Vettel and Red Bull move clear in second practice

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As he looks to win the Singapore Grand Prix for the third time this weekend, Sebastian Vettel has sent out a signal of intent to his rivals by finishing fastest in second practice at Marina Bay on Friday night.

Vettel was joined by teammate Mark Webber at the top of the timesheets as nearest rivals Mercedes could only finish one second behind the German driver’s best time, suggesting that Red Bull may be in line for a third consecutive victory as their stranglehold on both championships tightens.

Following on from FP1, the majority of the drivers came out early to post a time on the medium compound tire. Having failed to challenge the top two during the first session, Sebastian Vettel quickly set about establishing his dominance by posting a blistering time of 1:46.853 early on to lead from Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso. Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber were quick to join the party, with the Australian driver going fastest of all; a full three-tenths up on his teammate’s time. The two teammates traded fastest times, but Webber remained ahead after the teams had completed their first runs.

Daniel Ricciardo was the first driver to switch to the super-soft tire, immediately jumping up to P2 behind future teammate Vettel. The rest of the field soon followed suit, with the difference in performance between the two available compounds this weekend being significant (1.5 seconds according to Webber’s engineer). Vettel soon proved this by going almost two seconds quicker than his teammate, with Webber improving to cut that gap to just six-tenths. The rest of the field seemed unable to respond: Nico Rosberg was Red Bull’s closest challenger, a full one second slower than Vettel.

Following these runs, the majority of the teams opted to focus on their long runs in preparation for the race on Sunday, thus failing to improve on their quickest times. Ferrari’s struggles from FP1 persisted as both Alonso and Felipe Massa wrestled with the back-end of the F138 through the final sector. Williams’ good form from the first session failed to continue as they dropped down the order and Pastor Maldonado spun on two separate occasions. Caterham resumed normal service to move back ahead of Marussia, albeit only by a couple of tenths.

Despite laying down an ominous pace, Vettel will know from experience that poor luck can scupper all hopes of winning a race. At Silverstone earlier this year, he led the majority of the grand prix before suffering from a gearbox failure and being forced to retire from the race. However, he and Red Bull will be encouraged by their showing on Friday.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.