SINGAPORE, Sept 16, (AFP): Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel came from nowhere to seize pole position at the Singapore Grand Prix on Saturday, creating a golden opportunity to reclaim the world championship lead from Lewis Hamilton.
Vettel, who had struggled in practice, timed a record 1min 39.491sec at the floodlit Marina Bay street circuit ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen will start fourth with Hamilton, who leads Vettel by just three points in the standings, fifth ahead of his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
Verstappen, 19, had looked set to become the first teenager on pole but Vettel stormed through with two blistering laps in the final session to clinch it by three-tenths of a second.
Qualifying has often been crucial in Singapore, where seven of the nine races so far have been won by the driver who started from pole.
Vettel was 11th in Friday’s second free practice session, and he took a chunk out of one of the circuit’s walls in the final pre-qualifying run-out on Saturday.
He was just 12th in Q1, the opening section of qualifying, before improving to fourth in Q2.
But he is now in a great position to claim his fifth win in Singapore, while Hamilton will be up against it when he starts from the third row of the grid.
Hamilton was also surprised at Vettel’s pace but he warned that Sunday’s notoriously long, hot and physical race was “a marathon not a sprint”.
Qualifying got off to a slow start after a fire in a Porsche Carrera Cup race left oil on the track at Turn 20, making conditions treacherous.
Williams driver Felipe Massa slid into the barriers, puncturing a rear tyre, and he was one of the five to drop out in Q1 as Verstappen and Ricciardo led the way.
The Ferraris set a quick pace at the start of Q2 as first Raikkonen and then Vettel went top, before Verstappen returned to the head of the table with a time of 1:40.379.
Verstappen and Ricciardo led the Ferrari pair and Hamilton into the top 10 shoot-out, and the Dutch teenager soon gunned to 1:39.814 — before being eclipsed by Vettel’s 1:39.669.
Verstappen made a hash of his final lap and Vettel lowered his time to 1:39.491, afterwards whooping and shouting to his team-mates in Italian as he celebrated pole.