Story of qualifying – Lewis Hamilton the magician strikes again

A round-up of the main talking points from qualifying for the Singapore Grand Prix, where Lewis Hamilton claimed a shock pole position, while his main championship rival Sebastian Vettel had to settle for third.

The lap of the season?: Lewis Hamilton is doing his GOAT credentials a lot of good this year. His lap for pole was something special — he said after the session it “felt like magic”. Everything leading into the weekend had suggested Ferrari and Red Bull would be the two cars fighting for pole position but he turned the tables in Q3 with a blistering lap which might well define this year’s championship fight.

Sebastian Vettel may not have maximised his own lap (see below) but that surely can’t account for the 0.6s he was missing to his main rival. Hamilton is clawing this championship away from the man with the fastest car and is continually raising the bar of what we should expect from him.

Another Ferrari own goal?: Vettel was unhappy with Ferrari’s approach to qualifying and he had every right to be. Italy’s media accused the team of scoring an own goal after it allowed Hamilton to win at Monza earlier this month and it felt like Ferrari dropped the ball again here.

Vettel’s biggest issue seemed to be with its management of his out-laps — crucial for warming tyres and extracting maximum performance on those crucial attempts — and we heard another irritated message from the German inside the cockpit, who sounds increasingly like a man micro-managing his team at every little thing they do. This looked like a must-win for Vettel coming into the weekend and the stakes are even higher now.

Red Bull turnaround: Max Verstappen spent much of Saturday’s practice session complaining about the behaviour of his engine, but he also pulled out a lap from the top drawer to put himself on the front row. The Dutchman is very well placed to score Red Bull its fourth victory of 2018 on Sunday, especially with the drivers starting either side of him likely to have half a mind on their championship fight.

Romain flips the script: Having struggled in the early part of the season, Romain Grosjean appears to be the in-form Haas driver. The under-pressure Frenchman successfully delivered his team into Q3 while teammate Kevin Magnussen was eliminated from the first session. Grosjean, who finished fifth in Belgium and sixth (before disqualification) in Italy, looked to be under pressure ahead of the summer break but his resurgence has come just at the right moment.

Fighting for the scraps: The midfield fight is beautifully poised for Sunday. Force India and Haas looked closely matched — the pink cars start either side of Grosjean — while Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz will also be in striking range.

Déjà vu on Sunday?: Anyone who remembers last year will know all bets are off at the first corner. The three-car collision last year — involving Vettel, Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen — was one of the defining images of 2017 and had a huge impact on that year’s championship. However, passing is difficult at Singapore, even for a driver with the fastest car, and Hamilton will fancy his chances of converting this pole position into a victory if he can keep Verstappen behind him in the opening sequence of corners.