SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Fernando Alonso gave his embattled Ferrari team some welcome cheer by clocking the fastest time in first free practice for the Singapore Grand Prix on a balmy floodlit evening at the Marina Bay Street Circuit on Friday.
The Italian giants have endured a miserable campaign to date and are without a win since last year, having changed principal mid-season and witnessed the resignation of long-time chairman Luca di Montezemolo shortly after their home race at Monza earlier this month.
However, double world champion Alonso shook off the gloom with a best time of one minute and 49.056 seconds around a demanding 23-turn layout where the Spaniard has won twice before – in 2008 and 2010.
Lewis Hamilton (1:49.178) and the Briton’s Mercedes team mate and championship leader Nico Rosberg, a further 0.027 seconds back, were second and third respectively on the timesheets.
Rosberg leads Hamilton by 22 points with six races remaining.
Alonso is looking to help Ferrari back to third place in the constructors’ championship after he suffered his first retirement of the season at Monza and saw the team slip to fourth.
He has also been forced to fend off questions concerning his future at the Italian team he joined in 2010.
Quadruple world champion Sebastian Vettel, winner of the last three Singapore races, was a further 0.669 seconds slower in fourth place, marginally ahead of his Red Bull team mate Daniel Ricciardo.