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Kvyat on top in practice as Mercedes stars struggle

IT has been a long time since you had to look far down the list of practice times to find the names of the Mercedes drivers. But in Marina Bay last night Lewis Hamilton's was fourth, Nico Rosberg's seventh in practice for tomorrow's Singapore Grand Prix.

Red Bull Renault's Russian sophomore Daniil Kvyat headed them for the first time, by 0.039sec from Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, with Kvyat's team-mate Daniel Ricciardo a further 0.075sec adrift.

It was, by any standard, a surprise, especially on this tight track with its 23 corners where everyone had expected it to be business as usual for Mercedes. Hamilton, so often dominant on these days, was 0.337sec down on Kvyat, Rosberg a whopping 0.639sec.

And the interlopers were light years ahead of them on long-run pace, too.

So were Mercedes sandbagging - running slow because they were carrying a lot of fuel? Had they opted for lower downforce levels? Neither was the case. Whisper it, but they were in genuine trouble.

"We are not happy today," Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said. "We couldn't make the tyres work properly the way they should over one lap or on the long runs. Then there was a spectacular performance by the Red Bulls."

Ricciardo had been expecting to showcase his talent here.

"We've had a pretty nice car out of the box at the last few races, because the balance has been right," he said. "Saturday is the important day but I am happy we started off on the right foot. The car felt strong."

Ironically, Red Bull and Renault are headed for the divorce court.

In a separate situation in the High Court in London, a judge ruled in favour of the Lotus team in the matter of ongoing insolvency proceedings by the tax authorities over unpaid PAYE amounting to £1,800,000.

He agreed a final deferment until 28 September in order to enable discussions to be held.

Singapore Grand Prix, Live, Sky Sports F1, tomorrow 1.0

Irish Independent