The carefree Sebastian Vettel that bounced into the Singapore paddock at the beginning of the weekend looked much like the guy that did as he arrived in Abu Dhabi last year: pressure not pictured. Then he was the title outsider, this time it's just a matter of when he clinches it - on Sunday or in the coming weeks. No cause for pressure in either situation.
Just as in Abu Dhabi last year, you can be assured he will take this light load into the car and be in full-on attack mode, an attack that began in the two Friday practice sessions.
Alonso was close to the pace, but it may be smoke and mirrors © LAT
For all that he's playing down how he may attack this race, it's very much on his 'to do' list, one of the few venues at which he has not won. Last year was especially frustrating given that he had the fastest car around here and lost to Fernando Alonso's slightly slower Ferrari - and it all came down to a small error in qualifying that lost him pole. From the moment Alonso saw that chink of light, it was an opportunity he was never to let go. Intriguingly, the initial picture from the practices is that the Vettel/Red Bull combination is the fastest - but by a very small margin from Alonso/Ferrari.
As ever the picture cannot be crystal clear because of the question of comparative fuel loads. But in P2 Vettel proved 0.2s faster than Alonso when each were on the supersoft tyre and low fuel loads. Switching then to carrying around 150kg of fuel and doing long runs, the Ferrari looked, if anything, slightly faster than the Red Bull, Alonso a couple of tenths ahead when comparing their respective best laps, but also doing four laps at or under 1m52.3s, compared to just one from Vettel.
But be careful. If, as suspected, Red Bull runs these sessions with around 15kg more fuel than Ferrari, the comparisons are around 0.5s askew. If we go with this assumption and weight-correct their respective long runs, we find Vettel's peak lap 0.1s quicker than Alonso's and we see that they each did two laps of 1m 52.4s or under.
The consistency of their runs was directly comparable too. Vettel did a straight 11 laps, Alonso did two early in/out laps before commencing on a nine-lap run on the same set of tyres. The cars will have been around 27kg lighter (worth around 1s) by the end of those runs than at the beginning, yet their laps times were around 0.5s slower - implying that the tyre deg over the 11 laps was around 1.5s, for both cars. It looks more than feasible that this pair could again be fighting out the destiny of both pole and victory - and you'd reckon there will be an extra steeliness to Vettel's purpose this time around. Not only is there last year's wrong to right, he's still smarting from being put on the grass by Alonso at Monza's Curva Grande two weeks ago. There is definitely an edge of grudge about this.
But if it comes down to the second (or third, if it develops that way) pitstops, it may just be that the Ferrari's continuing disadvantage to the Red Bull when on the harder tyre becomes decisive. This disadvantage tends to shrink the more rubbered-in the track becomes, but it's still a concern for Ferrari. Early in P2 Alonso was 1.7 adrift of Vettel when both were on the harder tyre. 1.5s of that deficit disappeared as soon as they each switched to the super-soft. The patterns were very similar when comparing Mark Webber and Felipe Massa, each of whom were quick but apparently a couple of tenths adrift of their respective team-mates.
Vettel doesn't look like he's feeling the pressure this weekend © LAT
The McLarens? Write Lewis Hamilton off at your peril around here but McLaren has a lot of work to do to get onto terms with Red Bull and Ferrari. The car was proving edgy and difficult, a contributory factor in Jenson Button losing much of the session after locking up to avoid the Turn 14 tyre barrier. With reverse gear then proving impossible to select, his session was over with 40-odd minutes still to go.
Hamilton's best low-fuel supersoft lap was set on his fourth lap after a catalogue of moments and dramas. It was 0.8s shy of Vettel's best but 0.5s of that was probably accounted for by missing out on the golden lap grip of the tyres when they were new. Don't discount McLaren making major improvements overnight nor a miracle qualifying lap from Hamilton. But as things stood on Friday evening, it was very hard to look past Vettel and Alonso.
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