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Hamilton lights up Singapore practice

September 27, 2008 08:41 IST

McLaren's championship leader Lewis Hamilton [Images] lit up free practice for the Singapore Grand Prix Friday, as Formula One's inaugural night race officially got under way.

With drivers getting their first full-speed look at the city-state's street circuit, Hamilton outpaced the Ferraris of Felipe Massa [Images] and Kimi Raikkonen [Images] to clock the fastest lap of the day in the first practice session.

Renault's two-times world champion Fernando Alonso [Images] delivered a sharp reminder he can still mix it with the best by posting the fastest time of the second session, with Hamilton and Massa close behind.

Hamilton described the Singapore setting as "an amazing venue."

"It's a very physical circuit -- more than I expected, actually. You need to put a lot of work into the car to get a good lap."

Storms had lashed the city-state in the early hours of Friday, raising concerns about the perilous combination of rain, floodlights and an untested circuit, but the skies were clear when Italian Giancarlo Fisichella steered his Force India car out of the pitlane to become the first driver on the track.

"Qualifying went very well, and for us it is just a fantastic experience to be here at the circuit," McLaren boss Ron Dennis told Reuters. "The government has done a fantastic job and it's a positive direction for F1."


Against the backdrop of Singapore's stunning skyline, skyscrapers framed by 1,600 light projectors along a track that winds through the business district and marina area, Hamilton posted a time of one minute, 45.518 around the 5.067km circuit.

Massa, a point behind Hamilton in the championship standings, was 0.080 slower with Raikkonen and McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen [Images] struggling to match the pace of the championship frontrunners.

Massa seemed to lose his way in the second session and found himself streaking down a run-off area at turn 16. The Brazilian still had not got the hang of the turn 30 minutes later and almost went off at the same place.

"Visibility is not a problem," said Massa, who has 77 points to Hamilton's 78.

"It is a street circuit which means you have to concentrate all the time as there is no margin for error."

Mishaps and misjudgements on an unfamiliar circuit were inevitable.

Australian Mark Webber [Images] became the circuit's first casualty, his Red Bull ploughing into the barriers at the sharp lefthanded turn 18. Webber walked away unharmed and stood impassively as his car was hauled off the track by a crane.

The same turn also caught out Nico Rosberg, Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastian Vettel in second practice.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said Friday had been a learning experience.

"There's very little margin for error. The drivers are right on edge," he told reporters. "We've learned a great deal from today."

Toyota's Jarno Trulli was fined 10,000 euros (7,934 pounds) by stewards for driving up the home straight the wrong way to enter the pits following a spin.

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