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Verstappen leads Red Bull 1-2 in opening Singapore GP practice

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Red Bull made a rapid start to the Singapore Grand Prix weekend as Max Verstappen headed up a one-two finish for the team in the opening Formula 1 practice session at Marina Bay.

Red Bull arrived in Singapore expected to challenge Mercedes’ recent supremacy, the tight and twisting nature of the street circuit playing to the strengths of the RB12 car.

The opening session started in daylight before finishing in darkness, with floodlights illuminating the circuit.

The session saw Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari all enjoy spells at the top of the timesheets, but it was Verstappen who ultimately finished fastest.

A best lap of 1:45.823 on the ultra-soft tire saw Verstappen finish 0.049 seconds clear of teammate Daniel Ricciardo, sending out a warning shot to the team’s rivals.

Four-time Singapore winner Vettel was third-fastest for Ferrari, four-tenths of a second off Verstappen’s time, while defending world champion Lewis Hamilton had to settle for fourth place.

Mercedes fitted both its drivers with the soft compound tire, with the 0.6 second gap to Verstappen likely to be made up once the switch to ultra-softs is complete later in the afternoon.

Nico Rosberg finished the session fifth in the second Mercedes, yet his running came to an early end after crashing into the wall at Turn 18. The German lost his front wing and damaged the front of his car, but was able to return to the pits so Mercedes could repair the damage ahead of second practice later today.

Rosberg was not the only driver to hit trouble. Vettel and Fernando Alonso both clipped the wall at Turn 21, while Carlos Sainz Jr. damaged his front wing when trying to leave his pit garage.

There was bigger trouble for Jenson Button as his McLaren ground to a halt early in the session. The Briton was wheeled back to the pits where the issue was resolved, allowing him to get back out on track.

Romain Grosjean failed to post a single lap time, a power unit issue resigning the Frenchman to a game of cards in the Haas hospitality unit.

Behind Rosberg in P5, Kimi Raikkonen finished sixth for Ferrari ahead of the Toro Rosso duo of Sainz and Daniil Kvyat. Felipe Massa was P9 for Williams, while Esteban Gutierrez put Haas’ updates to good use by rounding out the top 10.

Second practice for the Singapore Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 9:30am ET on Friday.

Valtteri Bottas on Silverstone pole; Nico Hulkenberg a surprising third

F1 Bottas Hamilton Silverstone
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Valtteri Bottas nipped Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in Silverstone qualifying Saturday to maintain the team’s hammerlock on F1 results this season while Nico Hulkenberg was a surprise in third.

Hulkenberg is filling in for Sergio Perez for the second consecutive race while the Racing Point driver recovers from coronavirus.

It’s the best F1 start since 2016 for Hulkenberg, who was left without a full-time ride after the 2019 season. He finished 20th at Silverstone last week when an engine problem on the grid prevented him ftaking the green.

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“The last seven to eight days have been crazy,” Hulkenberg said after qualifying. “This weekend I felt much better prepared. Q3 was just head down, full beans, and give it whatever I had.

“I’m a bit surprised to be standing here, but there’s a big smile on my face.”

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen qualified fourth and will be among the field trying to derail the Mercedes duo that has won the first four races of an F1 season delayed because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“Feels good,” Bottas said after nipping Hamilton by a few hundredths of a second on his final lap for his 13th career pole position. ” I just love qualifying especially, when it goes well. Proud to drive this car. The race pace is there, so our first job is to get a good start off the line tomorrow and go from there.”

The impressive lap came two days after Bottas, who won the season opener in Austria, announced a one-year contract extension with the team.

Mercedes also is set to begin negotiating a new deal with Hamilton, who has won the past three races in F1 but was disappointed Saturday.

“Valtteri did a great job, but for me, it wasn’t a perfect last lap,” he said. “I don’t think many teams will be doing a one-stop race tomorrow so let’s wait and see how things turn out.”