Fernando Alonso has secured back-to-back pole positions with a brilliant performance in qualifying for the Singapore Grand Prix.
Despite a late challenge from Sebastian Vettel and a few technical gremlins, the double World Champion showed his class around the Marina Bay circuit to post the quickest-ever lap time around the 5-kilometre track.
But as Ferrari would celebrate Fernando’s achievement which puts him in the perfect position to continue a come-from-behind championship challenge, it was a different story on the other side of the garage, as Felipe Massa will book-end the 24-car grid from last place.
The Brazilian ground to a halt in the opening qualifying segment without having even posted a timed lap, blaming a probable engine problem over the radio, which Ferrari were quick to stress was a gearbox electronics issue.
Vettel starts alongside Alonso on the front row, putting his best effort in the closing seconds after a mistake on his first flying lap saw him sitting seventh on the timesheets midway through Q3. Despite posting rapid times in the first two sectors, he couldn’t string it all together, and will be vulnerable off the line in the race as he starts from the dirtier side of the grid.
McLaren suddenly found some missing pace in qualifying – having been about a second off the front-running Red Bull times all weekend – to lock out the second row of the grid, with Lewis Hamilton beating Jenson Button to third spot.
Mark Webber will be disappointed to start from fifth place, and despite his opening practice heroics where he was quickest overall by dint of a hot lap when conditions were driest, he has been consistently a few tenths slower than his team-mate Vettel for the rest of the weekend. The Australian will need to consolidate a good result on Sunday, as he simply doesn’t seem to have the outright pace to challenge for a win.
Starting alongside Webber will be Rubens Barrichello, who hustled his Williams around the circuit to lap sixth-quickest overall.
Mercedes GP got both cars into the top-ten shootout for the first time since the British Grand Prix, with Nico Rosberg starting seventh and again having the measure of team-mate Michael Schumacher. Schumacher seemed to be playing a more strategic game in qualifying, considerably limiting his running to conserve tyres, which might put him in a better position for the race if he can work a good strategy to his favour. He starts from ninth position.
Sandwiched between the Silver Arrows is Robert Kubica, who would perhaps have hoped to start higher up the order with the Renault generally considered to be a competitive prospect here. The much-expected podium finish might not necessarily be on the cards starting from eighth place.
Rounding out the top-ten was Kamui Kobayashi in the Sauber, who dragged good pace out of the Ferrari-powered car. Slower than new team-mate Nick Heidfeld in Q1, he ramped it up to post a time a full second clear of the German in Q2, which leaves the veteran starting from 15th place.
Toro Rosso showed a particularly good turn of pace in Singapore, with the Ferrari-powered duo of Jaime Alguersuari and Sébastien Buemi both making it into Q2. Despite a few lurid slides, Alguersuari seemingly had the measure of his more-experienced team-mate, and just missed the Q3 cut by seven-hundredths of a second. This marks just the fourth time this season that he has also out-qualified Buemi.
The pair sandwich Nico Hülkenberg and Vitaly Petrov on the timesheets, although both drivers experienced their own dramas this weekend. Hülkenberg was handed a five- place grid penalty for a gearbox change that will see him start from 17th for the race, while Vitaly has done his re-signing prospects no end of good by yet again binning his Renault into the barriers – this time by backing his R30 into the wall. That being said, the Russian looked particularly quick on his first outing in Singapore, and looked a prospect for making it into Q3 until he could no longer post any more lap times.
Force India were the only team that went backwards with respect to their lap times from Q1, with Adrian Sutil (16th) lapping four-tenths slower than he’d managed in Q1. Vitantonio Liuzzi lapped much closer to the pace of his German team-mate for the first time in a while, but that will be of little consolation this weekend.
Virgin Racing won bragging rights among the rookie teams, with Timo Glock out-pacing the more fancied Lotus Racing cars in Q1 to finish best of the ‘B’ teams. Only a late effort from Heikki Kovalainen deprived the VR-01s from heading both green cars, but Lucas di Grassi still managed to out-pace Jarno Trulli.
Slowest of all and of no surprise to anyone was the Hispania Racing team, who continue to be dogged by rumours regarding their financial health. What was the surprise was that Christian Klien managed to comprehensively out-pace Bruno Senna on his first competitive outing in the Dallara-designed car. A gap of over 1 second to the Austrian will leave Bruno scratching his head, but his car looked quite the handful with it seemingly lacking rear downforce.
2010 Singapore GP Qualifying Times: