Singapore GP: Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen set for close battle
Hamilton edges Verstappen on Friday and felt "much better" in car around iconic streets; Ferrari tip Mercedes, but Max is confident...
By James Galloway and Matt Morldige
Last Updated: 21/09/19 11:03am
Lewis Hamilton declared himself the happiest he has felt with his Mercedes car for a while after setting the Friday pace at the Singapore GP - with the world champion "excited" for what looks set to be a big battle with Max Verstappen.
F1's world champions are aiming to rebound from back-to-back defeats by Ferrari since the summer break on a circuit that plays to the strengths of their nimble 2019 car.
As expected on such a high-downforce circuit, Red Bull have so far emerged as Mercedes' nearest challengers, with Verstappen also in particularly strong form on Friday and finishing the second session within 0.2 seconds of Hamilton around the 98-second lap.
"It's so hot out there - it's always a shock to the system when you get in the car here because it's very bumpy, it's a very long, long lap and it's like a sauna in the car," Hamilton said, a four-time Singapore victor. "But it's been a solid day. We got through our run plan and continue improve the car.
"I was really happy. I felt much better in the car today than I have for a while, so I hope that stays over the weekend.
"We have definitely got some areas we can improve, which is always good. Nothing is ever perfect so. I've got to go and study areas we can improve on the car but also areas I can improve, like braking and turning points.
"[Adding the] fine pieces to the puzzle to make it perfect. Looking for that special lap that we had obviously last year. I think we've got off to a good start but obviously putting it all together tomorrow is going to be tough. The Red Bulls look very, very quick. I'm excited for the challenge."
Although Hamilton's later long run pace at the end of P2 appeared to suggest he will be the favourite for Sunday's race, the single-lap pace displayed by Verstappen caught the Englishman's eye.
"I was obviously quickest in that session, but they were obviously very close beyond us," Hamilton added. "Whether or not he had a perfect lap or whether we were more turned up [with the engine] than them, I'll find out later."
Verstappen was up on Hamilton's time during their qualy-sim laps but was held up by traffic in the final sector.
"I could have matched his time but today isn't important," the Dutchman admitted.
"The general feeling was very good. In both practice sessions the car was working really well. Of course, there are always things that you can do better but it's looking pretty good."
When's the Singapore GP on Sky?
Formula 1 next heads to Singapore for its marquee night race - watch live only on Sky Sports F1.
Hamilton and Verstappen left their rivals trailing in P2 to such as extent that Valtteri Bottas finished one second behind them.
Although Bottas' car was repaired after a morning crash, the Finn said: "I'm not sure what was going on. I was lacking pace in every single run and with every single tyre compound. I'm not quite sure if everything was right in the car, we need to have a look. It felt tat I couldn't go any quicker and I was one second off the pace.
Bottas added: "I think it's going to be close between three teams, but Lewis was definitely on good form today."
Where do Ferrari stand?
Ferrari, off the back of consecutive victories at power-hungry tracks, arrived in Singapore with a major upgrade to the nose of their cars. But while Sebastian Vettel finished just a tenth off the pace in P1, he was 0.8s down by Friday evening with the four-time world champion, and in-form team-mate Charles Leclerc, hampered by traffic.
"On our side I don't think it's been a clean Friday," Vettel said, who like Hamilton has won at Marina Bay four times. "We'll see but I think Mercedes looks very fast and faster than us.
"There's probably more from us but I would say Mercedes left with the strongest impression today."
Leclerc continued: "I think we've had some improvements on the car here but obviously all the other teams have too.
"At the moment we are struggling a little bit. We need to improve to try to understand the balance and hopefully tomorrow will be a better day."