The 2017 Formula 1 championship has been a season where momentum has swung back and forth between the year’s two title protagonists, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton.
Barely two weeks after Hamilton moved into the lead of the championship for the first time, the Englishman looks all but certain to surrender his slender points margin to Vettel after the German claimed a scintillating pole position at the Marina Bay street circuit.
The Ferrari driver never looked in doubt of qualifying ahead of Hamilton’s sluggish Mercedes on Saturday night, but the odds were tougher in when it came to overhauling the weekend’s surprise pacesetters from Red Bull Racing.
With Daniel Ricciardo having dominated proceedings in both Friday practice sessions and Max Verstappen quickest in Saturday evening’s final session, the Milton Keynes squad looked to be a serious threat to claim a front-row lockout at a circuit where their Renault-built engines’ horsepower deficit was largely negated.
Verstappen duly threw down the gauntlet by being quickest in the first two knockout phases, but Vettel pulled out all stops with a blistering lap to claim the 49th pole position of his Formula 1 career. The four-time World Champion threw everything and the proverbial kitchen sink at his final effort, scraping the wall at Turn 19 en route to finishing three-tenths of a second clear of Verstappen, who was vying to snatch Vettel’s crown as the sport’s youngest ever pole winner.
With Ricciardo finishing fractionally slower than his teammate to claim third on the grid, he will be confident in the surety that starting from the cleaner side of the start/finish straight could give him the jump on his teammate and potentially a shot at Vettel.
The RB13s have looked mighty all weekend and are a genuine threat for victory, so Vettel is by no means certain of continuing Singapore’s trend where the pole-sitter has won in seven of the venue’s nine Grands Prix. Vettel is a four-time winner here, with three of his visits to the top step of the podium coming from pole.
His teammate Kimi Räikkönen qualified fourth-fastest in the sister Ferrari and will have to play a rear gunner role to further damage the likely points loss Hamilton is expected to suffer this weekend.
Hamilton and teammate Valtteri Bottas locked out the grid’s third row in the Silver Arrows’ least competitive qualifying performance of the season that, while expected, could not have happened at a worse time of the year. The Brackley squad knew that their F1W08 chassis would not be suited to the high-downforce, slow corner layout that defines the Singapore circuit, and so Hamilton’s margin back to Vettel – a full six-tenths of a second – was telling in the end. Teammate Bottas hasn’t looked comfortable all weekend and was lucky to scrape sixth place.
By contrast, the Ferrari SF70H was expected to excel here – nicely balanced at corner entry and showcasing superior mechanical grip through Marina Bay’s slower corners, especially the very twisty final sector.
Renault’s Nico Hülkenberg was delighted to qualify seventh-fastest with another strong Saturday showing. The German lined up ahead of McLaren duo Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne, who took full advantage of the last track of the season where their gutless Honda power units will prove less of a handicap. With the Woking squad announcing a switch to Renault next year, the pair will hope that their cars hold together in Sunday night’s race to claim some rare points.
Hülkenberg’s future teammate Carlos Sainz Jr qualified tenth-fastest in what could be his final outing for Scuderia Toro Rosso, ahead of potentially being slotted into Renault at the next Grand Prix in Malaysia.
Despite finding out through the media that he would not have a seat at Renault next year, Jolyon Palmer staked his claim to avoid an early execution by qualifying eleventh-fastest. The Briton starts ahead of Force India’s Sergio Pérez, who was unable to make some radical Singapore-specific aerodynamic tweaks on the VJM10 work – his teammate Esteban Ocon similarly struggled and will start from fourteenth.
Sandwiched between the two ‘Pink Panthers’ was a frustrated Daniil Kvyat in the second Toro Rosso, with the Russian clearly crumbling under the increasing pressure to retain his seat as the Italian team takes on Honda power in 2018.
As expected, both the Haas and Williams teams struggled in high-downforce configuration and were scrapping to not be knocked out at the first qualifying hurdle. The former team’s Romain Grosjean was the sole survivor, hauling his Ferrari-powered car to fifteenth, while teammate Kevin Magnussen narrowly missed out.
Williams’ perennially inconsistent season was underscored with an indifferent showing on Saturday night. Felipe Massa popped a tyre and damaged his right-rear wheel rim in Q1, but managed to get back out on track to outqualify rookie teammate Lance Stroll.
Locking out the last row of the grid once again were the two Saubers, with Pascal Wehrlein outpacing teammate Marcus Ericsson – the latter takes a notional five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change after damaging the back of his car when he swiped the Turn 19 barriers in FP3.
Sunday’s 61-lap Singapore Grand Prix will start at 20:00 local time (GMT +8).
|2017 FORMULA 1 SINGAPORE AIRLINES SINGAPORE GRAND PRIX – FINAL QUALIFYING RESULTS|
|Q3 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap||Tyre|
|1.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF70H||1:39.491|
|2.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB13||1:39.814||+ 0.323|
|3.||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB13||1:39.840||+ 0.349|
|4.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF70H||1:40.069||+ 0.578|
|5.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W08||1:40.126||+ 0.635|
|6.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W08||1:40.810||+ 1.319|
|7.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault Sport F1 Team RS17||1:41.013||+ 1.522|
|8.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren-Honda MCL32||1:41.179||+ 1.688|
|9.||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren-Honda MCL32||1:41.398||+ 1.907|
|10.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR12||1:42.056||+ 2.565|
|Q2 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap**||Tyre|
|11.||Jolyon Palmer||Renault Sport F1 Team RS17||1:42.107||+ 1.775|
|12.||Sergio Pérez||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM10||1:42.246||+ 1.914|
|13.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR12||1:42.338||+ 2.006|
|14.||Esteban Ocon||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM10||1:42.760||+ 2.428|
|15.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-17||1:43.883||+ 3.551|
|Q1 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap*||Tyre|
|16.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-17||1:43.756||+ 1.746|
|17.||Felipe Massa||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW40||1:44.014||+ 2.004|
|18.||Lance Stroll||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW40||1:44.728||+ 2.718|
|19.||Pascal Wehrlein||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C36||1:45.059||+ 3.049|
|20.||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C36||1:45.570||+ 3.560|
* Denotes gap to fastest Q1 time of 1:42.010 posted by Max Verstappen
** Denotes gap to fastest Q2 time of 1:40.332 posted by Max Verstappen
Marcus Ericsson (20th) will serve a 5-place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change
Image via Scuderia Ferrari