Motor racing-Red Bull find their wings in first Singapore practice
By John O'Brien
SINGAPORE, Sept 14 (Reuters) - Red Bull enjoyed a welcome return to the top of the timesheets after a few quiet races with Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen setting the fastest times in the first practice session for the Singapore Grand Prix on Friday.
The demanding Marina Bay Street Circuit has traditionally favoured the Red Bulls and Ferraris, so it was no surprise to see the Italian team's Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen clock the next quickest times.
Mercedes, meanwhile, opted for a different strategy, deciding not to use the fastest 'hypersoft' tyre compound throughout the session, making it difficult to fully assess championship leader Lewis Hamilton's sixth-place finish.
Ricciardo has failed to finish the last two grands prix since Formula One returned from its summer break but the Australian again showed his street circuit prowess by clocking one minute, 39.711 seconds in the baking Singapore sun.
Dutchman Verstappen lapped in 1:39.912 to edge out Vettel by 85 thousandths of a second but the German will be looking to improve over the weekend as he seeks to eat into Hamilton's 30-point championship lead with seven rounds remaining.
The session started in the mid-afternoon with the dusty, bumpy circuit difficult to navigate for drivers in conditions far removed from what they will experience when the lights on Sunday night.
Mercedes have already stated that they expect Ferrari and Red Bull to prove a handful over the weekend with team principal Toto Wolff explaining that they had used the first of three practice sessions to gauge the soft compound tyres.
"We were running a completely different programme to the other teams. We didn't run the hyper and concentrated on long runs for this session," Wolff told Sky Sports.
"We need to attack and be flat out in the next sessions."
Renault also enjoyed an encouraging afternoon as Nico Hulkenburg finished fifth, ahead of Hamilton, with his team mate Carlos Sainz crossing the line seventh fastest, ahead of Valtteri Bottas in the other Mercedes.
Sauber's Charles Leclerc continued to show the sort of form that encouraged Ferrari to sign him as Raikkonen's replacement for next season by finishing ninth but his afternoon ended on a sour note when he crashed into a wall at Turn 13.
The 20-year-old apologised to his team on the radio as he left his car stranded in an escape road with two minutes left in the session, a sight that will disappoint his future employers, who will hope he does not make similar mistakes next season. (Reporting by John O'Brien Editing by Keith Weir)