damaged his car’s suspension, and Nico Rosberg, who did minor damage to the underside of his Mercedes over the kerbs on his way to 15th position on a circuit where he normally excels.
Between the two F1 sessions Afiq Ikhwan Yazid claimed pole position for the first of the two JK Racing Asia races scheduled for the weekend. The Malaysian Meritus driver clocked 2:21.715 and will be joined on the front row by Petronas Mofaz Racing’s Nabil Jeffri, who was a full half-second behind.
Yazid’s pursuit of series leader Lucas Auer was made easier when the Eurointernational driver hit the wall early in the session and broke his front wing, ending the session in a lowly 12th spot.