Formula 1 World Championship leader Lewis Hamilton may have endured 'bottoming' issues with his car during opening practice for this weekend's inaugural Singapore Grand Prix, but they did not prevent the British star from assuming what is starting to become his customary position atop the timing screens.

Hamilton saw off the challenge of Ferrari chief title rival Felipe Massa by eight hundredths of a second in the morning running, before lapping a close second-quickest to former team-mate Fernando Alonso in the afternoon. Though it may not have been the most straightforward of days for the 23-year-old, he did acknowledge that the much-debated spotlights had posed him no problems.

"It's a very physical circuit," the Stevenage-born ace confessed, "more than I expected actually. You need to put a lot of work into the car to get a good lap - I'd say it requires double the energy of Monaco over a single lap. One lap around here is like two laps of Monaco!

"On my first proper run, I managed to find a half-decent line - but the car was 'bottoming' in places. Through certain corners there was lots of bottoming, and when you hit a bump it would throw the car around quite a bit.

"I was able to get more comfortable with the car, though; on first impressions, there seems to be quite a lot of grip on the track, so you can brake quite late into the slower corners. It's an amazing venue."

Hamilton's enthusiasm for the Marina Bay Street Circuit was shared by McLaren-Mercedes team-mate Heikki Kovalainen, who lapped fourth-fastest in both sessions, considerably closer to the pace in the afternoon than he had been in the morning.

"To be honest, racing under the lights wasn't really a problem," the Finn underlined, echoing Hamilton's sentiments ahead of what will be the first night race in F1's 58-year history. "The visibility was fine, to be honest - I don't think it really makes any difference for the drivers.

"Same with the bumps - we'll get used to them very fast - because the track was quite bumpy. Perhaps we should also look at the pit entry - it could be quite difficult if a driver decides to pull into the pits at the last minute. However, everything else about the track is fine.

"This place has got some difficult corners, but I quite like all the sectors. It was quite a busy session today and the traffic made it a bit difficult to pull a clear lap together, but it feels good when you get it right."

With the world championship battle poised on a knife-edge between McLaren and Ferrari - the former narrowly leading the way in the drivers' standings but the latter still with an edge in the constructors' chase - the Woking-based outfit's team principal Ron Dennis is well aware of how pivotally important the weekend ahead could be.

"From a procedural point-of-view, today was a very encouraging day," the 61-year-old stated. "As usual on a Friday, we spent [the day] evaluating race tyres, but I want to make a broader point - along with everyone at McLaren-Mercedes, I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Singaporean government, and to Bernie Ecclestone, and to everyone else who has made this event possible.

"It's a fantastic circuit, and the added attraction of racing under floodlights has been very well-achieved. It feels a little strange to be at the circuit so late, well past midnight in fact, but overall I would describe the advent of night-time grand prix racing as an excellent new development in the ongoing history of Formula 1."

"Atmospherically probably the best pictures ever seen in Formula 1," agreed Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug. "Here the world championship takes in my view a step forward, and interested viewers from all over the world will recognise it in the international television broadcasts.

"On the track our first day was okay, with good lap times during our planned Friday programme. Compliments to the organisers, FOM and Bernie for making this remarkable event happen."

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