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Singapore GP 2019

SEPTEMBER 20, 2019

Practice 1 Report - A grueling beginning

Max Verstappen
© The Cahier Archive

By Dan Knutson in Singapore

The grueling Singapore Grand Prix weekend got underway with the first free practice session in the city streets on Friday afternoon.

“It’s probably the most physical race of the season,” Nico Hulkenberg said. “A lap is very busy at the wheel, extremely physical and tiring. It’s a long circuit with corners coming thick and fast without many straights to have a rest. The humidity makes it very tricky and that, combined with all the gear shifts and changes of direction, makes it exhausting come the end of the race.”

At the end of FP1 the fastest combo was Verstappen and Red Bull.

The line-up for the weekend was: Mercedes – Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas; Ferrari – Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc; Red Bull TAG Heuer – Verstappen and Alexander Albon; Renault – Daniel Ricciardo and Hulkenberg; Haas Ferrari – Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen; McLaren Renault – Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris; Racing Point Mercedes – Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll; Alfa Romeo Ferrari – Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi; Toro Rosso Honda – Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly; Williams Mercedes – George Russell and Robert Kubica.

The ambient temperature at the start of the 90-minute session was 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Centigrade) and the track temperature was 108 degrees Fahrenheit (42 degrees Centigrade).

Gasly was the first out on the 3.14-mile (5.063 km) 23-turn street track.

“The two topics everyone talks about in Singapore are the heat and the fact it's a night race,” the Toro Rosso Honda driver said earlier. “It definitely makes it exciting as the conditions are much tougher. We have tailored my training in these weeks to prepare by working in much hotter conditions, wearing layers of T shirts and sweatshirts to get the body used to sweating.

“I've also spent a lot of time in the sauna, which is a dry heat, and a hammam which is humid with steam, so the body adapts to the heat. That way, you are as ready as possible when you get there, which is vital as it is also the longest and the toughest race of the year.”

Leclerc, who finished first in the last two races, was the first to clock a time in Singapore – a 1:46.180. He then improved that to 1:44.723 and eventually a 1:43.618.

Vettel, who was 1.4 seconds slower, and Leclerc were the only ones lapping at the 15-minute mark.

But then other drivers started to join in, including Verstappen who took the lead with his 1:43.077. But he was on Pirelli’s soft compound tires whereas Leclerc had been on the mediums.

Bottas, also on the soft slicks, shaded Verstappen’s time with a 1:43.041 as the one-hour mark approached. Then along came Hamilton who posted a 1:42.412 on the softs.

Just past the 60-minute mark the top 10 were: Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Kvyat, Hulkenberg, Leclerc, Stroll, Gasly, Perez and Albon.

And then Verstappen forged ahead by turning a 1:41.938.

"I had a little moment over the bumps - the car is bouncing massively so I had oscillation on the pedals," Verstappen radioed to his team.

Hamilton came back at 1:41.469. And so at the 40-minute break the order was now: Hamilton, Verstappen, Stroll, Bottas, Kvyat, Hulkenberg, Gasly, Perez, Leclerc and Albon.

The top four had set their best times on the soft compound tires. Bottas the first and only one to soon head back out, and now he was lapping on the hard Pirelli slicks. But he still managed to move up to first with a 1:41.336.

Now on the soft tires Vettel moved into the lead with a time of 1:40.426. Verstappen, 0.106 slower, moved into second place.

Leclerc was moving slowly after his engine quit. He coasted into the pits.

The track was evolving as it got cleaned up, which would happen all through the weekend. Now Verstappen was out front with his latest 1:40.259.

Bottas crashed into the barriers at Turn 19, which brought out the red flags with 27 minutes to go.

Seventeen minutes remained when the session was restarted.

Norris had an “off” at Turn 7 but missed the barriers and continued.

While the track continued to get cleaner, the tires were getting older, and so nobody was going to beat Verstappen’s time. But there were changes further down. The top 10 at the end of the beginning of the grueling weekend were: Verstappen, Vettel, Hamilton, Bottas, Albon, Hulkenberg, Sainz, Norris, Kvyat and Gasly.