The first Singapore Grand Prix weekend for three years started inauspiciously for championship contenders Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc as both suffered mechanical issues in practice.
Lewis Hamilton, still searching for his first victory in 2022, topped the times in the first session at a circuit his Mercedes team had high hopes would suit their troublesome car, while Carlos Sainz headed a Ferrari 1-2 in the evening hour.
Given his domination of recent events, Verstappen is unlikely to be too worried by his Friday issues and the Red Bull ace is still odds-on favourite to win Sunday's race. There's a slim chance he could even wrap up the title this weekend, though he would need to win with Leclerc not scoring a point.
|What||Singapore Grand Prix, Qualifying|
|Where||Marina Bay Circuit, Singapore|
|When||14:00-15:00, Saturday 1st October 2022|
|How to watch||Sky Sports|
|Odds||Fastest qualifier: Max Verstappen 5/4, Charles Leclerc 7/4, Carlos Sainz 5/1, Lewis Hamilton 6/1, George Russell 14/1|
It has been three weeks since the European season wrapped up with the Italian Grand Prix, in which Verstappen claimed his fifth straight victory despite being beaten by Leclerc to pole position.
As the cars hit the track for a rare daylight session at Marina Bay, it wasn't long before the Monegasque driver reported a braking issue which kept him in the pits for the next 25 minutes. The Ferrari pilot was still able to set the third fastest time of the session, four-tenths of a second adrift of leader Hamilton.
Leclerc's fortunes did not improve in the second hour as the team spent over half the session working on his car, although he would end up second fastest behind his Ferrari team-mate Sainz.
Leclerc has been the strongest qualifier this season, and is 7/4 to record his ninth pole position of the year in Singapore.
Verstappen, celebrating his 25th birthday, set the pace for much of the earlier session although his best time - set on medium tyres - was eventually beaten by Hamilton, who was running the faster softs.
Like Leclerc, though, the Dutchman spent most of Practice Two in the garage and ended up setting only three timed laps to end up fourth fastest.
Verstappen was eased slightly in the fastest qualifier market to 5/4, but he showed as recently as two races ago in the Netherlands that a poor Friday doesn't mean you can count him out in qualifying.
The session also saw Pierre Gasly's AlphaTauri overheat and catch fire, while his teammate Yuki Tsunoda was limited to 11 laps in a troubled session for the Red Bull family.
Mercedes have tended to show much stronger form in race trim than in qualifying and in Singapore, where overtaking is extremely difficult, their hopes of scoring a first win of the season will be dealt a significant blow if they don't start within striking distance of the front.
So they would have been very encouraged by Hamilton's topping the times in the early session, even if he was unable to put together a representative lap on the soft tyres in the evening.
Teammate George Russell, who snatched a surprise pole in Hungary in July, was a second away from the seven-time world champion in the opening hour, but recovered to set the third-fastest time in the evening. Russell, who was dubbed 'Mr Saturday' for his superb qualifying form during his time with Williams, is 14/1 to grab pole position, while Hamilton is 6/1.
The Marina Bay track features some tricky sections where the punishment for a small error is a meeting with the barriers, and consequently the track is one of the most frequently visited by the safety car.
Friday's running suggested that is likely to continue this year as Lance Stroll brought out the red flags half an hour into the day after clouting the wall.
Russell also made contact with the barriers during the first session, but was able to return to the pits while Verstappen also had a spin, but managed to avoid hitting anything.
Nowhere does gossip spread faster than in the Formula 1 paddock, and before the cars took to the track a rumour had done the rounds that Red Bull and Aston Martin had exceeded the sport's budget cap during last year.
With the FIA due to hand out certificates of compliance next week, word went around that two teams wouldn't be getting a gold star. Any penalties doled out wouldn't involve altering last year's championship results, but could hurt the likely constructors' champions' ability to develop their cars in the future.
Red Bull boss Christian Horner dismissed the talk as speculation, while Aston Martin said they were in discussion with the FIA and awaiting certification.