By John O'Brien
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Nico Rosberg got his Singapore Grand Prix race weekend off to the best possible start when the German set the fastest time in the first free practice session ahead of his Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton on Friday.
The German trails Hamilton by 53 points with seven rounds remaining but will be buoyed by his performance at the Marina Bay Street Circuit, lapping the 23-turn layout in one minute, 47.995 seconds on a hot and muggy evening.
Rosberg set the first timed lap of the session as twilight turned to darkness and the floodlights reached full power, and made the advantage stand up all the way until the session ended three minutes early when Alexander Rossi crashed into the barriers.
Hamilton, who won in Singapore last year, finished 0.319 seconds adrift of his team mate with Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo showing plenty of pace to clock the third fastest time ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen in the Ferraris.
Rosberg complained to his team over the radio that he was encountering problems with his drinks tube but he generally enjoyed a trouble-free 90-minute session to lap more than a second faster than the first free practice session a year ago.
Hamilton, however, endured an erratic evening, during which he twice ventured off the track as he pushed his Mercedes to the limit in his quest to emulate boyhood hero Ayrton Senna's haul of 41 race wins.
Fortunately for the Briton, his mistakes occurred on parts of the track with run off areas with Vettel also venturing off after running wide at the quick Turn Five but stopping short of the barriers.
American rookie Rossi was making his grand prix debut for tailenders Manor, flown in at short notice to replace Spaniard Roberto Merhi for five of the remaining seven races, and the 23-year-old endured a baptism of fire on his Formula One debut.
Rossi did manage to complete 18 laps at the back of the field before he lost control and slammed into the barriers after Turn 18, his broken Manor stranded and unable to continue as the session was halted with three minutes remaining.
(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)