Vettel leads Ferrari domination of final Singapore practice

Sebastian Vettel had the fastest time during the third Singapore Grand Prix practice session. (Reuters pic)

SINGAPORE: Sebastian Vettel clocked the fastest time ever recorded at the Marina Bay Street Circuit as Ferrari dominated the third and final practice session for the Singapore Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel endured a frustrating Friday when a hydraulic fluid leak compromised his second practice session but the German was back to his brilliant best a day later, lapping the demanding, 23-turn street circuit in 1:38.054 in a hazy Singapore dusk.

Kimi Räikkönen, who was fastest on Friday, finished 0.362 seconds behind his teammate to secure a Ferrari one-two as championship leader Lewis Hamilton was third but more than half a second adrift in his Mercedes.

Hamilton’s team mate Valtteri Bottas was fourth fastest, ahead of the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, who dominated the first practice session on Friday but were more than a second slower than the Ferraris on Saturday.

Vettel sits 30 points behind Hamilton in the championship with seven rounds remaining and described himself as his own worst enemy after losing points through driving errors throughout the season, but the German looked focused in a balanced car ahead of qualifying.

Ferrari opted to bring more sets of the high-grip hypersoft tyres to Singapore than both Mercedes and Red Bull, giving Vettel and Räikkönen the luxury of attempting more qualifying simulations than their main rivals.

Able to set fast times at the start of the hour-long session while Mercedes and Red Bull racked up laps on the slower soft tyres, Ferrari surged clear as conditions edged closer to how they will be on Sunday.

The Marina Bay Street Circuit has been modified since last year with an adjustment to one corner cutting two metres off its total distance, but Vettel’s fastest time is almost one-and-a-half seconds quicker than the lap record he set a year ago.

Should Ferrari lock out the front row in qualifying later on Saturday, Vettel will be a firm favourite to secure a record-extending fifth Singapore Grand Prix victory on Sunday and, more importantly, eat into his deficit to title rival Hamilton.