Singapore GP: Rosberg tops FP1 at the F1 Night Race while Rossi finds the wall

Nico Rosberg opens the Singapore Grand Prix weekend with the fastest time in first free practice.

While the sun still shined over the Marina Bay circuit in Singapore, Rosberg posted the fastest time of the opening practice session. Nico held the lead throughout the first practice session as the sky turned to black for a session ended under the red flags as F1 debutant Alex Rossi found the wall in Roberto Merhi’s Manor. 

Hamilton went in to the Singapore Grand Prix weekend with a 53 point lead over Rosberg, which he stretched last time out in Italy after Rosberg failed to finish while Lewis took the win, even after a FIA investigation into his tyre pressures.

Roberto Merhi on the other hand, and at the other end of the grid, was going in to the Singapore Grand Prix weekend on the back of pulling out of Formula Renault 3.5 to focus on his F1 duties with Manor. Except at the start of the week, and after arriving in Singapore, Roberto found he would now only drive 2 more times this year. Those drives will come when the Formula One calendar clashes with its support series, GP2, as Merhi’s seat has been handed to the American GP2 title-challenger Alexander Rossi.

Alex has been in Formula One as a reserve and test drive at both Manor (Marussia) and Caterham before and with that, has carried out a handful of practice sessions. He is also the only American to currently hold a FIA superlicence, which is needed to race in Formula One, and almost had his F1 race debut with Marussia at the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix before the team reversed their decision and put Max Chilton back in the car.

As things stand, Alex Rossi is still set to race on Sunday but he was certainly part of FP1 for the Singapore Grand Prix, which went green at 18:00 local time. FP1 is the least comparable session of the weekend for the race due to the start time being two hours earlier than the race. But the most notable difference is the lighting as FP1 is under natural lighting in most, whereas FP2 and the race are under the floodlights that make this the F1 night race.

As the session is not that comparable to the race, the teams took the session as a data gathering opportunity and applied sensors upon sensors and flo-vis paint across their cars. For Rossi, this was also a chance to settle into the car with his race number upon, number 53 – inspired by the VW Beetle used in many Disney films named Herbie.

When times began to hit the board, Nico Rosberg took the early top spot with a 1:50.393, which he soon lowered into the 1:49’s. A bit further back, Alex Rossi was finding the Marussia car a bit too small for him as the clutch paddle was rubbing on his leg. This is partly due to Rossi not having any time in the Marussia so far this season but mostly down to Alex being taller than Merhi.

Considering his early struggles, Rossi began to settle into the Manor pretty swiftly and gained time with every lap of the Marina Bay circuit to claw his Manor closer to the 17th placed Sauber of Ericsson. Jenson was also having a difficult time at the start of the session in his McLaren after the team had fitted something new to the inside of the cockpit which he kept catching his arm on, along with a poor radio connection.

Rosberg’s early time was soon beaten by himself, Ricciardo and Hamilton however Nico continued to sit pretty in P1 after the team switched his brake pads to brake them in. But after coming out on new tyres, Rosberg rocketed away from the Aussie and the Brit by more than a second after purples in sector one and two.

Hamilton was able to move back within three tenths of Rosberg’s now fastest time but this was also achieved by Ricciardo hinting at Red Bull’s strength on the more restricted track. But for the other Red Bull driver, he was forced into aborting his run due to fears for his fuel system.

Despite being close to the Mercedes drivers, Ricciardo still felt he could do better if he “put the lap together we’re looking alright”. Vettel on the other hand had a moment when he failed to put the lap together and came to a stop at turn 4. Throughout the session, Vettel had also been brushing the wall at turn 21.

As the session wound down and drivers settled into longer runs on used tyres, Alex Rossi lost the rear into turn 18 and collided with the barrier as the driver dipped under the grandstand. Midway through turn in, the rear stepped out and the rear-right collided heavily with the barrier, snapping the car back to the right and ending his session.

The red flag brought out by Rossi’s crash meant the session ended under the red flags rather than the chequered flag as Rossi’s crash came with four minutes to go. But for Rosberg, FP1 was good work and a job well done as he comfortably took the top spot from his team-mate.

Position Driver Gap
1 Rosberg 1:47.995
2 Hamilton 0.319
3 Ricciardo 0.336
4 Vettel 0.499
5 Raikkonen 0.790
6 Bottas 1.385
7 Verstappen 1.471
8 Hulkenberg 1.859
9 Sainz 2.024
10 Maldonado 2.073
11 Alonso 2.128
12 Perez 2.130
13 Nasr 2.163
14 Grosjean 2.346
15 Button 2.460
16 Ericsson 2.888
17 Massa 3.040
18 Kvyat 3.193
19 Stevens 5.908
20 Rossi 5.923