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NICO KNOCKING ON THE DOOR OF A SINGAPORE BREAK-THROUGH - Rosberg keeps Red Bull at bay as ninth Singapore night race weekend starts
16 September 2016, Singapore - Nico Rosberg kick-started his quest for a first victory in nine attempts in Singapore by topping the overall times in his Mercedes after two free practice sessions ahead of Sunday's 61-lap race at Marina Bay Street Circuit.
Food for thought: nine talking-points from the first day's Formula One® practice for the ninth Singapore Grand Prix:
Here are nine highlights to help you focus on the three support categories over the Marina Bay weekend:
- 'This is a Red Bull track.' That's not Dan Ricciardo or Max Verstappen talking – it was said by Mercedes ace Nico Rosberg ahead of this weekend's race. In First Practice it looked as if he was right: Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo were 1-2 in the session ahead of four-time winner Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari and double winner Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes. That all changed in Second Practice as Singapore's 1600 lights took their full effect: Rosberg, recovering from a nose-in brush with the wall in FP1, nosed ahead in FP2 with a best time of 1:44.152 ahead of Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari.
- Tyres are one of the key focal points in 2016: Pirelli has introduced its softest ‘slick’ compound, the purple-striped Ultrasoft, to the Marina Bay streets. Interestingly, four drivers have opted to be aggressive on the demanding 23-corner track, choosing the maximum 9 sets of Ultrasofts among their allocation of 13 sets for the weekend: Ferrari duo Vettel and Raikkonen, and Haas teammates Grosjean and Gutierrez.
- The evening began with Singapore’s first-ever sighting of the new ‘Halo’ above some of the drivers’ cockpits. In 2018 some form of protective device will be mandatory as F1 seeks to minimise the possibility of head injuries, the halo being one possibility. It sits on a central front pillar with lateral struts higher than the driver’s head. The issue is safety versus visibility – with a touch of aesthetics thrown in. World Champion Lewis Hamilton has called the halo ‘the worst-looking mod in F1 history'...
- Radio comms are always either controversial or entertaining. Among the most engaging thoughts exchanged on Friday evening were two from Vettel. In First Practice Seb made contact with the wall on the exit of Turn 21 with the right rear of his Ferrari and said to his team, ‘I brushed a little bit the wall: just cosmetics...’ In Second Practice he asked where the Velcro was! Something – perhaps the radio itself – had come loose and he wanted to refix it but the busy Singapore lap wouldn’t let him. As he told his pit wall contact, It's not possible to look down'!
- How’s your memory? How many of the 22 drivers in year nine in Singapore have been here in all previous eight races? The answer is five: Hamilton, Rosberg, Vettel, Button and Alonso. At the other end of the spectrum there are three first-timers: Palmer of Renault and Manor duo Wehrlein and Ocon.
- Saturday, qualifying day, is Ocon's 20th birthday, another date that underlines the rejuvenation of F1 that’s taking place before our very eyes. That makes the Frenchman just a year older than Max Verstappen, a race winner already, who will turn 19 on the last day of this month. Ocon’s Manor teammate Pascal Wehrlein is just 21, Toro Rosso teammates Kvyat and Sainz 22.
- The evening was book-ended by McLaren: FP1 was three minutes old when Button failed to complete a lap before stopping and had to be pushed back to pit lane; as FP2 finished Alonso also pulled off track with the first signs of flames from the rear of the car, the Spaniard reporting a possible gearbox problem.
- But the worst damage was done to Romain Grosjean's Haas Ferrari when the Frenchman backed it into the wall on the right of Turn 22, leaving both of the car’s left rear wing end-plates embedded in the Tecpro barriers. A few minutes earlier Grosjean had been heard on radio – apart from a depleted expletive – complaining about the inconsistency of his brakes...
- Finally, bear in mind the physical challenge the Marina Bay Street Circuit presents to men and machines. Brake experts Brembo give each circuit on the 21-race calendar a mark on a scale of 1-10 for the degree of difficulty it resents to the brakes: Singapore merits a very high 9. And the 5.065-km circuit allows the drivers just nine seconds at full throttle...