Formula 1

Lewis Hamilton quickest in second Singapore practice

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Lewis Hamilton topped the times for Mercedes in second practice at the Singapore Grand Prix.

Despite complaining of handling issues early in the session, it appeared the Briton was struggling too much as he led Fernando Alonso and Daniel Ricciardo completed the top three.

Nico Rosberg was only 12th in the session as his attempted qualifying run on the super-soft tyres was brought to premature end as Pastor Maldonado crashed his Lotus at turn 10 around halfway through the session.

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Super-softs proving much faster

As always the second practice session, in the more representative conditions, saw the use of the option or, in this case, the super-soft tyres for the first time this weekend.

Straight away it became clear there was a much bigger delta time between the two compounds as drivers improved by over two seconds compared to the yellow-striped soft rubber.

This meant the best time dropped from a 1:49.056 for Alonso in the late afternoon to a 1:47.490 for Hamilton in the evening.

The advantage in single lap pace means the issue of looking after the super-soft tyres is increased as those who can make the option rubber work and last longer will be at a significant advantage.

Red Bull work wonders

At the end of the first session, Sebastian Vettel pulled off to the side of the track reporting an engine failure in his Red Bull, and so it proved as the team embarked on the massive job of fitting a completely new power unit into his RB10.

Usually a three-hour job, the mechanics and engineers worked wonders getting Vettel out on track with 10 minutes to go giving the German world champion a few laps to try out the super-soft rubber.

Overall it was impressive evening for the Milton Keynes team as Daniel Ricciardo claimed third and Vettel's three flying laps so him take fifth.

The car looks very competitive with only the straights of the first sector preventing a flat-out battle with Mercedes, however, in the twisty final sector Ricciardo was the fastest man therefore offering some hope.

Ferrari quick but deceiving?

As is usually the case Ferrari showed excellent pace in practice matching the Red Bull's as Fernando Alonso finished second and Kimi Raikkonen fourth.

However, while the single lap pace is certainly strong, questions remain over the race pace as excessive rear degradation, a real danger in Singapore, could hold them back from challenging for a podium.

Also likely is the amount of fuel saving required with the Ferrari power unit knowingly a little heavier and thirstier than their rivals. With all the teams expecting to be on the limit of the 100 kilos of fuel for the race the problem could be more exacerbated at the Scuderia and their customer teams than most.

Williams struggling?

Whereas Ferrari tend to feature a little higher up than usual in practice, it is also normal for Williams to be much lower on the standings than is actually true.

However, after only managing 13th and 15th in the late afternoon, Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas actually went backwards in the evening.

The two drivers were 17th and 18th respectively and appeared to be struggling on the tight and twisty turns particularly at the end of the lap.

After been easily the second best team to Mercedes at Monza two weeks ago, it was known that the lack of straights and many slow speed corners would not suit the aerodynamically slick FW36.

However, surely on Saturday we can expect a turnaround and I would certainly expect to see the two drivers back in the top 10 come qualifying.

Close midfield battle

Despite the large gaps between teams in the opening session, it appears we are set for a closely contested midfield battle throughout the weekend.

In particular the McLaren's, Force India's and Toro Rosso's are so close you could throw a blanket over them as just half a second covered the six cars.

In race trim too the gaps were very close with the three teams all in the late 1:54's and 1:55 range albeit quite a bit slower than the Mercedes and Ricciardo managed in front.

Lotus were only a couple of tenths off the three teams behind but appear more likely to be battling with the Sauber's with the four cars also covered by just over two tenths of a second.

Marussia in no mans land

At the back it seems the battle is not so closely fought as Marussia find themselves over a second behind the Sauber's and half a second clear of the Caterham's.

Among the drivers too the gaps are huge with Jules Bianchi nearly a second faster than Max Chilton despite both running ahead of the Caterham's as Kamui Kobayashi holds a half second advantage over Marcus Ericsson.

Mercedes the team to beat

Back at the front and it seems to be all about Mercedes once again, however the picture is fairly muddled between the two drivers thanks to Maldonado's crash.

With Hamilton apparently unhappy with the balance we don't know if Rosberg had more to give and over the race distance too, while Hamilton seemed quicker, his tyre life was much less with only a nine lap stint on the super-softs compared to Nico in the teens.

Red Bull, through Daniel Ricciardo, also seem a legitimate threat in the race and given the need to look after the tyres, could very well have a role to play come Sunday.

Its an unclear picture heading into the weekend but that's exactly how we like because on the streets of Singapore anything can usually happen.

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