Hamilton on top in Singapore after Bottas crashes heavily in FP1

Lewis Hamilton laid down an early marker in his quest to win a record fifth Singapore Grand Prix after topping the Friday free practice times at the stunning Marina Bay Circuit.

Hamilton, who has won in Singapore for the last two years, clocked an impressive 1m38.773s lap on the soft compound tyre in FP2 after also proving quick in FP1 on the harder compound rubber. It meant that the runaway championship leader was a narrow 0.184s quicker than second placed Max Verstappen and a substantial 0.818s ahead of Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari.

Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas finished the day fourth fastest ahead of the second Red Bull of Alexander Albon, although both drivers suffered damage after crashing out at Turns 19 and 10 respectively. Italian Grand Prix winner Charles Leclerc was next on the timesheets but could be excused for losing track time due to a gearbox failure in FP1.

The night session, following on from the early evening’s daylight running, was not without drama. Albon, perhaps still getting to grips with his new Red Bull steed, ran headfirst into the wall at Turn 10, smashing his front wing in the process. It was only a light prang, however, and an easy fix, which was more than could be said of Bottas’ accident at the same part of the circuit in FP1, the Mercedes crew doing a marvellous job to repair his car for FP2.

Bottas and Albon weren’t the only drivers searching for the limits of the circuit, Sergio Perez and Kevin Magnussen having a coming together, resulting in the Haas driver clipping the wall in the aftermath of the incident.

With drivers settling into long distance simulation runs for the final half hour and the track temperature cooling, despite the humidity being a stifling and challenging 74 per cent, the earlier times were not going to be challenged, and Mercedes indeed look in good shape once again and must be the team to beat, even on this early juncture.

Top drivers hit trouble in FP1

The first session of free practice was certainly an eventful one, Verstappen topping the lap times from Vettel and Hamilton after his rivals suffered varying degrees of misfortune.

Most significantly, Bottas crashed his Mercedes, sliding into the barriers after losing control on the entry to Turn 19. It meant an extensive repair job for the mechanics in order to get the Finn’s car ready for FP2.

Another driver to suffer in the early evening heat was Italian Grand Prix winner Leclerc, the in-form Monegasque suffering an untimely gearbox failure and winding up 19th on the charts with only 12 laps completed.

Having been forced to concede to Leclerc in a fabulous scrap in Monza, Hamilton would have been happy with his FP1 effort, finishing only 0.7s off the pace on the hardest compound tyre, Vettel and Verstappen on the grippier soft compound.

There were other drivers to have something to smile about after the first practice session. Nico Hulkenberg, recently dropped by Renault for Esteban Ocon, was an impressive sixth fastest ahead of the McLaren duo of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris.

And the popular Robert Kubica, who announced that he would be leaving the Williams team at the end of the season, was 17th quickest, notably ahead of Sergio Perez, Leclerc and teammate George Russell.

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.