Singapore Grand Prix 2017: Ricciardo dominates Friday practice

RealSport brings you highlights from the Marina Bay Circuit, where Daniel Ricciardo and Red Bull have sent a strong statement of intent for this weekend’s race.

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FP1 – top six looking close

As first practice got underway, two of our regular drivers would be sitting the session out, with Antonio Giovinazzi replacing Kevin Magnussen at Haas, and Sean Gelael replacing Carlos Sainz at Toro Rosso. It had rained earlier in the day in Singapore, and although the track had largely dried by the time the session began, some damp patches still remained, adding an extra challenge for the drivers.

As we saw earlier in the season, the FIA has selected the halo device to be implemented on all cars from 2018, and we saw three teams (both McLarens, Raikkonen’s Ferrari, and Ricciardo’s Red Bull) run the device in the opening stages of the session, during which all drivers were out to put in an installation lap within the first 10 minutes.

It was Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, celebrating the recent signing of a one-year contract extension with the team, who led the way early on, going faster than teammate Lewis Hamilton on the supersoft tyres before the Brit went over a second faster as the session approached the half hour mark. As the track dried further though, it was the Red Bulls that really began to stretch their legs, trading places at the top of the standings on the ultrasoft tyres.

Mercedes once again reclaimed top spot when they put on the ultrasoft tyres, with Hamilton edging Verstappen for top spot. It wasn’t all good new though as Bottas soon came over the radio and complained that his tyres were already past their best. Could this be a return of the issues Mercedes had with tyre management earlier in the year, or just their historical issues around this circuit?

Elsewhere, McLaren were having a productive session. Having sat in 12th and 14th at the halfway stage, Fernando Alonso soon shot up to sixth place despite his protestations on the radio that he had “no power.” Vandoorne further improved the mood in the McLaren pits by going ninth when he got back out for his second run.

Once we got into the final 20 minutes of the session, the times started to come down and Ferrari, who had up until now not been pushing too hard, began to unleash their pace, initially seeing Vettel split the 2 Red Bulls of Ricciardo, who had already set a new lap record with his headline time, and Verstappen in third. This was the way the top 3 finished, with Hamilton and Perez rounding out the top five. Bottas, Raikkonen, Alonso, Hulkenberg, and Kvyat rounded out the top ten.

FP2 – Ricciardo storms away while Ferrari struggle

Between the sessions, it was announced that McLaren and Honda will terminate their partnership at the end of the year, taking on Renault engines for 2018. Soon after, the dominoes began to fall, with Toro Rosso confirming a split with Renault and 2018 hookup with Honda, while Renault also announced they have signed Carlos Sainz ‘on loan’ for the 2018 season. The Spaniard will partner Nico Hulkenberg at the team, leaving Jolyon Palmer now without a driver for next season.

With all the drama off the track between the sessions, it was back to normality as the cars hit the streets of Singapore for second practice. The Ferrari’s were first out, seemingly to work on their longer run pace, with Vettel taking a set of softs, and Raikkonen supersofts. Ricciardo soon reasserted himself at the top of the times, just ahead of his teammate. Both Red Bulls were using the supersoft tyres while Hamilton in third was following Vettel’s lead on the harder softs. At the half hour mark, Verstappen had pipped Ricciardo to top spot, and the Red Bulls were looking imperious around the Marina Bay Circuit, claiming all the fastest sector times.

Things got serious when all the session’s front-runners put the ultrasoft tyre back on, but it was again Red Bull, and Daniel Ricciardo, who came out on top, lowering the lap record on several occasions. Verstappen though, in a similar vein to Hamilton earlier, complained that his tyres were already going off by the second flying lap, indicating it may not just be Mercedes who are struggling to make the ultrasoft last. Ferrari were quite far down the order but had not completed a similar qualifying simulation run yet. Kimi Raikkonen would only manage ninth on a used set of ultrasofts when he went out, but Vettel would not go for a similar run in this session.

The remainder of the session was taken up by long-run simulations, and even here the Red Bulls look to have the edge over Mercedes, with the Aussie on average half a second faster than Hamilton in the Red Bull. Ricciardo finished the session with a similar advantage over his teammate, and in completing a clean sweep on Friday, on all tyres (although fuel loads are obviously unknown), it looks like it’s advantage Ricciardo as we head into Saturday.

Elsewhere, McLaren celebrated their split with Honda by putting in one of the strongest performances of the season,  finishing sixth and seventh. Ferrari look like they are really struggling in FP2, but given they didn’t give a full account of their qualifying pace, this could just be a tactic. Their fans will certainly hope so!