Lando Norris raised hopes that he could challenge Max Verstappen for pole at the Japanese Grand Prix by finishing final practice within three tenths of the Red Bull driver.

Verstappen’s record 10-race winning run and Red Bull’s unbeaten season came to an end in Singapore last weekend.

He had set a blistering pace on Friday to suggest the team have put their struggles in the city-state behind them.

The Dutchman’s margin in opening practice was a huge 0.626 seconds over Ferrari’s Singapore-winner Carlos Sainz before beating Charles Leclerc by 0.320sec in P2.

That raised fears that Verstappen, who is closing in on a hat-trick of world titles, could dominate the weekend in a Red Bull car which Lewis Hamilton predicted would be “phenomenal” around the high-speed corner track at Suzuka.

But Norris finished just 0.240 seconds adrift of the 25-year-old and just 0.048 ahead of his McLaren team-mate Oscar Piastri as the British team continued to show strong pace.

Mercedes pair Hamilton and George Russell enjoyed a more promising session but remained off the pace of Red Bull and McLaren.

Hamilton in particular struggled badly in Friday’s two practice sessions, finishing 16th and 14th, with the seven-time world champion admitting Mercedes had work to do before qualifying.

The 38-year-old finished seventh in P3, albeit 0.892sec behind pace-setter Verstappen, with Russell eighth.

Mercedes are battling with Ferrari to finish second in the Constructors’ Championship.

Ferrari, who are running a new floor at Suzuka, claimed the edge by finishing fifth and sixth but were over half-a-second adrift of the two McLarens.

Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull claimed fourth, 0.737sec behind his team-mate.

A large number of the teams are struggling with tyre degradation due to the higher-than-usual heat at Suzuka, with a track temperature of over 48 degrees Celsius recorded during P3, raising the possibility of a three-stop race on Sunday.

Qualifying gets under way at 1500 local time (0700 BST).

A “fired-up” Max Verstappen sent a warning to the rest of the grid that Red Bull are back on form as he set a searing pace to top the first two practice sessions at the Japanese Grand Prix.

Verstappen’s record 10-race winning run and Red Bull’s unbeaten season came to a shuddering halt last weekend in Singapore, where the team admitted they did not understand their struggles with the car’s set-up around the street circuit.

The 25-year-old was confident of a return to form around the high-speed corner track at Suzuka, where Lewis Hamilton predicted the Red Bull would be “phenomenal”, but all eyes were on the Dutchman who is closing in on a hat-trick of world titles.

His response to the struggles of Singapore was immediate and emphatic, finishing 0.626 seconds clear of Ferrari’s Singapore-winner Carlos Sainz in P1 before beating Charles Leclerc by 0.320sec in P2.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said: “He dealt with (Singapore) very maturely.

“It was a difficult weekend but he raced very hard. It was what it was. He knew at some point we were going to get beaten and he dealt with the situation well.

“He has certainly come here pretty fired up as you could see from his outlap in P1 today.

“Max knew it was always going to come to an end at some point. That 10th victory meant a lot to him and certainly to the team so I’m glad Singapore wasn’t the 10th in that succession of races. I think he has just shown great leadership and great maturity.”

The second session was red-flagged with a little over two minutes remaining when Pierre Gasly crashed heavily into the barriers at Degner Two, bringing a premature end to the session.

McLaren had been tipped to be the closest challengers to Red Bull and Verstappen this weekend, with Mercedes’ George Russell even suggesting the British team could be favourites.

Lando Norris showed strong pace to finish the day third, albeit 0.464sec off the pace, while Oscar Piastri, who signed a contract extension earlier this week, claimed eighth in the second McLaren.

Red Bull will almost certainly clinch the Constructors’ Championship this weekend at the home race for their engine supplier Honda.

But Sergio Perez was over a second off the pace of his team-mate, finishing 11th in P1 and ninth in P2.

Fernando Alonso claimed sixth for Aston Martin ahead of the Williams of Alex Albon.

Mercedes pair Russell and Hamilton struggled in the opening session, finishing a lowly 13th and 16th respectively, with chief race engineer Andrew Shovlin admitting the team had work to do on the car setup.

Russell claimed fifth in P2 but Hamilton was only 14th, with the seven-time world champion a huge 1.141sec adrift off the pace.

Lando Norris has called for stronger punishments to be dished out for blocking other drivers after Max Verstappen escaped grid sanctions at the Singapore Grand Prix.

Verstappen was under three separate investigations following qualifying – one for stopping at the pit lane exit, one for impeding Logan Sargeant and another for getting in the way of Yuki Tsunoda in Q2 – but only received a 5,000 euros (£4,308) fine.

Norris believes that more responsibility should be placed on the driver to avoid such incidents.

“I think the blocking one on track should have been a penalty,” Norris said ahead of this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix.

“If you block someone, it is not just down to the team – I know the team got a fine – but it should be down to the driver as well.

“You have to look in your mirrors. You have nothing else to do the whole lap but look in your mirrors and it seems like a lot of people struggle to do that.

“There should be harsher penalties for blocking. So many people do it.

“It ruins your lap, ruins your qualifying. It put Yuki out in qualifying, he was P1 in Q1.

“Nobody seems to care enough. It has happened a lot this season, it has happened to me quite a few times – especially with certain teams – but it is down to the driver to look in the mirror.

“I will probably block someone this weekend now and make myself look stupid.”

Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell were both among the cars held up by Verstappen’s wait at the pit exit and the seven-time world champion says there has to be more consistency in the decision making.

“I didn’t really see them, I was in the pit lane when everyone stopped and I couldn’t see what was happening ahead,” Hamilton said.

“We always push and work as closely as we can with the FIA to achieve consistency and there are some variations so we have to continue to work on that.”

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, who also held up, added: “I was a bit surprised (there was not a stronger penalty), especially with the one in the pit lane as that could open some quite bad situations in the future.

“It is always an open discussion with the FIA, trying to explain what our point of view is. I am sure we will have that discussion at the briefing.”

Verstappen, who arrives in Japan with a 151-point lead in the drivers’ championship, feels that every incident has to be judged individually by the stewards.

He said: “Every single instance is different.

“The only thing I can say about Singapore is that I explained what happened when I was sitting in the car and the information that was given to me.

“That is all I can do and it is up to the stewards to make that call.”

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff will be absent from this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix as he undergoes knee surgery.

The 51-year-old is set to have an operation in his native Austria to restore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left leg.

Wolff damaged his knee a number of years ago and blamed it for a cycling accident during Formula One’s summer break which left him with a fractured elbow.

Wolff’s role will be divided between a number of the team’s staff – including driver development director Jerome D’Ambrosio, the Belgian who took part in 20 F1 races in 2010 and 2011, and Mercedes’ long-serving British chief communications officer Bradley Lord – often seen shadowing Wolff at the back of the garage. It is understood Wolff will be on the team’s intercom across the weekend.

Mercedes will head to Suzuka perhaps fearing that their best shot at victory this year may have escaped them following Carlos Sainz’s triumph at the Singapore Grand Prix.

Ferrari’s Sainz became the first non-Red Bull driver to win this season – ending the world champions’ unbeaten streak and Max Verstappen’s record run of 10 consecutive victories.

Lewis Hamilton finished third, just 1.2 seconds behind Sainz, after George Russell – who at one point looked likely to win following Mercedes’ roll of the strategy dice – crashed out on the final lap.

Verstappen qualified 11th and finished fifth, 21 seconds adrift of Sainz. But Hamilton fears Red Bull’s lack of speed on the streets of Singapore is because they have already turned their attention to next season.

While Verstappen can now not be crowned champion of the world for a third time in Japan, it is possible he could clinch the title in Qatar on October 8 with five rounds still left.

And asked if Red Bull’s blip provided him with hope Verstappen’s dominance could be coming to an end, Hamilton, 38, said: “If you think about it, they probably haven’t been developing their car.

“McLaren brought an upgrade here. Other teams are still bringing upgrades, and they’re working on next year’s car. They would have definitely migrated to 2024 before us.

“So it is just one of those things. They are so far ahead that maybe they’re not developing their car, while we are still pushing to develop our current one.”

Verstappen, who warned in the build-up to Sunday’s city-state race that the high-downforce street track would not suit Red Bull, said he expects to be back on top in Suzuka.

Wolff, who is likely to return for the Qatar GP, added: “They will be strong again. The track in Singapore was an outlier for us when we were dominant and I have no doubt they will be strong on conventional race tracks.”

Max Verstappen believes he will be back on top at the Japanese Grand Prix following Red Bull’s off-colour showing in Singapore.

Red Bull have ruled the Formula One roost all year – with 14 victories from 14 prior to Sunday’s round in the city state, while Verstappen had been unbeaten in his last 10 appearances, setting a new record of consecutive wins along the way.

But the Dutch driver and Red Bull finally met their match at the unique, low-speed, high-downforce Marina Bay Circuit.

Verstappen qualified 11th before driving back to fifth, taking the chequered flag 21 seconds behind Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz – the Spaniard becoming the first non-Red Bull winner of the year.

However, Verstappen, victorious at 12 of the 15 rounds so far, expects the fast-flowing Suzkua track will see him return to winning ways.

“Yes, that is the target,” he said. “This track is so different to Suzuka and it doesn’t relate.

“We have learned a bit from today, and have a few ideas with what we got wrong yesterday. I cannot go into details but I feel good about Suzuka.”

Verstappen finished three places ahead of team-mate Sergio Perez to extend his championship lead from 145 points to 151.

Verstappen can no longer secure his third world title at next weekend’s race in Japan, with the Qatar Grand Prix on October 8 a possible destination for his coronation.

Red Bull’s failure to win ends their bid to become the first team in history to go through a season unbeaten.

“We never expected it,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said. “To have got through 14 races, in multiple conditions, is beyond our wildest imaginings. It is a hell of a run.

“We knew it had to come to an end at some point. Max has won 10 in a row and that is insanity.

“The only driver who has done nine is Sebastian (Vettel) in one of our cars so to have the first and second most winningest drivers in F1 is great – even if statistics apparently don’t matter. This kind of dominance is testimony to everyone involved.”

A “heartbroken” George Russell struggled to hold back the tears after he believed victory slipped through his hands in Singapore on a frenetic night when Red Bull’s winning streak finally came to an end.

Max Verstappen arrived in the city-state on a record run of 10 straight victories, with his Red Bull team unbeaten this season. But Formula One’s all-conquering team were nowhere here – dashing their hopes of becoming the grid’s first ‘Invincibles’. Verstappen finished fifth.

Instead it was Carlos Sainz, who was crowned the first non-Red Bull winner of the year.

The Ferrari driver took the chequered flag just eight tenths clear of McLaren’s Lando Norris, following another fine drive by the British star, with Lewis Hamilton third for Mercedes. Russell’s bid for victory ended in the wall on the last lap with only nine corners left.

“In the moment you want to curl up in a ball and be with nobody,” said Russell as he cleared his throat and his eyes red.

“It is the most horrendous feeling in the world when you are so physically and mentally drained and you miss out on an opportunity for victory. I made a mistake. It is truly heartbreaking.”

At a circuit where overtaking is almost impossible, Mercedes rolled the strategy dice by putting both Russell and Hamilton on fresh tyres on lap 45 of 62.

Russell left the pits 17.5 seconds behind Sainz. On lap 53, he swatted Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc aside and victory – which would have been only the second of his career – looked possible.

Sainz, on old tyres, was eight seconds up the road. Norris was nibbling at the Ferrari gearbox, as Russell and Hamilton, in the other black-liveried Mercedes in tow, set about hunting them down.

Russell was soon on the back of Norris’ papaya McLaren. With Norris out of the way, Sainz would surely be easy prey.

With three laps to run, Russell was handed his golden opportunity. The Mercedes man got better traction out of Turn 14 and nearly drew alongside Norris before slipping back into his tow and attempting to plant his machine around the outside of his countryman under braking for Turn 16.

But amid of a flurry of orange sparks, Norris could not be dislodged. And Russell’s chance was gone.

Then, on the last lap of a race which ran for one hour and 46 minutes in the intense heat and humidity and is regarded to be the most challenging of the year, Russell was out. He brushed the barrier on the entry to Turn 10 and crashed into the barrier.

“No, no, f***, f***,” the breathless Briton yelled over the radio. “What the f***.”

“I had half-a-chance with Lando,” said Russell. “Half-a-car’s length difference and I think we would have won the race.

“I would have got ahead of Lando and Carlos would have been stuck without DRS and I would have flown by him. Instead, I ended the race in the wall.

“I don’t know how it happened, maybe a lack of concentration, frustration knowing that was the last lap and the opportunity had gone and a one centimetre mistake has clouded the whole weekend.

“It was such a nothing of a mistake. If I span off, or locked up and ended up in the wall I would be feeling very different. But to clip the wall on the last lap is such a pathetic mistake which is why it feels so strange right now. I put everything on the line, I was knackered at the end.

“I will have a tough night and a tough morning, but I will put it behind me and go again. I can only apologise to the team because they deserved more, but s*** happens.”

Hamilton tapped Russell on the midriff to offer his sympathy as the seven-time world champion conducted his interviews.

Russell wore dark sunglasses as he walked off into the glaring light of the paddock – perhaps to hide the pain.

Hamilton, who claimed his 196th podium, said: “For George, it was really unfortunate to finish that way, but he continues to grow and improve.

“I know he will get stronger and faster, and if can help him, I will naturally be part of that over the next couple of years. It can happen to any of us and it it just one of those things.”

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz beat Lando Norris and Mercedes’ tactical gamble in a frenetic finale to win the Singapore Grand Prix and end Red Bull’s bid to become Formula One’s ‘Invincibles’.

Red Bull arrived at the Marina Bay Circuit with 14 victories from 14 rounds, but Sainz finally ended their crushing dominance with an impressive victory.

Norris took second after holding off George Russell and Lewis Hamilton, who both stopped for tyres with 17 laps remaining in a gung-ho bid to take the win.

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But Russell and Hamilton were unable to find a way past a resilient Norris in a dramatic conclusion with the former crashing out on the final lap.

Russell’s crash allowed Hamilton to complete the podium, with Charles Leclerc fourth.

Max Verstappen’s record winning streak is also over after the Dutchman – who became the first driver in the sport’s history to rack up 10 straight victories at the Italian Grand Prix a fortnight ago – finished fifth.

Verstappen’s lead over Sergio Perez, who finished eighth, stands at 149 points, meaning the former cannot secure his third world title at next weekend’s round in Japan.

Lance Stroll has been ruled out of Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix following his staggering 110mph qualifying crash.

The Canadian driver lost control of his Aston Martin through the final left-hander at the Marina Bay Circuit before he slammed into the barrier.

The force of the high-speed impact sent Stroll’s head rocking from side-to-side. He catapulted back across the track and pirouetted to a standstill in the middle of the circuit.

The Aston Martin driver emerged from his wrecked vehicle unaided before being given the all-clear by the on-track medical team.

But Aston Martin said the significant damage sustained to Stroll’s machine, in addition to the 24-year-old still being “sore” from the high-speed shunt, means he will be sidelined from the race.

A statement from the British team read: “Following Lance’s crash in qualifying for the Singapore Grand Prix, Lance and the Aston Martin team have jointly agreed that he will not participate in this evening’s race.

“The team face a huge job repairing the car today and Lance is still sore following such a high impact. Lance’s focus now shifts to fully recovering ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix (on September 24).”

Aston Martin team principal Mike Krack added: “The whole team are relieved that Lance was able to step out of the car after yesterday’s accident – however, he is still feeling the after-effects of such a high-impact crash.

“Our priority now is that he makes a full and speedy recovery. Together, we have decided that he will sit out this evening’s race and instead focus fully on returning to the cockpit for next weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix.”

Stroll was 20th and last at the time of his crash. Fernando Alonso qualified seventh in the other Aston Martin.

Lance Stroll has been given the all-clear to race in Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix, despite his staggering 110mph qualifying crash.

The Canadian driver lost control of his Aston Martin through the final left-hander at the Marina Bay Circuit before he slammed into the barrier.

The force of the high-speed impact sent Stroll’s head rocking from side-to-side. He catapulted back across the track, with British driver Lando Norris forced to take evasive action, dodging a flying wheel and Stroll’s out-of-control machine.

“Is the driver all right?” asked a concerned Norris on the radio. “That must have been quite a big one.”

Stroll pirouetted to a standstill in the middle of the track before his race engineer Ben Michell came on the radio.

“Lance, car is safe,” said Michell. “Are you OK?” Stroll, 24, replied: “Yeah, I am OK.”

The Aston Martin driver emerged from his wrecked vehicle unaided before being taken off in a medical car.

But there is some doubt if Stroll, the son of the team’s fashion billionaire father Lawrence Stroll, will be able to take part in the race given the significant damage sustained by his machine.

A statement from Aston Martin read: “Lance was taken to the medical centre for a precautionary assessment. He was cleared by the on-site medical team and returned to the team at track.

“Aston Martin pay tribute to the ongoing work of the FIA and the safety measures of current Formula One cars.”

Stroll’s accident brought a premature end to Q1. A 34-minute delay followed as the mangled tyre barrier was repaired.

Stroll was 20th and last at the time of his crash. Fernando Alonso qualified seventh in the other Aston Martin.

“I’m frustrated as we have a big job – in the garage and on the race track – ahead of us,” said Stroll.

“I was struggling for grip throughout the qualifying session. When I saw my lap wasn’t improving, I pushed really hard in the last corner to try and make up that extra time and that’s when it went wrong. Let’s see what we can salvage tomorrow in the race.”

Max Verstappen said he can forget about extending his record winning streak after qualifying only 11th for Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix.

On a wild night under the 1600 bulbs that light up the Marina Bay Circuit, Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll also walked away from a staggering 110mph shunt, while Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz pipped the Mercedes of George Russell to land his second pole position in as many races. Charles Leclerc will start third ahead of Lando Norris and Lewis Hamilton.

But it was the demise of Red Bull – the unbeaten tour de force of this most one-sided of seasons – that left those here in shock and awe. Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez also failed to reach Q3. He will line up in 13th for Sunday’s 62-lap race.

Verstappen warned earlier this week that the Red Bull machinery which has carried him to a record 10 consecutive victories would not be suited to this unique 3.07-mile high-downforce circuit.

Yet, nobody could have foreseen him being sent for an early bath along with Perez in the other car. Verstappen was straight on the radio to express his dismay.

“I don’t know if you saw that, but that was just f***** shocking,” he said. “Absolutely shocking experience.”

Verstappen’s Red Bull team, without a defeat in the 14 rounds so far, now face an improbable task of making history by becoming Formula One’s first ‘Invincibles’.

“You can forget about that (a victory),” said Verstappen. “I don’t want it to sound too dramatic but it has been a tough weekend, and it is a long, long time since it has been like this in qualifying.”

Verstappen last started this far back in Saudi Arabia when a driveshaft failure consigned him to 15th at the second round in March. He finished runner-up to Perez.

But the streets of Singapore, unlike those in Jeddah, are strenuous to overtake on. Indeed, eight of the last 13 races here have been won from pole.

“You cannot pass here,” added Verstappen. “You need to be one and a half, to two or three seconds faster than the car in front which we are not. It will be a very tough and long afternoon.

“On other tracks you can start last and win, but not in Singapore. I want to win, but when it is not possible you have to accept that.

“I knew there would be a day that I wouldn’t win. I had a really good run up until now.

“And I would always take a season where we are winning as much as we have, and have one really bad weekend, over the other way round when you are not fighting for the championship. I am confident the car will be fast again in Suzuka next weekend.”

Red Bull’s sudden malaise cleared the way for Sainz to capture another pole, a fortnight after he secured top spot in qualifying in Monza.

However, Russell ran the Spaniard close, finishing just 0.072 seconds back, and the Englishman believes he has a strong chance of landing Mercedes’ first win of the campaign and the second of his career.

The Silver Arrows have also followed a unqiue strategy this weekend that leaves Russell with an extra set of medium tyres which could provide him with the tactical edge over Sainz.

“George has a really good shot at winning and I really hope he does,” said team-mate Hamilton, who qualified half-a-second back on disappointing evening for the seven-time world champion.

“I hope he gets a good start and gets ahead of the Ferraris. That would be amazing for him and for the team.

“For me, I will see what I can do. If I get further up then great. I changed the car last night and I don’t know what is going on with it. It is the hardest car I have ever driven to get right.”

Max Verstappen will start Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix from a shock 11th place after Lance Stroll crashed out at 110mph and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz took pole position.

On a wild night at the Marina Bay Circuit, both Red Bull drivers were eliminated in Q2 leaving the world champions facing an enormous task to retain their unbeaten record this season.

George Russell qualified second, missing out on pole by just 0.072 seconds with Charles Leclerc third for Ferrari, one place ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris. Lewis Hamilton finished fifth, half-a-second back.

Verstappen was eliminated in Q2 after he bemoaned the handling of the Red Bull machine which has carried him to a record 10 consecutive wins, but has struggled under the bulbs that light up this unique 3.07-mile high-downforce track.

Verstappen missed out on Q3 by 0.007 sec, and then took aim at his team over the radio.

“I don’t know if you saw that, but it was an absolutely shocking experience,” he said amid of flurry of expletives.

Verstappen is also facing three stewards’ investigations for separate incidents of impeding during qualifying.

His team-mate Sergio Perez, who spun, also failed to progress to Q3. He will start 13th following a miserable night for the team from Milton Keynes in the city-state.

Red Bull’s demise allowed Sainz to capture his second consecutive pole with Russell narrowly missing out.

Earlier, Stroll survived a staggering crash. The Canadian driver lost control of his Aston Martin through the final left-hander before he slammed into the barrier.

The force of the high-speed impact sent Stroll’s head rocking from side-to-side. He catapulted back across the track with Norris forced to take evasive action – dodging a flying wheel and Stroll’s out-of-control machine.

“Is the driver alright?” asked Norris on the radio. “That must have been quite a big one.”

Stroll pirouetted to a standstill in the middle of the track before his race engineer Ben Michell came on the radio.

“Lance, car is safe,” said Michell. “Are you OK?” Stroll, 24, replied: “Yeah, I am OK.”

The Aston Martin driver emerged from his wrecked car unaided before being taken off to the medical centre.

Aston Martin confirmed Stroll had been given the all-clear by the on-site medical team and was allowed to return to the paddock.

Stroll’s accident brought a premature end to a frenetic conclusion to Q1 and left the marshals with a significant barrier repair job at the final corner, with fluid from his car also on the track.

The session was delayed for 34 minutes before Q2 started at 9.53pm local time.

Lance Stroll survived a staggering 110mph crash in qualifying for the Singapore Grand Prix.

The Canadian driver lost control of his Aston Martin through the final left-hander at the Marina Bay Circuit before he slammed into the barrier.

The force of the high-speed impact sent Stroll’s head rocking from side-to-side. He catapulted back across the track with British driver Lando Norris forced to take evasive action – dodging a flying wheel and Stroll’s out-of-control machine.

“Is the driver alright?” asked Norris on the radio. “That must have been quite a big one.”

Stroll pirouetted to a standstill in the middle of the track before his race engineer Ben Michell came on the radio.

“Lance, car is safe,” said Michell. “Are you okay?” Stroll, 24, replied: “Yeah, I am OK.”

The Aston Martin driver emerged from his wrecked car unaided before being taken off to the medical centre.

Stroll’s accident brought a premature end to a frenetic conclusion to Q1 with drivers improving as the city-state track evolved.

AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda led the way, with Lewis Hamilton 14th of the 20 runners with the bottom five set to be eliminated.

Stroll’s impact left the marshals with a significant barrier repair job at the final corner, with fluid from his car also on the track.

The session was delayed for 34 minutes before Q2 started at 9:53pm local time.

Max Verstappen faces a fight to take pole position at the Singapore Grand Prix after calling his Red Bull “unacceptable” in final practice.

As Carlos Sainz raced to the top of the time charts at the Marina Bay Circuit, Verstappen finished fourth.

The Dutchman is on an unprecedented 10-race winning streak with his Red Bull team unbeaten at the 14 rounds of the season so far.

But Verstappen bemoaned the handling of his car in the city-state, describing the upshifts in his Red Bull machinery as “unacceptable”.

He added: “These upshifts, what the f***. I am just struggling for rear grip. If I competed in drifting, I might win the race.”

Verstappen returned to the track in the closing moments of the one-hour running, ringing the neck of his Red Bull to move from sixth to fourth, 0.313 sec slower than Sainz.

But his struggles will give the chasing pack hope of finally stopping Verstappen and Red Bull with Ferrari holding the upper hand heading into qualifying later on Saturday.

Sainz and team-mate Charles Leclerc traded top spot in the two practice sessions here on Friday, with the former again fastest in the concluding running before the fight for pole.

Leclerc looked set to eclipse Sainz only to make a mistake in the second sector before backing out of his speediest lap, finishing fifth.

George Russell took an encouraging second for Mercedes, just 0.069 sec slower than Sainz, with Lando Norris third in his McLaren. Lewis Hamilton was sixth for Mercedes, within half-a-second of Sainz.

Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez, who won here last year, finished eighth, 0.719 sec back.

Qualifying for the 15th round of 22 takes place at 2100 local time (1400 BST).

Max Verstappen’s unprecedented winning streak in Formula One could be under threat after the Red Bull driver finished only eighth in practice for the Singapore Grand Prix.

Verstappen romped to victory in Italy a fortnight ago to become the first driver in the sport’s 73-year history to win 10 consecutive races as he closes in on a hat-trick of world championships.

But under the thousands of bulbs that light up the Marina Bay Street Circuit, Verstappen ended the day more than seven tenths behind Ferrari pace-setter Carlos Sainz, the Spaniard who took pole position in Monza.

Charles Leclerc finished second for Ferrari as the Italian team completed a practice one-two, with George Russell third for Mercedes, 0.235 sec adrift.

Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso was fourth, with Lewis Hamilton fifth in his Mercedes, one place ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris.

Red Bull are unbeaten this season, but they did not have a car inside the top six on Friday, with Sergio Perez, who triumphed here last year, seventh.

Verstappen, who has won 12 of the 14 rounds so far, has not lost a race since the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on April 30.

But the Dutch driver has never triumphed in Singapore and he suggested ahead of Friday’s running that the high-downforce, low-speed nature of the city-state track could play into the hands of Red Bull’s rivals.

Although times in practice must be treated with caution as teams trial varying fuel loads and tyre strategies, it is Ferrari who hold the upper hand heading into qualifying on Saturday at a track where overtaking is notoriously difficult.

Indeed, eight of the 13 races here have been won from pole. Although the removal of turns 16 to 19 in favour of one long straight could improve the action for Sunday’s 62-lap race.

While the second running passed off without major drama, the opening session was disrupted on three occasions when a lizard invaded the three-mile circuit.

Verstappen was the first to report the reptile at turn nine midway through the running.

“There is a lizard on track again,” said the Red Bull driver, who had a similar encounter here back in 2016. “It is a smaller one this time.”

Verstappen’s race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase replied: “Maybe Godzilla has had a kid.” There was a second interruption, and then a third, as yellow flags were deployed.

“Another lizard, but a different one this time,” said Russell.

Charles Leclerc led a Ferrari one-two in an opening practice session for the Singapore Grand Prix disrupted by three lizards.

Leclerc ended the one-hour running at the Marina Bay circuit just 0.078 seconds clear of team-mate Carlos Sainz, with championship leader Max Verstappen third.

Lando Norris finished fourth for McLaren, 0.172 sec back, while Lewis Hamilton and George Russell took fifth and sixth respectively for Mercedes.

But the session was disturbed on several occasions when a lizard walked across the three-mile street venue.

Verstappen was the first to report the reptile at Turn 9 midway through the running.

“There is a lizard on track again,” said the Red Bull driver, who had a similar encounter here back in 2016. “It is a smaller one this time.”

Verstappen’s race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase replied: “Maybe Godzilla has had a kid.”

There was a second interruption, and then a third, as yellow flags were deployed.

“Another lizard, but a different one this time,” said Russell.

Verstappen, who is chasing an 11th straight victory on his waltz to a third world championship, warned on Thursday that Red Bull could be vulnerable at this unique street venue.

And the chasing pack, led by Ferrari, will be encouraged that Red Bull did not have it all their own way in the opening running of the weekend.

Sergio Perez, who won here last year, finished seventh, ahead of Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso.

The second running gets under way at 2100 local time (1400 BST).

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