Lewis Hamilton was quickest on the first hot laps in Q3, threading the needle in Singapore with extraordinary skill in a time of 1min 36.015sec. His middle sector was particularly strong, taking every possible inch of track to the very limit with the walls looming over his car. Vettel could not match that run and was a huge sixth-tenths back, behind Verstappen in second, three-tenths down.
Lewis Hamilton took pole for Mercedes with a consummate lap under the lights of the Marina Bay circuit. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was in second place with the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel in third. Hamilton took the pole with a time that smashed the track record by more than three seconds.
Ferrari had been strong all weekend but they had no answer when it mattered. Hamilton could not improve on his second run in Q3 but nor could his competitors. He had done enough on a lap he described as magic and secured what had looked like an unlikely pole and once again put all the pressure on Ferrari to come back at him.
Valtteri Bottas was in fourth with Kimi Räikkönen in fifth and the second Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo in sixth.
Hamilton’s seventh pole of the season is his fourth in Singapore but only the second time he has claimed the top spot here during the turbo-hybrid era. He has three wins at the Marina Bay circuit and if he can convert pole to victory, he will match Vettel as the most successful driver at the Singapore Grand Prix.
It is his 79th career pole, scored against the odds and may prove crucial. He leads Vettel by 30 points in the world championship and will have been hoping to minimise the advantage Ferrari were expected to have on a track that does not play to the strengths of the Mercedes.
The twisting challenge of the 23 slow-to-medium-speed corners is not what their car has been optimised for and in practice they appeared to be on the back foot. Ferrari were quickest in two of the three practice sessions, with Vettel heading a one-two in the final run on Saturday morning, half a second clear of the Briton in third. However, Hamilton found another level during qualifying to pull a remarkable result out of the bag. Vettel, in contrast, was left wondering why he was so far from his rival on track.
Hamilton took an unlikely win here last year, when Vettel was eliminated after a crash into turn one. However, the pace and balance the Ferrari has shown it will remain a formidable competitor in race pace. The Scuderia’s car is particularly strong out of slow corners, Hamilton will be looking to hold his lead into turn one but will then face a sustained attack in what is a gruelling meeting with temperatures up to 50C and high humidity.
Hamilton had played down the team’s chances, knowing the track has not suited the Mercedes in the past. But the team were confident they had found a setup for their car that was working well here and the technical director, James Allison, is confident they had the good long-run pace for Sunday. If Hamilton can come away with a win, he will have made another big step towards his fifth title.
The Force Indias of Sergio Pérez and Esteban Ocon were in seventh and ninth respectively. The Haas of Romain Grosjean was in eighth with Renault’s Nico Hülkenberg in tenth.
Räikkönen topped the time sheets in Q2, with Vettel in sixth after he encountered traffic on his hot lap. Daniel Ricciardo was quickest in Q1 in front of Vettel, a session where Mercedes ran Hamilton on the harder, ultrasoft rubber and the British driver scraped through in 14th.
Source: The Guardian