With Ferrari having the quicker car in two of the last three Singapore Grands Prix, many expected them to demonstrate the pace required to reignite their challenge for the championships, but Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton delivered an astounding lap to take a surprise pole position at the Marina Bay Street Circuit.
In a season which is becoming renowned for Hamilton’s ability to take pole position at unlikely venues, the Briton secured his 79th career pole position – his seventh of the season – to beat Max Verstappen and championship rival Sebastian Vettel, who finished over six tenths of a second behind.
With Ferrari bailing out of their attempts to start the race on the ultrasoft tyre, the team in red face a challenge to prove they can handle the degradation of the hypersoft tyre and mount a challenge to the front two.
“That was a hard qualifying session, that lap felt like magic!” said Hamilton.
“I don’t really know where it came from, but it all came together. Naturally I want to say a huge thank you to all the team back at the factory, everyone’s working so hard to pull out the little extra bits and today I just managed – for that one lap – to get it right.
“I only had that one lap in me, I couldn’t go any faster.”
Equally as surprising was Max Verstappen’s ability to place his Red Bull on the front row of the grid, missing out on the youngest driver to claim a pole position by just over three tenths of a second. Considering Red Bull have greater confidence in their race pace than their qualifying pace, the team will undoubtedly be buoyed by the result.
Third-place Vettel finished just ahead of Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, who ended up several tenths behind his team-mate, whilst Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo completed the top six.
Force India’s Sergio Perez secured ‘group B’ honours with seventh place, ahead of Haas’ Romain Grosjean and team-mate Esteban Ocon.
Qualifying Session One
Such was the gap between the top teams and the cut-off for Q1, Mercedes elected to try and progress to Q2 using the ultrasoft tyre, as opposed to the fastest available tyre, the hypersoft.
Their laps in the low-1:39 zone were sufficient to see them through, although nerves would’ve been tested with Hamilton eventually falling down to 14th.
Haas’ gamble on being able to progress with Kevin Magnussen’s early lap backfired. The Dane was eliminated – conversely team-mate Romain Grosjean finished Q1 up in fourth place – along with Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley, McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne – who struck the wall at the penultimate corner – and the two Williams, who were a distant nineteenth and twentieth, more than one second slower than their Q1 rivals.
Qualifying Session Two
With the rules indicating that anybody who progresses into Q3 must start the race on the tyres they used to set their best time in Q2, Ferrari experimented with trying to progress on the ultrasoft-compound tyre.
Vettel’s sole attempt at qualifying on the ultrasoft tyre put him in tenth place, whilst Raikkonen bailed out altogether, and both Ferraris were sent out again on the hypersoft tyre.
The Red Bulls gave their first indications of being able to compete in qualifying by initially setting the pace with Verstappen, but his time was duly beaten by the late effort from Raikkonen. Vettel would likely have been in the mix for top spot, but his progression into Q3 was threatened by a lot of traffic.
The only minor surprise of the session was Carlos Sainz’s failure to make it into Q3, especially after a competitive showing from Renault.
Joining him on the sidelines were McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, the two Sauber’s of Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson, and Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly.
Qualifying Session Three
With many anticipating that Ferrari would be the favourites in Singapore, the qualifying hour was turned on it’s head when two storming opening laps from Hamilton and Verstappen put the pair on the front row of the grid.
The Mercedes man clocked a 1:36.015 to out-pace Vettel by over six tenths of a second on his first lap, whilst Verstappen overcame earlier power unit issues to drag his Red Bull in between the two championship contenders.
Vettel set a purple first sector on his second lap, whilst Verstappen went purple in the second sector, but neither could generate any improvements and challenge Hamilton.
Bottas was three-quarters of a second off his team-mate in fourth, whilst neither fifth-placed Raikkonen or sixth-placed Ricciardo could rival the laps of their respective team-mates.
The Force India team are threatening to continue their superb form by qualifying seventh and ninth with Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon respectively, separated by Haas’ Romain Grosjean. The top ten was completed by Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg.
SINGAPORE GRAND PRIX, Qualifying
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m36.015s
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Renault 1m36.334s 0.319s
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m36.628s 0.613s
4 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m36.702s 0.687s
5 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m36.794s 0.779s
6 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull/Renault 1m36.996s 0.981s
7 Sergio Perez Force India/Mercedes 1m37.985s 1.970s
8 Romain Grosjean Haas/Ferrari 1m38.320s 2.305s
9 Esteban Ocon Force India/Mercedes 1m38.365s 2.350s
10 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1m38.588s 2.573s
11 Fernando Alonso McLaren/Renault 1m38.641s
12 Carlos Sainz Renault 1m38.716s
13 Charles Leclerc Sauber/Ferrari 1m38.747s
14 Marcus Ericsson Sauber/Ferrari 1m39.453s
15 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso/Honda 1m39.691s
16 Kevin Magnussen Haas/Ferrari 1m39.644s
17 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso/Honda 1m39.809s
18 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren/Renault 1m39.864s
19 Sergey Sirotkin Williams/Mercedes 1m41.263s
20 Lance Stroll Williams/Mercedes 1m41.334s
By: Luke Murphy
All images: Motorsport Images
Who do you think is the favourite to take the victory at the Singapore Grand Prix? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.