Yet to win a grand prix this season, Lewis Hamilton laid down a marker in Fridays opening practice hour for the Singapore Grand Prix weekend as he put in a late lap to pip Max Verstappen to P1.
On a sweltering hot evening at the Marina Bay circuit, Verstappen prepared for a grand prix in which he could wrap up the World title by immediately hitting the front.
Upping his pace with each run, it looked as if he would finish P1 with just a handful of minutes left on the clock and then came Hamilton.
The Mercedes driver put in a 1:43.033 on the soft Pirellis, beating Verstappens time by 0.084 with Charles Leclerc third.
Leclerc, P2 in the standings and one of four drivers who could yet delay Verstappens coronation, ran into early trouble as he reported something wrong with his brakes on his out-lap.
As he returned to the pits Verstappen hit the front with a 1:47.329, Perez up to P2 ahead of Sainz.
Alex Albon kicked off his weekend, putting in his first laps in an F1 car since the Dutch GP having missed Monza as he underwent an appendectomy, the Williams driver suffering breathing complications. He went P15 on his first run.
Verstappen upped his pace to a 1:45.466 and then a 1:44.748, extending his advantage over Perez to 1.8s. Leclerc remained in the pits as the team worked on his F1-75s brakes, Ferrari forming a human barrier to keep the cameras away.
George Russell was the first to tag the barrier, the Mercedes driver nosing the barrier before heading to the pits for a bit of tape for his front wing. He was P17 to Hamiltons P12.
That was CLOSE George! ??
The Mercedes driver taps the barrier as he locks up
Formula 1 (@F1) September 30, 2022
Fernando Alonso split the Red Bull team-mates, but was still a full second down on Verstappen with Perez third ahead of Sainz, Esteban Ocon, Hamilton, Lance Stroll and Lando Norris, the latter reporting bouncing on the straights.
Leclerc returned to the action just before the halfway mark, P12 on the hard tyres, while his team-mate told Ferrari it was very clear the set up change we need. Verstappen went quicker, a 1:44.236.
Swapping to soft tyres for the final 20 minutes, Verstappen again lowered the benchmark, this time to a 1:43.117 with Perez closing the gap to 0.7s.
Ocon was up to third as Stroll whacked the Turn 5 wall with hes left rear. He was told to stop the car and out came the red flags.
?? RED FLAG ??
The session has been red-flagged as Lance Stroll stops the car at the Turn 7 escape road
Formula 1 (@F1) September 30, 2022
Shortly before Strolls hit, Sainz had a moment at the same corner with the Spaniard back on track after the red flag with another close call, and another great save. His team-mate Leclerc, swapping his hard tyres for softs, jumped up to second place 0.318s slower than Verstappen.
It, however, wasnt a completely trouble-free session for Red Bull as Perez ran into trouble late in the session when he lost gears and costed back to the pits. And then Verstappen went spinning.
Moments later he also lost to P1, Hamilton putting on the soft Pirellis and laying down a 1:43.033 to edge the championship leader by 0.084s. Leclerc dropped to third.
Albon was P16 with 19 laps under his belt! An incredible effort.
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:43.033
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing +0.084
3 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +0.402
4 Sergio Perez Red Bull Racing +0.806
5 George Russell Mercedes +1.033
6 Carlos Sainz Ferrari +1.105
7 Esteban Ocaon Alpine +1.703
8 Lance Stroll Aston Martin +2.188
9 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri +2.225
10 Fernando Alonso Alpine +2.303
11 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin +2.321
12 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren +2.691
13 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo +2.692
14 Kevin Magnussen Haas F1 Team +2.995
15 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri +3.048
16 Alexander Albon Williams +3.086
17 Guanyu Zhou Alfa Romeo +3.375
18 Mick Schumacher Haas F1 Team +3.568
19 Lando Norris McLaren +3.647
20 Nicholas Latifi Williams +4.059