Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc powered their Ferraris to a one-two in second practice Friday for the Singapore Grand Prix, while runaway championship leader Max Verstappen and Red Bull struggled on Formula One’s return to Asia.
The Dutchman celebrated his 25th birthday Friday with a cake in the Red Bull team hospitality before the first session, then spent most of the second in the garage with mechanics working on his front suspension set-up.
Verstappen, who can retain his Formula One world championship with a race win on Sunday if other results go his way, did emerge late in the hour-long session for one qualifying simulation lap.
His time of 1min 42.926sec was good enough only for fourth, 0.339sec behind Sainz who clocked 1:42.587 around the Marina Bay street circuit.
“I think it started off quite well and the car was working quite well in FP1, and then for FP2 we wanted to try a few things," said Verstappen.
“They just took a bit longer to change, first of all, and then we wanted to try something else, and that took quite a long time to change again, so we couldn’t really run a lot.
“That’s why it’s not really representative of what we showed in FP2," Verstappen added. “But there is room for improvement."
Leclerc posted a time of 1:42.795, 0.208sec behind his teammate, and the Mercedes of George Russell was third at 1:42.911.
Earlier Lewis Hamilton had sprung a surprise with the quickest time in the opening practice session of the first Singapore race weekend since 2019 because of the Covid pandemic.
It was the first time Hamilton had topped the timesheets this season, giving him hope of being able to score a first grand prix victory in 2022 and maintain his run of winning a race in every season since his 2007 debut.
But the seven-time world champion later struggled with stability over the bumps and kerbs which caused him to run wide on the last corner of his final flying lap to leave him fifth, 0.595sec adrift of Sainz.
“It started off well," Hamilton told reporters. “It wasn’t as great in the second session but pretty much like every other weekend.
“The car is as it is and is bouncing around like crazy but it doesn’t feel like we’re massively off this weekend."
The Singapore event is termed the most demanding on the calendar by drivers because of the nature of the street circuit, with 23 corners and around 91 gear changes a lap.
Couple that with the heat and humidity of the tropical city-state and even Hamilton, who has won in Singapore four times, was suffering.
“I definitely felt a little bit dehydrated after that session and very hot," he said.
“But the biggest problem was literally just that you’re bouncing so much that you just have a headache all of the time and this is a very bumpy track."
Sixth fastest was Esteban Ocon’s Alpine, ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas.
Spain’s Fernando Alonso, who will start a record 350th grand prix on Sunday, one more than Kimi Raikkonen’s previous all-time mark, was eighth fastest in his Alpine.
Red Bull had looked more competitive early but both cars suffered with set-up issues under lights in the night session with Sergio Perez ninth, 1.3sec behind Sainz.
Verstappen has an almost unassailable lead in the title chase but must win Sunday’s race and see his closest rivals falter to clinch with five races to go, or the fight will move on to Japan next week.
Single-lap pace in qualifying is crucial at Singapore, where pole position is a huge advantage on a tight track that affords few opportunities to overtake.
Alex Albon was encouraged by completing two sessions in his Williams less than three weeks after appendicitis and complications from surgery.
The British-born Thai driver was 16th fastest in both, a severe test of his fitness in the heat and humidity of Singapore.
There was drama at the AlphaTauri garage when Pierre Gasly had to leap from his car with flames coming above his head. They were quickly extinguished by the pit crew and the Frenchman returned to the track a few minutes later unharmed.