Hamilton leads Red Bulls in first practice for Singapore GP

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Lewis Hamilton has begun his Singapore Grand Prix weekend in style by finishing quickest in the first free practice session ahead of the race on Sunday.

The Mercedes driver posted a best time of 1:47.055 to finish ahead of Red Bull’s Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, with the early signs suggesting that the fight will be between those two teams for the win this weekend. For Vettel’s closest rival in the championship, Fernando Alonso, the session was less fruitful as he finished down in P7 behind Nico Rosberg and both Lotus drivers.

The first practice session of the weekend got underway when it was still daylight, with most drivers conducting an installation lap before returning to the pits and waiting for conditions to become more representative for the rest of the weekend. With one-third of the session gone, Sergio Perez emerged from the pits to set the first benchmark time of 1:50.103 on the medium tire, initially followed by the two Caterhams of Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde with the latter scraping the wall at turn twenty-one. Pastor Maldonado was the first driver to top Perez’s time, going three-tenths faster before teammate Valtteri Bottas went faster still.

With half of the session complete, the front-runners came out to set their first times. Red Bull’s Mark Webber was the first to lay down the gauntlet, going six-tenths clear of the Williams pair and he was joined at the front by the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Fernando Alonso could only go fifth with his first competitive time, and the Spaniard appeared to be wrestling with the car through the tight final sector of the circuit unlike Sebastian Vettel who eventually came out to go P3.

As more and more laps were completed, the times became quicker and quicker due to the nature of the Marina Bay Street Circuit, causing Hamilton and Webber to trade fastest lap times at the top of the timesheets. Kimi Raikkonen was the first driver to be caught out by the re-profiled turn ten (formerly the Singapore Sling chicane), taking to the run-off area. In the midfield, Williams ran well along with Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez, with the Mexican driver looking to score his first points in Formula One this weekend.

Hamilton reclaimed top spot from Webber with around twenty-five minutes remaining as Vettel looked to join the sparring duo. However, he could not match their pace, with the Briton eventually finishing the session quickest for Mercedes.

Having won the race back in 2009, Hamilton will be hoping to continue this form across the rest of the weekend to clinch his second win at Marina Bay.

Lewis Hamilton aims to match Michael Schumacher’s F1 win record

Lewis Hamilton Schumacher record
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SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton has set many Formula One marks over the years, but few are as significant as the Michael Schumacher record he can match Sunday at the Russian Grand Prix.

Victory for Hamilton at the Sochi Olympic Park would see him draw level with Schumacher at 91 career victories, more than any other driver in the 70-year history of F1.

It also would increase Hamilton’s commanding 55-point lead over teammate Valtteri Bottas in the championship standings, putting him closer to a seventh world championship, matching another Schumacher record.

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History is on the side of Hamilton, who won Sept. 13 at Mugello. He’s won four of the six Russian races so far, and all six were won by Mercedes drivers. His closest challenger is likely to be Bottas, who beat Hamilton in the 2017 edition of the Russian Grand Prix.

Elsewhere in the championship hunt, Red Bull driver Max Verstappen’s season has gone up in smoke since his Aug. 9 victory at Silverstone. An overheating engine forced the Dutch driver out of the Sept. 6 race at Monza and then a similar problem struck just before the start at Mugello. Verstappen was far slower off the line than the cars around him and was struck by Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo.

That leaves Verstappen 80 points off Hamilton in the standings and a 25-point deficit to Bottas.

If Hamilton does win to tie Schumachher at Sochi, more fans will see it in person than any other race in a 2020 season mostly run before empty grandstands because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Organizers say the race weekend is sold out but haven’t given final ticket sales figures.

Race promoter Alexei Titov previously told Russian state TV that the stands would be at 50 percent of their capacity, which equates to around 30,000 spectators.

That’s far more than the previous season high of 3,000 fans for the most recent race, the Tuscan Grand Prix at the Mugello circuit.

Unlike at the last two races in Italy, there will be a full entertainment program on offer for fans with concerts featuring some of Russia’s most popular musicians.

Russian organizers say they’re taking precautions to keep fans safe and will have medical staff posted at checkpoints around the venue, and that spectators will have their temperature measured on entry.