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Front-runner Vettel scorches in Singapore

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Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany speeds around a corner during the first practice session of the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix on September 20, 2013. Vettel set a scorching pace as he dominated free practice at the Singapore Grand Prix in ominous style. (AFP)

Formula One championship leader Sebastian Vettel set a scorching pace on Friday as he dominated free practice at the Singapore Grand Prix in ominous style.

The young German, chasing a fourth straight world title, won a duel with Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber in the second session, timing 1min 44.249sec around the spot-lit Marina Bay street circuit.

Vettel has won three of the last four races to take a firm grip on the world championship, which he leads by 53 points from Fernando Alonso. He also topped the podium on his last two visits to Singapore.

The 26-year-old outdid Webber early in the session and stayed on top as teams moved on to the slower medium tyres and heavier fuel loads.

Vettel's time was 0.604 quicker than Webber, with the two Mercedes of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton occupying third and fourth.

Lotus's Romain Grosjean survived a lock-up to time fifth, ahead of Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, McLaren's Jenson Button and the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen.

Williams driver Pastor Maldonado was one of several racers to test the tight circuit's barriers when he barged his nose into a wall late in the session.

Ferrari's Felipe Massa and Webber both clipped walls on their way round the 3.1-mile (5.1-kilometre) circuit skirting the night-lit skyscrapers and landmarks of downtown Singapore.

Several of the practice times beat Raikkonen's 2008 race lap record of 1:45.599, indicating the five-year-old mark is set to fall on Sunday.

A remodelled Turn 10, dubbed the "Singapore Sling" and once one of Formula One's most notorious corners, has helped slash times along with track resurfacing and smoother kerbs.

With Vettel closing on another world title, debate over drivers' movements has dominated the race build-up after Ferrari re-hired their 2007 champion Raikkonen to pair with Alonso.

Massa, who is on his way out of Ferrari, and Nico Hulkenberg are both linked with Raikkonen's seat at Lotus, and the rumour mill has gone into overdrive with speculation that Alonso may consider jumping ship to McLaren.

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