F1 Friday Analysis: Is Lewis the man to beat?

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After the sun went down in Singapore, the on-track action came alive on Friday with practice under the lights of Marina Bay. Championship contenders Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg both looked to make a good start to the race weekend, but come the checkered flag at the end of second practice, one man was P1 and the other was P13.

For Hamilton, the day was a successful one (on paper, at least). He finished second in FP1 and topped FP2, trailing and leading Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso in the respective sessions, and looked typically at ease in Singapore. The Briton has one race win here and a good track record, not to mention the fact that he is in the form of his life.

However, Lewis is a master of self-depreciation. He underplays just how good he is – either that or he genuinely does have a nightmare of a Friday before getting it right across the rest of the weekend. His comments after the second session were cautiously optimistic, but he said that bagging pole position was crucial to his hopes of a race win.

Nico’s views may appear to be a little too cheery, given that he did finish the second session down in 13th position. However, this was not by his own doing: Pastor Maldonado’s shunt (yes, another one) brought out a red flag that interrupted Rosberg’s run when he was well up on the quickest time. In the end, the German driver opted not to put in a quick lap on the super-soft tires, electing to focus on his race pace.

In terms of race pace though, Hamilton appears to have the advantage. Looking at the Mercedes drivers long-run times – that is, their longest sustained run – Rosberg was averaging a pace around the 1:53.6 region. Hamilton, on the other hand, was dipping into the ’52s on average, although he did alternate between hot laps and cool down laps (one lap in the ’52s, then one in the ’57s, and repeat). Rosberg’s pace was more sustained – take what you will from that. You can see the full lap classification here.

Hamilton (longest FP2 run) Rosberg (longest FP2 run)
1:52.239 1:52.838
1:57.613 1:53.386
1:52.962 1:53.815
1:57.680 1:53.483
1:52.513 1:53.518
1:52.660 1:53.676
1:53.822

Just behind Mercedes though, Red Bull and Ferrari appear to be jostling to complete the podium positions. Sebastian Vettel suffered a difficult Friday after an engine failure, but his team not only did a four-hour job in just three to fix his engine, but they managed to get him out in the final few minutes of FP2. Even though he completed just five laps, the three-time Singapore winner finished fifth, two places behind teammate Daniel Ricciardo.

Ferrari’s Friday pace is always something of an enigma. The Italian team has ran well in most of the early practice sessions so far this year, but eventually gone on to drop further down the order. Monza was a perfect example of that.

This time around though, Fernando Alonso – a Singapore specialist – and Kimi Raikkonen might stand more of a chance, having finished second and fourth respectively in FP2. Perhaps more important for Ferrari is the fact that Williams is languishing right down the order, even behind Sauber. Although its FP1 pace has, juxtaposing that of Ferrari, been poor before the team has fought back later in the weekend, this time around, Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas are a little less optimistic. However, they should not be ruled out of the points this weekend.

Finally, we come back to Pastor Maldonado. Yet another crash for the Venezuelan, which will not ease any of the concerns (or jokes) about his driving ability. The Lotus E22 is certainly a troublesome car, but Romain Grosjean has been a little more dignified, shall we say, in his efforts this season.

There are a lot of questions still to be answered ahead of qualifying tomorrow. If you’re an early bird, be sure to join us at 6am ET on Live Extra for coverage of FP3. Failing that, we’ll see you at the slightly more leisurely time of 9am ET on NBCSN and Live Extra for qualifying from Marina Bay.