F1: Red Bulls charge through Marina Bay
Ricciardo sets new lap record to outshine Hamilton and Vettel
Lewis Hamilton holds a slender three-point lead atop the drivers' standings of the Formula One World Championship, but the Mercedes star faces a tough fight to stay ahead on race day of the 10th edition of the Singapore Grand Prix tomorrow.
Before taking to the Marina Bay Street Circuit at yesterday's practice sessions, Hamilton acknowledged that the bends and twists on the 23-turn circuit favour Red Bull and Ferrari, and the 32-year-old Briton was proven right - at least on one count - that the Red Bulls will take some catching in Singapore.
If last night's numbers were any indication, the Red Bulls could fly ahead of him in qualifying today, although Hamilton may well hold off the challenge from Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, his closest rival in the standings.
Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo was fastest during yesterday's opening 90-minute session with a record lap time, but ended the day with an even quicker effort of 1min 40.852sec.
The previous lap record had belonged to retired world champion Nico Rosberg, who clocked 1:42.584 in qualifying last year, although cars can go faster this year with modifications and wider tyres.
Ricciardo's Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen was second-fastest on the night, 0.556sec behind Ricciardo, with Hamilton (1:41.555) third and Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas (1:42.104) fourth.
Hamilton expected Vettel to match the pace of the Red Bull duo, but the German disappointed.
This is prettyRed Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo
this is the way
I wanted to start
He clocked 1:42.598 in the first practice session to finish second, but the 30-year-old could not get going in the second practice, brushing his rear right tyre into advertisement boards on Turn 10, and finished 11th.
A beaming Ricciardo said after practice: "This is pretty expected, I'm not surprised, this is the way I wanted to start the weekend, but nothing is guaranteed.
"This is a good day, but it's important that we do it tomorrow and Sunday, those are the days that count."
Ricciardo finished second on the Singapore podium last year, and he merely smiled when asked about the possibility of staving off the Mercedes and Ferrari challenge come race day.
"I think they (Mercedes and Ferrari) will all bunch up, but my plan is quite the same - just stay in front," he said.
"We improved the car from the morning, we got it up a step, but I think we can get it up half a step more. We can still improve on the race pace."
Vettel cut a grim figure outside the Ferrari garage, reflecting on a night that did not go as planned.
He lost the lead in the drivers' standings after Hamilton won back-to-back races in Belgium and Italy - the two races preceding Singapore - and it was clear that he would not enjoy seeing the gap widen between him and Hamilton.
"It's important to get the laps, to get a feel of the car, that's more important," said the four-time world champion.
"We're not yet where we want to be, so there's a lot of work yet.
"Today's Friday, we tried various options, different tyres but, come Sunday, we'll know what we want."
Vettel has won four of the nine Singapore races so far, and he has another Red Bull driver to beat, if he wants to add to that glowing record.
POWER TO THE MAX
Verstappen finished fourth here last year and, while his car stalled on his Singapore debut in 2015, the Dutch teen put on a show of sensational catch-up racing to finish eighth in that race.
Now only 19, Verstappen is looking to launch a bid for a podium spot off last night's performance.
"It's a positive day, we finished one and two in the second session, and the car performed quite well," he said.
"We're looking good, but this is Friday (and there are two more days of racing to go).
"We know that we have to perform here - this should be our track - and we'll try to make the most of it.
"We have to believe after today - we'll go for it."