Singapore Grand Prix: Sebastian Vettel sets fastest time in opening practice

Vettel sets the pace in Singapore but Hamilton is just behind after first practice

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UPDATED:

12:50 GMT, 21 September 2012

Sebastian Vettel offered up hope Red Bull's Formula One world title challenge is far from over this season.

Reigning world champion Vettel has mustered just one victory so far this campaign, and that way back in April in Bahrain.

Since then Vettel has been clinging on in the championship race, in particular as two alternator failures in Valencia and last time out in Italy have seriously undermined his hopes.

The 24-year-old German goes into this weekend's Singapore Grand Prix 39 points adrift of leader Fernando Alonso, with Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen one and two points ahead of him respectively.

Leading the way: Sebastian Vettel was fastest in the first practice

Leading the way: Sebastian Vettel was fastest in the first practice

But after a tough time in the last
two races, with the Red Bull found to be lacking in pace after opting
for a wrong choice of wing, Vettel at least finished top of the first
practice session.

A thunderstorm earlier in the day
swiftly brought an end to practice for one of the support events, the
Ferrari Challenge, and the Marina Bay Street Circuit was still wet when
GP2 practice began

But come the opening 90-minute F1
session, the 23-corner track over five kilmometres had virtually dried
out, unsurprising given the 28 degree heat, even as daylight moved to
dusk and into night.

Come the conclusion Vettel and
Hamilton were in a class of two out in front, the former finishing just
0.049secs ahead of the Briton, still to decide on his future and whether
to remain with McLaren or move to Mercedes.

As for the rest, team-mate Jenson
Button led the way, albeit almost nine tenths of a second adrift,
followed by Alonso, the Spaniard the only other driver to finish within a
second of Vettel at 0.959secs.

Hot on the heels: Lewis Hamilton was second fastest in practice

Hot on the heels: Lewis Hamilton was second fastest in practice

Williams' Pastor Maldonado, Mark
Webber in his Red Bull and Force India of Nico Hulkenberg were fifth,
sixth and seventh on the time sheet, the trio covered by 0.082secs.

Paul Di Resta had to contend with
being behind team-mate Hulkenberg by nearly three tenths of a second,
with Toro Rosso's Daniel Ricciardo and Sergio Perez in his Sauber both
1.7secs off the pace as the duo rounded out the top 10.

Williams' Bruno Senna was 11th, but
more than two seconds down, followed by Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen, with
team-mate Romain Grosjean 15th as he returned to the cockpit of his car.

The Frenchman found himself on the
sidelines in Monza as he served a one-race ban for causing a four-car
pile-up at the first corner of the Belgian Grand Prix earlier this
month.

At the back of the field were the HRT
duo of Pedro de la Rosa and reserve Ma Qing Hua, the Chinese driver
given another outing ahead of Narain Karthikeyan for FP1.

On one of the most technically difficult circuits, Ma finished 1.4secs down on De la Rosa and 7.4secs behind Vettel.