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Sainz, Leclerc set pace in Singapore practice as Red Bull struggle

Carlos Sainz topped the timesheets after the second session of the Singapore Grand Prix. Photo: AFP

Carlos Sainz was quickest and Charles Leclerc completed a Ferrari one-two Friday as championship leader Max Verstappen struggled in the second practice session for the Singapore Grand Prix.

Sainz was timed under lights at 1min 32.120sec, 0.018sec ahead of Leclerc, as Ferrari dominated in conditions expected to be most similar to those for qualifying on Saturday and for Sunday’s night race.

The Red Bulls have been unstoppable so far 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 could only finish in eighth place 0.732sec adrift of Sainz with Perez just 0.040sec quicker in seventh.

“Our performance today was unexpected. We never really got the car together today,” said Verstappen, who is seeking a first victory in Singapore and a record-extending 11th in a row.

“I struggled with the balance, especially, so there are quite a few things to work on with the team tonight. 

“There’s quite a gap, the Ferraris are looking fast. Let’s see what improvements we can make overnight.”

Perez had similar woes, at one point snarling at his race engineer on team radio: “It’s just not happening, mate. Every braking zone I feel like I’m going to crash. The rear is stepping out massively.”

After the session Perez was still complaining.

“We did expect the Ferrari to be good around here, but we are just too far away,” said Perez. “The main thing is to improve the balance because right now we are too far off.”

George Russell was third in the Mercedes, 0.235sec behind Sainz.

“The car is feeling really good around the circuit,” said Russell. “We will do our usual work overnight and hopefully find some improvements heading into Saturday.”

Fernando Alonso was fourth in the Aston Martin ahead of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes with Lando Norris sixth fastest in his McLaren.

Hamilton was buzzing afterwards after finishing ahead of the Red Bulls. 

“It’s been a great day here in Singapore,” said the seven-time world champion. 

“It was nice to finish a Friday feeling so positive. I think we’ve got a good platform to build off for the rest of the weekend. It’s the best I’ve felt from a Friday this year.”

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

‘There’s a lizard!’

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

Norris benefited from an upgrade package newly bolted to the bodywork of his McLaren to finish ahead of the Red Bulls in both sessions.

The lap times were more than 10 seconds quicker than a year ago after the removal of four 90-degree corners towards the end of the lap because of construction work.

In first practice, Leclerc had led Sainz for another Ferrari one-two, with Verstappen third in a session where hot laps were interrupted three times by large monitor lizards crossing the city-centre track.

Yuki Tsunoda was one of the drivers taken completely by surprise as yellow warning flags were waved.

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

Apart from the reptilian invasion, both sessions were remarkably incident-free with red flags absent.

The only casualty in either session was Thailand’s Alex Albon, who managed only five laps in his Williams before being forced to retire after reporting a loss of power.

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