SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel shrugged off the disappointment of failing to finish in Monza by dominating both free practice sessions for the Singapore Grand Prix on Friday.
An alternator problem ended his Italian Grand Prix challenge two weeks ago but the German, who won this race last season, had no such problems around the streets of Singapore and offered evidence that he can reignite his title challenge this weekend.
Vettel trails championship leader Fernando Alonso by 39 points with seven rounds remaining and a repeat of Friday’s performance in qualifying and in the race on Sunday will help the 25-year-old make inroads into the Spaniard’s advantage.
McLaren came into the race on the back of three straight victories and are considered the team to beat but Vettel edged out Lewis Hamilton in the first 90-minute session and the Briton’s team mate Jenson Button in the second.
Two hours after a tropical downpour had soaked the track in the mid-afternoon, the drivers took to the demanding 23-turn street circuit with Vettel clocking the fastest lap of 1 minute 50.566 seconds late in the session.
Hamilton lapped 0.049 seconds slower than Vettel as his McLaren continued to display the pace that has carried him to two victories in three races. Button was third fastest, 0.893 seconds off the leader.
In the second session, Vettel went even faster, clocking 1 minute 48.340 to finish 0.311 seconds ahead of Button with Alonso showing his liking for a track where he has won twice by lapping a little more than half a second slower than the leader.
The first session got off to a slow start as a majority of the drivers waited for the sun to set before attempting timed laps, as they sought to compete under the floodlit conditions experienced in qualifying and during the race.
The threat of a second thunderstorm towards the end of the session was relayed to the teams and although the downpour failed to materialize, the track was packed for the last 30 minutes as drivers pushed to set fast times on soft tires.
The Marina Bay Circuit is regarded as one of the most challenging on the 20-race calendar but apart from several drivers missing the apex on the turn 10 chicane, Bruno Senna was the only casualty of the day early in second practice.
The Brazilian clipped the wall before turn 19 and ground to a halt with a broken suspension in the middle of the track, forcing stewards to wave the red flag as his stricken Williams was removed from the circuit.
The session resumed after a seven-minute delay and the remaining hour produced a battle against the clock between the Red Bulls of Vettel and Mark Webber, the McLarens and Alonso’s Ferrari.
Each driver took over top spot on the timesheets before Vettel set the fastest lap as the teams opted to send their drivers out on extended runs with high fuel loads in the final half hour.
Editing by Mark Meadows