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F1: Vettel sets early pace to pile pressure on Alonso

Gossip in the Singapore paddock yesterday suggested the lights may be about to go out at Formula One's only night race. No chance.

Organisers may be haggling with Bernie Ecclestone over the terms of a new deal, but this is one Grand Prix that is here to stay.

Sponsors love it, drivers love it, fans love it; this is the acceptable face of a sport which yesterday announced a 2013 calendar featuring 13 races outside Europe, more than double the number a decade ago.

This race has energy, it has a future; unlike some of the duds that have been added to the mix in recent years.

It is difficult to conceive of a more spectacular setting for the start of a seven-race run-in, which looks like it could rival 2010 for drama.

The speculation swirling around Lewis Hamilton's future, and the possible impact any move might have on the driver market, has rather overshadowed the fact that we are in the grip of a five-way battle for supremacy, with the gap at the top getting tighter with each passing race.

If practice times yesterday are to be believed, it could be tighter still by the end of the weekend.

Sebastian Vettel set the pace in both sessions -- the first on a drying track after a typically ferocious afternoon downpour -- suggesting Red Bull may have found their qualifying wings again after a few races in which they have struggled to achieve lift-off on a Saturday. The double world champion pipped McLaren's Jenson Button to the fastest time of the day, with Fernando Alonso third quickest in his heavily updated Ferrari.

Given the fact that Hamilton botched the final corner on his fastest hot lap, it looks as if it might be a fight between McLaren and Red Bull for pole today.

And given that the driver qualifying on pole has won here every year apart from 2008 -- when Nelson Piquet Jnr's tactical collision with a wall ensured a win for his then Renault team-mate Alonso -- there is a good chance the Spaniard's 37-point lead in the title race could be reduced still further.

As is customary, the leading drivers played down the significance of Friday practice times. "It is not very conclusive because people might be in traffic and get stuck," said Vettel. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent