Singapore GP: Mercedes off the pace again as Vettel tops FP3

Final free practice at the Singapore Grand Prix topped by Sebastian Vettel.

As the sun tucked behind the Marina Bay Sands and into the haze, Formula One prepped for quali as the teams took to the track for their final data gathering runs. When the flying qualifying runs were carried out on Pirelli’s supersoft tyres, Vettel posted the fastest time of the session with a four tenth gap back to Raikkonen. But in seventh, Alonso was just one hundredth of a second off of Rosberg’s best time.

As the Singapore Grand Prix weekend engaged, it was business as usual at the F1 night race as Rosberg topped the opening practice time sheet. But come FP2, Red Bull topped their first free practice session of the hybrid V6 power unit era that began in March 2014. Kvyat’s second free practice time saw him lead a Red Bull one-two in a practice session where Mercedes ran slower than their competition and Rosberg set up saw him over a second off the average long run pace.

Friday also gave Alex Rossi his first chance to get in to the 2015 Manor car that he will be racing this weekend but his day got off to a poor start when he found the wall at the 18th corner. But while the team set about fixing the American’s car, Rossi’s British team-mate, Will Stevens, retired from the second practice session.

Over night and during the day, Manor worked hard on both cars so that they could complete more running on Saturday and when the session began, both drivers used the supersoft tyres from the off as they worked on catching up with yesterday’s lost running.

Although the session was still early on, both Toro Rosso drivers found themselves running deep into the corner as they approached the end of the first DRS zone at turn seven. For Verstappen, a big lock up under braking caused him to use the run off area to stop the car as the brakes failed to slow the car in time. While Sainz ran wide through the exit and bounced over the curb strip that would see him under FIA scrutiny should a driver use that part of track and gain an advantage come the race.

While the Toro Rosso boys ran wide at turn seven, a man who raced here for the team and now races for Red Bull was topping the time sheet as Kvyat set the early benchmark. Surprisingly, Mercedes once again could not put a lap together good enough to better the Red Bull’s time. But that was light work for Vettel as the German stormed around the streets to go nine-tenths clear with purple times in each of the three sectors while still on the soft tyres.

While Vettel stretched his legs and Raikkonen moved into second despite feeling as if the rear of his Ferrari was “funny”, Lewis Hamilton joined Max Verstappen in the turn seven run off party as he, like the teenager in the Toro Rosso, ran deep and was forced into a temporary stop off the track.

Come the final 10 minutes of FP2, the supersoft tyres were fitted on the cars up and down the grid for the flying runs. For Ricciardo, he took the fresh life out of his tyres and moved into the top spot but could only nudge Vettel down by three tenths.

Ricciardo’s first time was easily beatable given the 1.5 second average gain between compounds yesterday, with Raikkonen beating the Australian’s time in each sector, likewise for Ricciardo’s team-mate. But once again it was Sebastian Vettel making the moves as he regained P1 by nearly half a second to Raikkonen.

Amazingly, once again Rosberg and Hamilton could not get anywhere near the Ferrari’s lap time with both Silver Arrows hitting the leaderboard a full second off of Vettel with the supersoft tyres. If things stay this way come qualifying and Mercedes have not been sandbagging, we could be looking at our first non-Mercedes powered car claiming pole since the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2013.

To rub salt into the Mercedes wounds, Fernando Alonso was able to get to with one hundredth of a second to Rosberg’s time in his McLaren-Honda that has been a back marker for most of the season.

One possibly cause behind Mercedes’ lack of pace in Singapore is that the team struggled with degradation here least year and could be running the car to be kinder on their tyres but with the negative effect of slower lap times. Another possible cause is the road surfacing is slightly bumpy and the car may not be riding those as well as others.

Regardless of the reason why though, Vettel lead a Ferrari one-two in practice with both Red Bulls following close behind, and sitting in the large gap back to Mercedes.

FP3 was also a good session for McLaren as the closer track limits has helped them close the gap saw in Spa and Monza.

Position Driver Gap
1 Vettel 1:45.682
2 Raikkonen 0.450
3 Kvyat 0.485
4 Ricciardo 0.677
5 Hamilton 1.120
6 Rosberg 1.541
7 Alonso 1.555
8 Sainz 1.619
9 Verstappen 1.782
10 Ericsson 1.886
11 Bottas 1.905
12 Hulkenberg 1.958
13 Button 2.033
14 Massa 2.051
15 Maldonado 2.135
16 Perez 2.320
17 Grosjean 2.434
18 Nasr 3.250
19 Rossi 6.906
20 Stevens 9.611