Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat shocked Mercedes and left them groping for answers as he topped the timesheets in Singapore Grand Prix practice on Friday, with record-seeking Lewis Hamilton languishing in fourth.
The Russian emerged quickest of all during a flurry of laps on the super soft tyres, stopping the clock at a 1min 46.142secs, surpassing the erstwhile benchmark set by Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen earlier in the session by 0.039secs.
Hamilton was 0.337secs off the pace, ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
Red Bull had long targeted this weekend for a strong result, the tight and twisty nature of the circuit favouring their strong chassis and masking the deficit of their Renault engine.
Daniel Ricciardo ended the session in third, fractionally slower than Hamilton.
The German trails Hamilton by 53 points with seven rounds remaining but will be buoyed by his performance at the Marina Bay Street Circuit, lapping the 23-turn layout in one minute, 47.995 seconds on a hot and muggy evening. However, the suggestion too is that Mercedes suffered more tyre degradation than Red Bull during their P2 long runs.
“We expected the vehicle to perform better at this track because it has fewer straights”, said Kvyat. But it is highly unlikely that they will suddenly have been leapfrogged by two of their rivals, but it was still a surprise not to see a silver vehicle at the front of the field.
Rosberg had looked more comfortable in the first session, heading Hamilton by 0.3secs and being consistently faster throughout the session.
Even on the race runs, Red Bull and Ferrari appeared to have an edge on Mercedes.
Final practice is on Saturday at 2pm UAE time with qualifying at 5pm.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff was concerned by his team’s speed deficit to the Red Bulls.
The drivers, though, were less concerned with the off-track politics than with the on-track performance.
There were also signs of improvement for McLaren, as having talked themselves up ahead of this weekend in Singapore, Fernando Alonso was eighth fastest in second practice on Friday.
His team-mate Jenson Button, who expects his future to be sorted by the end of the month, was further adrift in 14th.
American driver Alexander Rossi, who will make his F1 race debut on Sunday for the Manor team, provided the major incident of the two 90-minute sessions, colliding heavily with a barrier at the left-hand turn under a grandstand, and snapping off both right-side wheels.
He managed 20 minutes of action in his repaired Manor in the second session but only after team mate Will Stevens had crashed out early on.