Vettel bolts ahead of rivals while Hamilton and Button struggle


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Sebastian Vettel insists that he's not really too worried about tying up his second consecutive world championship here this weekend, but it's inconceivable that he hasn't done the maths.

A third-place podium finish could wrap things up for him, but only if Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button, Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton don't finish ahead of him. The simplest scenario is that Vettel must win, with Alonso no better than fourth. That would give the German 25 points and the Spaniard 12, taking them respectively to 309 and 184. With 125 points left from the remaining five races Alonso could tie Vettel if he won all five and Vettel failed to finish any of them, but Vettel's nine wins to Alonso's six would still settle the issue in Vettel's favour.

The German played second fiddle to Hamilton in a disrupted opening practice session yesterday, held at eight o'clock in the evening since this is F1's only night race, but showed his intentions by dominating the second as only Alonso could get within two-tenths of a second of him and Hamilton was a further half-second adrift.

There was a 30-minute delay before the first session could begin after the Porsche Carrera Cup practice had dislodged the new temporary kerbs in some corners. In the end those on the exit to Turns Three and 14 were removed, and drivers were allowed to run across the solid white lines beneath them. Ten minutes from the end the red flag came out again after Ferrari's Felipe Massa had run wide, gone over a kerb before the resultant wobble sent him down an escape road, and inadvertently dislodged another bolt which stood proud.

Typically, Vettel played down his speed. "We worked on the set-up of the car, but the baseline was not too bad," he said. "We still have to make a good step overnight. It looked pretty tight out there today."

As Alonso moved his Ferrari ahead of Hamilton in the second session, Jenson Button struggled in his McLaren, stopping out on the circuit after 40 of the 50 minutes after running into an escape road at Turn 14. This was a blow to the team who, according to team principal Martin Whitmarsh on the way in to the circuit, had been confident that this was a race their men could win.

"We were competitive in P1, but in P2 there was a larger gap to the front and we started struggling a little with the rear tyres," Hamilton admitted. "There are some areas out on the track where the bolts are coming out of the kerbs – they must be taking some serious force from the cars. On a couple of the corners – Turns Three, 13 and 14 – the exit and apex kerbing has been removed, so some drivers were using the extra track.

"We don't yet know whether or not the kerbs will be reinstated tonight, so I continued driving as though they were there. If they're not replaced, then we should gain an extra couple of tenths by being able to run as wide as some of the others did. Either way, we're going to improve the car overnight; we'll change the set-up a little bit."

Despite the use of the DRS rear wing this season, which has helped overtaking on some tracks, Hamilton stressed that a good grid position will be vital. "Qualifying will be very important tomorrow. Then, looking after the tyres will be key; we'll be making adjustments to limit the rears' sliding, and also to make them last longer."

Button, meanwhile, slid off track and couldn't engage reverse gear. But he made the best of things by watching rivals out on the track with his race engineer.

"It was a short day for me, but it was quite interesting watching other people on the circuit," he said. "We have to take the positives from the session. The negatives were I narrowly missed the barrier and then couldn't drive away because I couldn't get reverse, but the positives are that we were able to watch and see what people are doing."

Besides Vettel's pace, Ferrari's long-run speed was also a concern to McLaren. "It's going to be very, very tough," Button revealed. "The Red Bull is very fast over one lap, and Fernando was up there and his long run was very impressive. I think everyone is going to struggle with tyres. The prime [soft] is sliding just like the option [supersoft], and then that causes high temperature, which causes more sliding – you get into a pretty bad situation and there is a massive drop-off after just three laps.

"We're not really confident of the podium at the moment. There's a few things we still need to sort out and we're not happy with the balance. But we have some good ideas for tomorrow; we'll make some good progress."

The Singapore Grand Prix lasts almost the regulation maximum of two hours, making it the longest on the calendar in contrast to the recent race at Monza which is the shortest. And the heat, even at night, makes it a serious challenge even to the fittest driver-athletes such as Button and Webber.

"It's very bumpy, not a lot of room for mistakes, not much run-off, a long lap, so many corners, and humidity," Vettel said of the Marina Bay track. "All of which makes it a tougher challenge than Monaco."

Practice Times

FIA Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix, Singapore

First Practice:

1 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren-Mercedes 1min 48.599secs

2 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault 1:49.005

3 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault 1:50.006

4 F Alonso (Sp) Ferrari 1:50.596

5 J Button (GB) McLaren-Mercedes 1:50.952

6 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 1:52.043

7 A Sutil (Ger) Force India-Mercedes 1:52.251

8 M Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:52.416

9 P Di Resta (GB) Force India-Mercedes 1:52.435

10 N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:52.815

11 R Barrichello (Br) Williams-Cosworth 1:52.991

12 J Alguersuari (Sp) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:53.050

13 P Maldonado (Ven) Williams-Cosworth 1:53.399

14 S Perez (Mex) Sauber 1:53.703

15 K Kobayashi (Japan) Sauber 1:53.749

16 B Senna (Br) Renault 1:53.765

17 S Buemi (Swit) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:53.785

18 V Petrov (Rus) Renault 1:54.736

19 J Trulli (It) Lotus-Renault 1:54.821

20 H Kovalainen (Fin) Lotus-Renault 1:56.198

21 J d'Ambrosio (Bel) Virgin-Cosworth 1:57.798

22 T Glock (Ger) Virgin-Cosworth 1:58.792

23 D Ricciardo (Aus) Hispania-Cosworth 1:59.169

24 N Karthikeyan (India) Hispania-Cosworth 1:59.214

Second Practice:

1 S Vettel 1 46.374

2 F Alonso 1:46.575

3 L Hamilton 1:47.115

4 F Massa 1:47.120

5 M Webber 1:47.265

6 M Schumacher1:48.418

7 A Sutil 1:48.866

8 S Perez 1:49.578

9 K Kobayashi 1:49.730

10 J Button 1:49.751

11 J Alguersuari 1:49.792

12 B Senna (Br) Renault 1:50.241

13 P Di Resta 1:50.345

14 V Petrov 1:50.399

15 N Rosberg 1:50.790

16 R Barrichello 1:50.897

17 P Maldonado 1:50.937

18 H Kovalainen 1:51.950

19 S Buemi 1:52.257

20 J Trulli 1:52.489

21 T Glock 1:53.579

23 J d'Ambrosio 1:54.649

24 D Ricciardo 1:54.754

25 V Liuzzi (It) Hispania-Cosworth 1:55.198