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Ferrari’s Leclerc fastest in first practice for Singapore GP

Charles Leclerc and Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz set the fastest times in first practice for the Singapore Grand Prix on Friday as they look to end Red Bull’s season-long winning streak.

Leclerc’s best lap of 1min 33.350sec was 0.078sec quicker than Sainz with championship leader Max Verstappen third fastest, 0.126sec adrift of the Monegasque in a session interrupted by large monitor lizards crossing the tropical city’s track.

The Red Bulls have been unstoppable in 2023, winning all 14 grands prix, with flying Dutchman Verstappen taking the chequered flag 12 times, including the last 10 races in a row. Sergio Perez has won the other two.

But Verstappen, who is seeking a maiden victory in Singapore, complained of oversteer early in the session on team radio.

Perez fared even worse and was only seventh after grumbling that his seat position was too low and he could not pick out the apex of the corners on the twisty street layout.

Singapore has been tipped to represent the biggest challenge to Red Bull’s quest to sweep all 22 races this season.

Marina Bay’s bumpy, high downforce layout and the ever-present threat of tropical rain storms could play havoc during qualifying on Saturday and Sunday night’s race.

But the biggest danger to flying laps on Friday came from yellow flags that were waved on three separate occasions because of the invasion by large lizards.

First, a quick-reacting Verstappen took evasive action before Yuki Tsunoda was taken completely by surprise.

“Oh there’s a lizard! Oh my god!” exclaimed the Japanese AlphaTauri driver on team radio.

Lando Norris benefited from an upgrade package bolted to his McLaren to be fourth quickest, 0.172sec behind Leclerc.

Many observers are tipping Mercedes to close the gap on Red Bull in Singapore. 

Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, who also had a very close encounter with another lizard late in the session, were fifth and sixth respectively.

The lap times in first practice were more than seven seconds quicker than the corresponding session a year ago after the removal of four 90-degree corners towards the end of the lap because of construction work.

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