Another qualifying session, another pole position for Lewis Hamilton. The Englishman had, until Saturday night’s qualifying session under lights at the Singapore Grand Prix, achieved the feat a record 78 times. Tonight’s effort was particularly special.

The Englishman’s Mercedes team was not widely tipped to be a major player on the ‘point and squirt’ Marina Bay street circuit that should not play to the characteristics of the long-wheelbase F1W09 chassis.

Half a second off the pace of the Ferraris in the late afternoon’s final practice session, qualifying looked like it may be a struggle for the Silver Arrows. A gamble to save a set of Hypersoft compound tyres by running on the slower Ultrasoft rubber in Q1 almost backfired; while Daniel Ricciardo was quickest in his Red Bull, Hamilton was fourteenth-fastest and just scraped into Q2.

Haas’ Kevin Magnussen provided the shock of the first knockout phase by being just sixteenth-fastest and eliminated from any further action. The Dane was joined on the sidelines by Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley, McLaren’s Stoffel and Vandoorne and, predictably, the two Williams’ of Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll who were well off the pace.

The second phase of qualifying saw Kimi Räikkönen set the banchmark pace on a 1:37.194, however the Finn would be unable to repeat form in the top-ten shootout and qualified fifth-fastest.

The final twelve minutes of qualifying was a true edge-of-your-seat affair. Hamilton let it all hang out and strung together a flawless lap of the style reminiscent of when his hero Ayrton Senna thrashed the field in qualifying at the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix.

While his margin over the rest of the field wasn’t nearly as large, his inch-perfect drive was still brilliantly jaw-dropping. The eventual time, a 1:36.015, obliterated the Marina Bay lap record.

“That lap started perfect and it just kept going,” the Mercedes driver said. “It felt magical. It felt like one of the best – if not the best lap I’ve ever done.”

Even he couldn’t improve on his second and final run, but his effort was going to be untouchable. His colleagues on the Mercedes pit wall were in complete disbelief at how he had pulled a lap seemingly from nowhere. Hamilton’s recent pole positions in Hungary and Belgium have rightly been lauded for superb demonstrations of driving, but his lap on Saturday night was at another level.

“I can’t explain what happened on that lap,” Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff exclaimed. “He is such an exceptional driver, only he will know what he did. It’s just surreal.”

Tellingly, Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas, was a full seven-tenths of a second slower in identical machinery.

His main championship rival Sebastian Vettel, fastest in FP3 and confident that he would claim pole, was left a distant third-fastest and a full six-tenths of a second slower. Ferrari had expected its cars would be strong around the Marina Bay circuit’s multitude of slow- and medium-speed corners, and Vettel needed to get the upper hand given he sits 30 points adrift of Hamilton in the Drivers’ Championship standings.

Slotting between the two title protagonists and – unfairly, it must be said – almost unnoticed was Max Verstappen. The Red Bull Racing driver plotted a superb lap to snatch second-fastest, ultimately losing out to Hamilton by dint of having less horsepower at his disposal. On what was perhaps the best qualifying performance of his career, the future star of Formula 1 was denied his maiden pole position by the giant of today.

Verstappen’s teammate Daniel Ricciardo was a frustrated sixth-fastest, annoyed at being unable to unlock any more pace from his car. The Australian finished ahead of the Force India pairing of Sergio Pérez and Esteban Ocon who were split by the Haas Ferrari of Romain Grosjean. Nico Hülkenberg was tenth-fastest in his Renault.

Q3 Qualifiers Team / Entry Time Gap
1. Lewis Hamilton uk Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09 1:36.015
2. Max Verstappen nl Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14 1:36.334 + 0.319
3. Sebastian Vettel de Scuderia Ferrari SF71H 1:36.628 + 0.613
4. Valtteri Bottas fi Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09 1:36.702 + 0.687
5. Kimi Räikkönen fi Scuderia Ferrari SF71H 1:36.794 + 0.779
6. Daniel Ricciardo au Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14 1:36.996 + 0.981
7. Sergio Pérez Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11 1:37.985 + 1.970
8. Romain Grosjean fr Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18 1:38.230 + 2.305
9. Esteban Ocon fr Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11 1:38.365 + 2.350
10. Nico Hülkenberg de Renault Sport F1 Team RS18 1:38.588 + 2.573
Q2 Qualifiers Team / Entry Time Gap**
11. Fernando Alonso es McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33 1:38.641 + 1.447
12. Carlos Sainz Jr es Renault Sport F1 Team RS18 1:38.716 + 1.522
13. Charles Leclerc mc Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37 1:38.747 + 1.553
14. Marcus Ericsson se Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37 1:39.453 + 2.259
15. Pierre Gasly fr Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13 1:39.691 + 2.497
Q1 Qualifiers Team / Entry Time Gap*
16. Kevin Magnussen dk Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18 1:39.644 +1.491
17. Brendon Hartley Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13 1:39.809 + 1.656
18. Stoffel Vandoorne ca McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33 1:39.864 + 1.711
19. Sergey Sirotkin ru Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41 1:41.263 + 3.110
20. Lance Stroll Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41 1:41.334 + 3.181

* Denotes gap to fastest Q1 time of 1:38.153 posted by Daniel Ricciardo
** Denotes gap to fastest Q2 time of 1:37.194 posted by Kimi Räikkönen

Post-Qualifying Penalties:

  • None

Image via Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport

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Geoff Burke

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