Ferrari were fastest in Singapore Grand Prix practice yesterday as Red Bull’s record 15-race unbeaten run looked in danger of ending.
Charles Leclerc was top of the timesheets in the first session with team mate Carlos Sainz second, with the positions reversed later on as the Italian team again led one-two.
Red Bull’s runaway Formula One championship leader Max Verstappen, chasing an unprecedented 11th win in a row, was third and eighth respectively in the hot and humid sessions.
“Ferrari is very fast, I think we’re just way worse than we expected,” said the Dutch 25-year-old.
Team mate Sergio Perez, last year’s winner on the Marina Bay layout, was seventh in both and struggling with the rear end of the car.
“Every braking zone I feel like I’m going to crash. The rear is just stepping out massively,” the Mexican relayed over the team radio.
“We did expect the Ferrari to be very strong around here,” he told Formula One television. “We’re just too far away. Hopefully tomorrow we are able to close the gap a bit more but we do expect quite a challenge.”
Red Bull are unbeaten so far this season and expected to fight for pole again today but they had already identified Ferrari as their major rivals coming into the weekend.
Others were determined also to get in on the action, with five teams in the top seven in practice two and four of them ahead of Red Bull.
George Russell was third for Mercedes in session two, with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso fourth.
Seven times world champion Lewis Hamilton was fifth for Mercedes with McLaren’s Lando Norris sixth.
“I think this track is going to be one of the toughest of the season for us,” Red Bull team boss Christian Horner told Sky Sports after the first session.
“The characteristics don’t play naturally to the strengths of the car and we’re going to have to be right at the top of our game to keep this winning momentum going.
“You can see Ferrari look quick, McLaren look like they’re there, Mercedes are there as well so it could be very, very tight this weekend.”
Leclerc started on pole position in last year’s night race on the Marina Bay street circuit and lapped in one minute 33.350 seconds in the first session.
Team mate Carlos Sainz was 0.078 slower, with yellow flags warning drivers of monitor lizards on the track.
Sainz then lapped with a best time of 1:32.120 and 0.018 faster than Leclerc.
“The car looks a bit more competitive than we had expected on a track like this, but we shouldn’t get carried away because I think that our competitors are not showing their true pace yet,” said Leclerc.
Verstappen was 0.732 slower than Sainz on a shortened track with two fewer corners than before due to ongoing construction works.
The Dutch driver, who has yet to win in Singapore, leads Perez by 145 points after 14 of 22 races. Red Bull could take the constructors’ championship tomorrow if results go their way.
McLaren have brought a big upgrade to the race and Norris said it was working well.
“It’s a nice improvement from what we had. I think it’s done everything that it should have done,” he said. “I think the pace is reasonable. We might not be as good as Ferrari, but we’re in a good fight for a good position otherwise.”
Alex Albon was last in the second session for Williams after being sidelined early on by a power unit problem.
“Aside from the issue, the car hasn’t felt too bad and I don’t believe we’ll suffer from any penalties,” said the Thai racer.