Scuderia Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc will start from pole position for the fifth – and arguably most unexpected – time this season after a stunning final lap in qualifying for the Singapore Grand Prix.
It was an exceptional performance by the Monégasque driver and the Ferrari team, which took full advantage of a number of development upgrades that have seemingly cured the SF90’s poor slow-speed corner handling.
Leclerc’s teammate Sebastian Vettel looked set to claim pole position himself and end a run of seven consecutive Grands Prix where he has been outqualified by his younger stablemate, but better second Q3 laps by Leclerc and championship leader Lewis Hamilton bumped him down to third on the grid.
While Vettel was inch-perfect on his first Q3 run to post a fine benchmark time of 1:36.457. A mistake on his second run saw the German abandon his flying lap and return to the pits, but he would ultimately be undone.
Leclerc threw everything at his final flying lap to claim his fifth pole position, more than anyone else has achieved this season. By his own admission he almost came to grief on no less than three separate occasions, but somehow he kept his car out of the walls and clocked a stellar 1:36.217 to beat the four-time World Champion by just two-tenths of a second.
“I’m extremely happy,” a joyful Leclerc said afterwards. “It was a very good lap but there were some moments when I thought I had lost the car, but I took it back. We came here knowing it would be a difficult track for us but we brought the package we needed.”
Hamilton, who holds a hefty 63-point lead in the Drivers’ Championship standings to teammate Valtteri Bottas (who qualified fifth-fastest) improved on his second run to claim second on the grid, but had to admit he’d been outdone by Leclerc, who will be hoping to claim a hat-trick of victories following back-to-back successes at the Belgian and Italian Grands Prix.
Hamilton, who showed better race pace than the Ferraris in practice, will need to rely on a superior start or pit strategy to get ahead and claim his fifth win at the Marina Bay Street Circuit. Overtaking is very difficult around the 23-corner circuit, and it will be an exciting fight on Sunday night.
Red Bull Racing failed to live up to the expectations that it could be a genuine contender in qualifying, with Max Verstappen fourth-fastest and Singapore rookie Alexander Albon sixth.
The session was strong for the Renault-powered runners, who all made the final Q3 shootout for pole. McLaren’s Carlos Sainz Jr. and Lando Norris qualified seventh- and tenth-fastest, split by the factory Renaults of Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hülkenberg.
Ricciardo was subsequently excluded from qualifying when telemetry found his MGU-K had momentarily exceeded the prescribed power limit output. The breach occurred when he hopped a kerb in Q1, and the fact that it amounted to a performance gain of one microsecond on a lap that wasn’t even his quickest of the session was of no interest to the FIA Stewards. The Australian now faces a long race from the back of the grid.
Racing Point’s Sergio Pérez was eleventh-fastest but will take a five-place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change after damage sustained when he smacked the wall in FP3. His misfortune promotes the Alfa Romeos of Antonio Giovinazzi (P12) and Kimi Räikkönen (P14), Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly (P13) and Haas’ Kevin Magnussen (P15) further up the grid.
|FORMULA 1 SINGAPORE AIRLINES SINGAPORE GRAND PRIX 2019 – QUALIFYING|
|Q3 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap|
|1.||Charles Leclerc||Scuderia Ferrari SF90||1:36.217|
|2.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10||1:36.408||+ 0.191|
|3.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF90||1:36.437||+ 0.220|
|4.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing RB15||1:36.813||+ 0.596|
|5.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10||1:37.146||+ 0.929|
|6.||Alexander Albon||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14||1:37.411||+ 1.194|
|7.||Carlos Sainz Jr.||McLaren F1 Team MCL34||1:37.818||+ 1.601|
|EXC.||Daniel Ricciardo||Renault F1 Team RS19||1:38.095||+ 1.878|
|8.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault F1 Team RS19||1:38.264||+ 2.047|
|9.||Lando Norris||McLaren F1 Team MCL34||1:38.329||+ 2.112|
|Q2 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap*|
|10.||Sergio Pérez||Racing Point F1 Team RP19||1:38.620||+ 1.970|
|11.||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing C38||1:38.697||+ 2.047|
|12.||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Racing RB15||1:38.699||+ 2.049|
|13.||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing C38||1:38.858||+ 2.208|
|14.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team VF-19||1:39.650||+ 3.000|
|Q1 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap**|
|15.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14||1:39.957||+ 2.640|
|16.||Lance Stroll||Racing Point F1 Team RP19||1:39.979||+ 2.662|
|17.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team VF-19||1:40.277||+ 2.960|
|18.||George Russell||ROKiT Williams Racing FW42||1:40.867||+ 3.550|
|19.||Robert Kubica||ROKiT Williams Racing FW42||1:41.186||+ 3.869|
* Denotes gap to fastest Q2 lap time of 1:36.650 posted by Charles Leclerc
** Denotes gap to fastest Q1 lap time of 1:37.317 posted by Valtteri Bottas
- Daniel Ricciardo was disqualified from qualifying for his car exceeding the MGU-K power limit during Q1 and will race at the FIA Stewards’ discretion.
- Sergio Pérez will serve a 5-place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change.
Image via Scuderia Ferrari