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Saturday, 15 December, 2018

Red Bull's Ricciardo can fly to Singapore pole

Mercedes struggling on twisty circuit

Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo prepares to head out onto the Marina Bay circuit
1 of 1

Singapore Grand Prix qualifying
Channel 4 & Sky Sports F1, 2pm Saturday

There has long been a feeling that the Singapore Grand Prix - a night race on a twisty street circuit - could throw up an unusual result, and that is still the case after the first day's practices.

Red Bull ended the day on top with Daniel Ricciardo heading both sessions. His teammate Max Verstappen was third behind Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel in the first session and second in the later one.

Race favourite Vettel finished the second session down in 11th place, but failed to set a competitive lap on the fastest tyre available. The German did end up with the fastest time through the first sector of the track, however, before running into traffic.

Ferrari and Mercedes tend to keep their cards close to their chest on Fridays before turning up their engines later in the weekend, and bookmakers are keeping faith with Vettel, making him favourite to take pole position.

Ricciardo set the Friday pace in Hungary before the summer break, only for Ferrari to dominate on Saturday. So it's easy to see why Vettel, the winner from pole position at Marina Bay in 2015, heads the market.

However, Red Bull have improved through the season and performed strongly at the last two races in Belgium and Italy - two power circuits at which their car was not expected to excel.

Ricciardo finished third at Spa and fourth at Monza despite starting 16th.

That lowly grid position was due to engine changes timed to give the Red Bulls the best possible chance in Singapore, which suits the car much better.

Ricciardo was a fast-finishing second to Nico Rosberg in the race last year and also runner-up in 2015, setting fastest lap on both occasions.

The Australian, who picked up a fortunate win in Azerbaijan earlier in the season, may not need luck to grab pole position.

New championship leader Lewis Hamilton showed some impressive pace during the longer race-simulation runs in practice. However, he and Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas seemed to struggle to get the best out of the softest rubber on qualifying-type runs.

It's dangerous to write off Mercedes, but with neither car managing to qualify on the front row at comparable circuits in Monaco and Hungary, they can't be backed with any confidence.

D Ricciardo fastest qualifier
1pt 5-2 Hills

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The Australian, who picked up a fortunate win in Azerbaijan earlier in the season, may not need luck to grab pole position
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