Mercedes: Red Bull didn’t look like the ones to beat

russell 2023 Singapore Grand Prix, Friday - LAT Images

Lewis Hamilton and George Russell were upbeat after a positive practice day for the Singapore Grand Prix, Mercedes second best to Ferrari on Friday while Red Bull appeared to struggle around Marina Bay Circuit.

It is worth remembering that Russell was the last non-Red Bull driver to win a Grand Prix, the Briton’s first win last year in Sao Paulo. And thus Mercedes must fancy their chances of, if not a repeat, at least a podium or two on Sunday.

With RBR in trouble or sandbagging, Russell ended the day third fastest. He reported at the end of the day: “It was a very positive Friday for us overall. The car is feeling really good around the circuit. It definitely improved in the cooler temperatures of FP2 but equally, it still felt decent in the slightly unrepresentative conditions of FP1.

“The times were very tight between several cars. Ferrari looked quick, particularly on the single lap. The long-run performance across a number of competitors was also strong but we can be optimistic heading into the weekend. We will do our usual work overnight and hopefully find some improvements heading into Saturday.

“I am really enjoying the new track layout. It makes the final sector, and the lap as a whole, much more flowing. It definitely improves the experience behind the wheel and should help create better racing on Sunday. The new track surface in turns one to five is also an improvement,” added Russell, who ended the day 0.235s off the top time set by Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz.

Hamilton: I love driving this circuit now more than ever

hamilton russell f1 singapore cooling down

A further two-tenths shy of the benchmark lap time, Hamilton in P5, said in the Mercedes team report: “It’s been a great day here in Singapore. They have done an amazing job with the track changes; I love driving this circuit now more than ever.

“The new track surface is great, and it made the track even more enjoyable to drive. Then the removal of the four corners near the end of the lap has absolutely perfected the circuit. It’s incredible to drive.

“In terms of our day overall, FP1 was solid. We were still a little bit of where we wanted to be, but it wasn’t too bad. FP2 was for sure the best FP2 session I’ve had this year. It was nice to finish a Friday feeling so positive.

“I think we’ve got a good platform to build off for the rest of the weekend. It’s the best I’ve felt from a Friday this year, so I hope we can do some good work overnight, as we always tend to do, and continue to improve,” added Hamilton.

Shovlin: The long run was quite strong

hamilton 2023 Singapore Grand Prix, Friday - LAT Images

Mercedes trackside boss Andrew Shovlin echoed his drivers: “We’ve had solid sessions and both drivers have finished the day happy with the balance. There’s a bit of work we need to do to understand how to approach the single lap on the Soft tyre; it didn’t feel like we were getting the most out of the compound and George was able to improve later in the run.

“The long run was quite strong. It’s always tough keeping the heat out of the rear tyres here but we look to be more or less on the pace. The performance order is interesting today. Ferrari looked fast, as do McLaren and Aston Martin and unusually Red Bull didn’t look like the ones to beat.

“We’ll assume that they’ll sort that out for [Saturday], which is going to mean that a lot of drivers are fighting for the top grid spots. It’s clearly very close so we’ll be pushing to find every little bit of pace overnight. We’re looking forward to an exciting qualifying session,” added Shovlin.

Hamilton has won the Singapore Grand Prix on four occasions for Mercedes, who also have four wins at Marina Bay on their stat sheet. In contrast, Russell has only raced here twice in his F1 career but has yet to score points under the lights.