Lewis Hamilton edges out Max Verstappen to top FP2 at Singapore GP

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Lewis Hamilton edged out Max Verstappen to top second practice for the Singapore Grand Prix.

Verstappen led the way in the opening running at the Marina Bay Street Circuit, but it was Hamilton’s name at the summit by the conclusion of the night-time session.

Sebastian Vettel finished third for Ferrari, while Valtteri Bottas was fourth following his earlier crash.

Bottas’ Mercedes mechanics performed a fine job to fix the Finn’s damaged car to allow him to participate in the evening running.

Hamilton is bidding for a hat-trick of victories here on his unstoppable march towards a sixth world championship.

And the 34-year-old Briton appears in a good position to follow up his 2017 and 2018 triumphs with another win under the thousands of bulbs that light up the city-state venue.

Despite Hamilton’s impressive Singapore record, the slow-speed track has been something of a bogey venue for his Mercedes team.

But the Silver Arrows look to be on top of the problems which have ensured they are not always the team to beat here.

On the evidence of practice, it could be a straight shootout between Hamilton and Verstappen after the Red Bull star finished 0.184 seconds off the pace.

Red Bull had been expected to run well this weekend, and in the hands of Verstappen, look poised to provide the greatest threat to Hamilton’s chances.

Vettel was the only other driver within one second of Hamilton, but the German finished a full eighth tenths behind the Mercedes driver in his Ferrari.

Charles Leclerc arrived for the 15th instalment of the season as the sport’s in-form driver following successive victories in Belgium and Italy.

But the Monegasque’s weekend got off to an underwhelming start as a gearbox issue plagued his opening running before he finished only sixth later in the day.

Ferrari’s powerful engine has less effect on the 23-corner street venue than the speedy Spa Francorchamps and Monza layouts, and Leclerc ended the day 1.2 secs down on Hamilton.

Alex Albon finished fifth for Red Bull, but a full second adrift of team-mate Verstappen.

The London-born Thai also broke his front wing after running straight on at Turn 10.

McLaren driver Lando Norris is racing in Singapore for the first time, and the British teenager finished an encouraging ninth, albeit two places and three tenths behind Carlos Sainz in the sister McLaren.

George Russell, also making his Singapore debut, was 18th for Williams.

Provided by Press Association Sport

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Renault duo Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg continue to make strides in developing car

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Ferrari fans lit up Monza in their thousands on Sunday to toast Charles Leclerc’s stunning win, but in a quiet corner around Milan, the Renault team wheeled around in delight after their season-best performance.

The French manufacturer may face a notable power deficit compared to Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, but they appear to have closed the gap considerably this year.

Coming into the weekend, Renault had toiled through a grim campaign which featured few highlights and several lowlights.

However, Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg had Renault fans smiling again, locking out the third row on Saturday, before finishing fourth and fifth in a thrilling race.

The chassis proved more than useful for the team’s drivers on the high-speed Monza layout, and the power unit showed clear signs of improvement.

And rather than falling away in race conditions and getting passed by one or both Red Bulls, they held their own and recorded Renault’s best finish since the team’s re-entry to the sport in 2016.

Ricciardo, starting fifth on the grid, benefited from Sebastian Vettel’s spin which dropped the Ferrari man down to 19th.

Pitting under the virtual safety car, the Australian came home 12 seconds ahead of his German team-mate Hulkenberg.

Finishing ahead of the Red Bulls would have been pleasing for the Perth man, with plenty of eyebrows raised last year when he decided to leave a potential championship winning team and move to a side which had not finished on the podium since April 2011.

Hulkenberg, meanwhile, started from sixth on the grid and finished fifth, maintaining his speed and using his strong race-craft to keep ahead of Alex Albon and Max Verstappen. It was his best finish since the German Grand Prix in July 2018.

Of course, reliability issues need to improve if Renault are to continue making progress and threaten the top three.

Ricciardo has been forced to retire four times this season through power unit, collision damage and exhaust issues, while Hulkenberg has retired on three occasions through power unit and spin off problems.

In contrast to their midfield rivals, the seven retirements between Ricciardo and Hulkenberg is one more than the McLarens and three more than Toro Rosso.

In spite of early, disappointing finishes, the results of the Renault drivers have been notable.

Ricciardo shades his teammate on qualifying, notching an average starting position of 9.85 while Hulkenberg has started on the grid an average position of 11.78.

On race day, both drivers have made improvements generally, with Hulkenberg averaging a 10.06 place finish in contrast to Ricciardo’s 9.6 place average finish.

Ricciardo holds the advantage in the drivers’ championship, sitting eighth, three points above his team-mate who is 11th.

Progress is progress but it needs to stay consistent if Renault are to ever put pressure on the top three.

As it stands, they sit fifth in the constructors’ championships, 14 points ahead of Toro Rosso and just 18 points behind McLaren.

The next stop on the calendar in Singapore, a track which requires downforce rather than power, so despite Renault finding their rhythm in Monza, the chassis will be truly tested on the twisty Marina Bay Street Circuit.

Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull will carry on their leading form, but has Renault found the turning point to help prove their own claims of being the best of the rest?

If they are to achieve strong results over the coming weeks in Singapore, Russia and Japan then it will set up a frenetic finish as they go in search of replicating last season’s formidable fourth place finish in the team standings.

Only time will tell if they have made consistent developments but, in Ricciardo and Hulkenberg, they possess two drivers who will extract the maximum from an improving car.

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Italian GP blunder puts Sebastian Vettel at risk of one-race ban

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Sebastian Vettel faces a potential one-race ban after his latest blunder on another miserable afternoon for the quadruple world champion.

Vettel spun at the Ascari chicane on lap six, and in his desperate attempt to rejoin the track in haste, collided with Lance Stroll.

Vettel smashed into the right-rear tyre of Stroll’s Racing Point, sending the Canadian into a spin.

“He just came back on the circuit like an idiot,” said Stroll over the team radio.

Vettel limped back to the pits with a broken front wing, and was then hit with a 10-second stop-and-go penalty for dangerous driving. The punishment is one of the most severe available to the stewards.

The German was also dealt three penalty points for the collision, taking his tally to nine for the calendar year. He had previously fallen foul of the stewards after crashing into Red Bull driver Max Verstappen at Silverstone, and rejoining the track in a dangerous fashion at the Canadian Grand Prix.

Vettel will be banned for a race if he accrues three further points at the ensuing rounds in Singapore, Russia and Japan.

“I still love what I do but when you are not doing well, and you know you can do well, you can’t be happy,” said Vettel, 32.

“I lost the rear of the car and it was as simple as that.”

The penalty points capped an afternoon to forget for Vettel, who is swiftly becoming yesterday’s man at Ferrari following the emergence of Leclerc and his second win in as many grands prix.

Vettel has not stood on the top step of the podium for more than a year, and crossed the line in 13th place here. To add insult to injury, he was lapped by Leclerc with a third of the race remaining.

Vettel is paid handsomely by Ferrari, understood to be in the region of £36million a season. His contract expires at the end of the next year, but there is a feeling he might choose to walk away from the Scuderia before then, particularly if he further surrenders his number one status to his new team-mate.

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