Saturday, March 2, 2024

Leclerc Edges Team-mate Sainz in Opening Practice for Singapore Grand Prix

Charles Leclerc led a Scuderia Ferrari one-two in the opening free practice session for the Singapore Grand Prix, a session that was heavily interrupted by lizards on track.

Three times the session had to be halted or yellow flagged as large reptiles were removed from the Marina Bay Street Circuit, but Leclerc came out on top at the end of the hour, his 1:33.350 just 0.078 seconds ahead of team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr.

All twenty drivers were experiencing the updated final sector for the first time during the session, and lap times were significantly faster this year, thanks to the removal of four corners from the track.

Initial runs were done on the harder compounds, and it was around a third of the way through the running when the soft tyre was first seen, Pierre Gasly taking his BWT Alpine F1 Team car on the track with the softest rubber first.

Drivers were able to find time even on used soft tyres thanks to the track evolution in Singapore, with Leclerc setting his best time around two-thirds of the way through the session.

Max Verstappen, who is looking for a record extending eleventh consecutive race victory this weekend, put his Oracle Red Bull Racing car into third place, just 0.126 seconds behind Leclerc, while a further 0.046 seconds back was McLaren F1 Team’s Lando Norris.

Norris is running with updates brought by his Woking-based team to the Singapore Grand Prix this weekend, whereas team-mate Oscar Piastri is not, and the Australian ended up down in nineteenth, the time difference also not being helped by the young rookie taking time to learn the track.

The two Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team drivers ended up fifth and sixth, Lewis Hamilton ahead of George Russell, while last years Singapore Grand Prix winner, Sergio Pérez, was sown in seventh in the second Red Bull.

Fernando Alonso was the best place of the Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula 1 Team drivers in eighth, with team-mate Lance Stroll ending up just outside the top ten in eleventh behind Scuderia AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon.

Gasly ended twelfth ahead of Williams Racing’s Alexander Albon, while Valtteri Bottas placed fourteenth in the leading Alfa Romeo F1 Team Stake machine, 0.085 seconds ahead of MoneyGram Haas F1 Team’s Kevin Magnussen.

Liam Lawson, racing for the third time in place of the injured Daniel Ricciardo at AlphaTauri, ended up sixteenth in his first session driving around the Marina Bay Street Circuit, the New Zealander ending ahead of Haas’ Nico Hülkenberg, Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu, McLaren’s Piastri and Williams’ Logan Sargeant.

Second practice under the floodlights should offer more of an idea of the true pecking order this weekend in Singapore, although every driver will be hoping that the lizard invasions do not reoccur, with three separate sightings being seen between turns eight and nine.