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Formula One went nocturnal tonight as the Honda Racing F1 Team took to the floodlit streets of Singapore for the opening practice sessions of the Singapore Grand Prix. Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello got their first taste of the new Marina Bay Street Circuit at 1900 local time during the first official night practice in F1 history.
As anticipated, the twisting 5.067km (3.148-mile) track required maximum downforce levels on the team's RA108s. But the circuit, which has been given the unanimous approval of the drivers, threw up plenty of surprises, particularly its bumps and the amount of dust off-line.
The opening practice session ended with Jenson setting the 10th fastest time. He completed a total of 30 laps, during which he improved the handling of his RA108 and set a best lap of 1:47.277s. Rubens was less happy with the balance of his car. He had too much front-end grip and the resultant oversteer provoked a spin midway through the session that ended with him nudging the barriers and causing some damage to his rear wing.
Second practice got underway just one hour later at 2130 local time and Jenson continued to improve the balance of his car. He completed 32 more laps and ended the evening in eighth place with a best lap of 1:46.901s.
Rubens completed 25 laps in session two. However, having taken to the track late following repairs to his car, he struggled with the stability of his car on the bumpy track and further work is required to resolve the problem.
What are your initial thoughts after the first day of running in Singapore? Jenson Button: "It's been a very strange day of testing tonight! You would expect the conditions to be cooler but this has to be one of the hottest Fridays that we've ever had and it's just so humid. The circuit is interesting to drive and it's very bumpy which adds to the excitement as the bumps bounce the car all over the place. We spent both sessions trying to improve the ride quality and balance of the car by testing many different things and the outcome was largely positive. We didn't get the best out of the car on my final run with the new tyres, due to too much understeer, but it was still nice to end up eighth quickest. All in all, a good start to the weekend and I'm sure there is still a lot more to come".
A frustrating day for you on the new street circuit. What problems did you encounter? Rubens Barrichello: "We worked really hard today but unfortunately our practice was compromised as the car was bouncing and touching the ground so much. I was a passenger for the second session really as we could not resolve the problem, despite trying many different solutions. The layout of the circuit is quite good but it is very bumpy which has been the cause of the problems with our car. The lighting is quite bright although there seems to be a dark spot at Turn 5. Visibility is not a problem although it may be more tricky if it rains."
How has the team adjusted to the unusual working hours posed by the schedule and hot conditions here? Steve Clark, Head of Race & Test Engineering: "We have endeavoured to make the schedule as normal as possible by staying more or less on European time. It's just a little strange when you look at your watch! The heat and humidity is tough but as always this improves as you become accustomed to the conditions. The true test came in between the sessions today following Rubens' small accident in the closing stages of FP1. We normally have the 'luxury' of a 2½ hour interval to make any repairs or set-up changes. Here in Singapore, the schedule affords just a one hour break and it was a race against time in fierce humidity for the mechanics to make the necessary changes to the car. Rubens missed only 15 minutes of the second session, so congratulations to the team on a great turnaround." What have you learnt today and how will this help you to prepare for qualifying and the race? SC: "We have done some a lot of good work in race trim today because brake wear and temperatures can be an issue at this type of track. We would like to have a clearer view of tyres and set-up for qualifying and the race at this stage, but in reality we will have to be very careful with the evolving track conditions as things change significantly between now and Sunday. We will need to stay sharp and respond quickly as the track develops."
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