F1 Raceweek: Red Bull steal a march on title contenders in Singapore

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The start of Singapore Grand Prix weekend has brought about great change in Formula One, and Sunday's race could see a surprise name at the top of the podium if Red Bull's dominance in practice is anything to go by.

It was widely anticipated that Red Bull would be competitive at the twisty Marina Bay Street Circuit, which will continue to host F1 races until at least 2021 after a new deal was announced on Friday.

And they lived up to expectations as Daniel Ricciardo topped both practice sessions, leading a one-two in FP2 ahead of team-mate Max Verstappen.

To dampen expectations on Red Bull, somewhat, Ferrari have typically turned up stronger on race day this term, while Mercedes boast the greatest single-lap pace on the grid.

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton goes into the grand prix with a slender three-point advantage over Ferrari's driver Sebastian Vettel, who has tasted victory four times in Singapore.

Red Bull showed their superiority on a day in which their sister team Toro Rosso announced a switch from Renault to Honda power, with a beleaguered McLaren team having announced the opposite move for the 2018 season, a decision they hope will convince Fernando Alonso to stick around.

 

RICCIARDO LAYS DOWN A MARKER

After beating Vettel to top spot in FP1, Ricciardo repeated the feat in FP2 and the Australian was tellingly quicker when it came to race pace simulations.

Ricciardo was, on average, half a second ahead of Hamilton as he seeks to disrupt the pattern of Mercedes and Ferrari trading blows, having done so at a dramatic Azerbaijan Grand Prix in June.

Vettel won for Ferrari in Singapore in 2015 - his previous three successes having come with Red Bull - but will have been concerned by his pace in FP2, which saw him finish 11th.

The German was 2.252 seconds off the pace and also thumped the wall. Verstappen, Alonso and Carlos Sainz Jr, who has been confirmed as a Renault driver for 2018, also did the same.

MORALE-BOOSTING DAY FOR MCLAREN & ALONSO

Alonso is a two-time winner at Marina Bay, and his morale must surely have been boosted by McLaren's confirmed switch to Renault power.

McLaren's partnership with Honda has been beset by performance and reliability problems and they will hope that a link up with Renault can provide the team with the foundation to be a contender with Alonso at the wheel.

The power-light nature of the circuit also gave Alonso reason for encouragement.

Stoffel Vandoorne and Alonso ended FP2 sixth and seventh, outperforming both Ferraris and the Mercedes-powered Force India cars. Renault's Nico Hulkenberg was fifth.


STANDINGS
Drivers
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) - 238 points
2. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) - 235 points 
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) -  197 points
4. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) - 144 points
5. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) - 138 points

Constructors
1. Mercedes - 435 points
2. Ferrari - 373 points
3. Red Bull - 212 points
4. Force India - 113 points
5. Williams - 55 points

PREVIOUS WINNERS
2016: Nico Rosberg
2015: Sebastian Vettel
2014: Lewis Hamilton

WEATHER FORECAST

While thunderstorms are forecast for both Saturday and Sunday, they should clear in time for a dry qualifying session and race.