SINGAPORE // On the first day of the first weekend where he can finally claim his crown, Sebastian Vettel finished fastest during practice Friday at the Singapore Grand Prix, and then played down his dominance.
The Red Bull Racing driver lapped the Marina Bay Street Circuit 0.201 seconds quicker than Fernando Alonso, the Spaniard who won here last year with Ferrari. McLaren-Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton was third in the afternoon, despite topping the time sheets during a delayed morning session.
"I wouldn't call it an advantage," said Vettel, who leads the driver standings by 112 points and can seal his second successive world championship tomorrow, depending on results.
"It looked pretty tight. It depends where and when and who was out, so we have to wait and see.
"The feeling in the car was all right. We have to look how the others were, do our homework and then see what we can do."
Hamilton was not buying Vettel's coyness. The Briton said he expected a tough challenge to catch the 24-year-old German either in Saturday's qualifying session or in Sunday's race.
"The pace he has right now, it's very difficult for us to get to that kind of pace," the 2008 world champion said. "Getting him will be very difficult, but not impossible."
Vettel appeared to cope admirably with the high humidity, which after being conspicuously absent on Thursday, returned to the paddock Friday.
He said such characteristics make this weekend's race on the serpentine street circuit even more demanding for the drivers.
"It's quite warm with the suit, et cetera, and on top of that you have to focus: it's one of the toughest tracks for the mind here. I quite like it, but I'm sure no one's jumping out of the car looking better than when they got in."
Vettel's teammate, Mark Webber, who has yet to win a race in 2011, was fifth fastest in the afternoon, but was remaining positive.
"It wasn't too bad," he said. "I need to find a bit more pace, but there's a bit of low-hanging fruit which we can grab overnight. That'll be good for us."