Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Singapore, 2018

“Massive improvement” puts Mercedes in the mix

2018 Singapore Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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Mercedes may have won last year’s Singapore Grand Prix, but the track hasn’t played to their strengths in recent seasons.

Three years ago, in the middle of an otherwise dominant campaign, the silver cars qualified 1.4 seconds off the pace. Last year they were relegated to the third row of the grid by the Ferraris and the Red Bulls.

But this year it seems they may have finally cracked the secret of Singapore. Lewis Hamilton was just 11-thousandths of a second off the quickest time on Friday.

“We were doing some experiments and I think we got some good results from it,” he explained. “Then we’ve gone into practice two with the changes that we’ve made and surprisingly it’s quite close to the Ferraris.”

Hamilton tempered his enthusiasm: “I don’t know if that’s real or not, we’ll find out tomorrow. But the car’s definitely feeling better than it has done in the past.”

Valtteri Bottas, however, described the car’s performance in high-downforce trim as a “massive improvement” since earlier in the season.

The defending champions were widely expected to be third among the ‘big three’ teams this weekend, with Ferrari and Red Bull vying for top honours. But it seems Red Bull’s concern about the progress their rivals have made this year is being borne out.

On one-lap pace the RB14s look like they may be edged back to the third row. Asked if he expects to repeat his front row start from last year, Max Verstappen said: “I don’t think so”. Over a stint, however, they may be able to get back into contention.

What’s turned things around for Mercedes? “Both cars had too much understeer in the first session which we were able to dial out during the break,” explained technical director James Allison.

“We got the car pretty happy for a single lap in the second session. Likewise, the long-run pace seems to be in the mix. There is still more work to do. We want to cure some nervousness under braking and Valtteri’s balance wasn’t quite right in his long runs. But if we compare the situation to what we experienced last year, then today’s running makes us more confident that we are in the hunt this weekend.”

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Meanwhile Sebastian Vettel was unable to do a race simulation because he bounced his SF71-H off a barrier. The serious action hasn’t begun yet and this is already starting to look like the familiar 2018 story of Mercedes capitalising on Vettel’s mistakes.

Brendon Hartley, Toro Rosso, Singapore, 2018
Toro Rosso expected to be closer to the pace
But all is far from lost yet for the Ferrari driver – his form on this track is unrivalled. And, as he pointed out, at this stage in the season the information gathered on Friday is not as critical as it is earlier in the year “By now I think we have quite good experience reading into the others what they did and so on, reading into their runs with tyres which obviously will be key for Sunday,” he said. “We can recover most of it tomorrow.”

A common denominator throughout the field is that the hyper soft tyre isn’t performing well over a long stint. However it is around 1.6 seconds per lap faster than the next-softest tyre, the ultra-soft. Given how quickly the track ‘evolves’ in Singapore, the front-runners may consider it too risky to use anything but the hyper-soft in Q2.

Most of the rest of the field is in the hunt for the remaining four places in Q3, with two exceptions.

Williams don’t like high-downforce tracks and are half a second slower than anyone. Lance Stroll’s struggle was made even more difficult when his right-rear brake duct ingested a tear=off – possibly his own – causing a fire.

Toro Rosso, meanwhile, are hoping that two runs on the hyper-soft in final practice helps them solve the mystery of their lack of one-lap pace. Singapore’s short straights and slow corners makes for the kind of track the STR13 usually thrives on, so keep a close eye on their progress tomorrow.

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Longest stint comparison – second practice

This chart shows all the drivers’ lap times (in seconds) during their longest unbroken stint. Very slow laps omitted. Scroll to zoom, drag to pan, right-click to reset:

Complete practice times

PosDriverCarFP1FP2Total laps
1Kimi RaikkonenFerrari1’40.4861’38.69956
2Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’41.2321’38.71048
3Max VerstappenRed Bull-TAG Heuer1’39.9121’39.22155
4Daniel RicciardoRed Bull-TAG Heuer1’39.7111’39.30960
5Valtteri BottasMercedes1’41.4291’39.36861
6Sebastian VettelFerrari1’39.9971’40.63335
7Carlos Sainz JnrRenault1’41.3291’40.27459
8Romain GrosjeanHaas-Ferrari1’42.1081’40.38454
9Fernando AlonsoMcLaren-Renault1’42.6301’40.45954
10Nico HulkenbergRenault1’41.1051’40.66861
11Sergio PerezForce India-Mercedes1’42.4121’40.77455
12Marcus EricssonSauber-Ferrari1’42.4081’40.81260
13Esteban OconForce India-Mercedes1’43.1771’40.87058
14Charles LeclercSauber-Ferrari1’42.0351’41.06261
15Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’42.4521’41.15452
16Stoffel VandoorneMcLaren-Renault1’45.1601’41.16443
17Brendon HartleyToro Rosso-Honda1’43.4851’41.54268
18Pierre GaslyToro Rosso-Honda1’43.2401’41.61561
19Lance StrollWilliams-Mercedes1’43.8491’42.14147
20Sergey SirotkinWilliams-Mercedes1’44.0361’42.18165

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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2018 Singapore Grand Prix

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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7 comments on ““Massive improvement” puts Mercedes in the mix”

  1. Hey Keith, the speed trap figures would be helpful in this analysis. Always look forward to the Friday Practice analysis before I set any expectations for the weekend.

  2. Ferrari do tend to gain 0.3 of a second from Friday to Q3 over merc though, whether they use very gentle engine modes in practice or tend to fuel up I don’t know, but I feel that Merc don’t have much of a chance at the first row because of that.

    1. Someone flipped the wrong switch, and gave it to Hamilton instead.

  3. Mercedes were quick at Monza. Had a slight edge on Ferrari.

    No reason why they won’t have an edge here.

    1. Yeah that looks to be the case. I think Ferrari had the edge for a couple of races which they failed to capitalise on but now it’s back to business as usual with the Mercs leading the pack.

  4. Just couldn’t resist expressing how good the title photo underlines the story. Well done @keithcollantine and Race Fans!

  5. The graphics seems to be wrong. According to it the fastest time in the longest stints comparison was by Stroll, and it was 1:44.5. That doesn’t seem consistent with the data in the table.

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