Charles Leclerc is on quite the roll at the moment. Having won in Belgium and Italy, the Monegasque driver secured a sparkling pole position under the lights in Singapore on Saturday It was the fifth pole position of his career and his third in a row, made all the more special by the fact that it came at a track where Ferrari had predicted they would struggle ahead of the weekend.
Leclerc set a scintillating 1:36.217s around the Marina Bay Street Circuit to beat Lewis Hamilton’s time by 0.191s – meaning the 21-year-old now leads the Mercedes man for most poles this year.
Sebastian Vettel went fastest on the first round of runs in Q3, but had to settle for third on the grid in the second Ferrari, 0.220s off his team mate’s time after aborting his final effort. He was ahead of the Red Bull of Max Verstappen, with Red Bull’s threat in qualifying failing to materialise, as the Dutchman wound up over half a second off Leclerc.
Verstappen was then ahead of the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas and the second Red Bull of Alex Albon, the Thai driver hooking up a decent last lap to end up 0.407s clear of the McLaren of Carlos Sainz in seventh.
Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg wound up P8 and P9, while Lando Norris rounded out the top 10 in the second McLaren – Ricciardo securing the qualifying head-to-head at Renault in the process.
A late set of laps for Bottas and Hamilton gave Mercedes an early one-two as the running got underway at Marina Bay, with Leclerc and Vettel third and fourth, with Verstappen fifth.
There were contrasting fortunes at Toro Rosso, Haas and Racing Point, meanwhile, with Daniil Kvyat, Romain Grosjean and Lance Stroll all dropping out as their team mates continued on – Stroll continuing his run of never making out of Q1 here, while Grosjean brushed the wall on his final effort.
Pierre Gasly would have been particularly pleased with his effort, however, as he set a lap time good enough for ninth place… 0.021s ahead of Alex Albon, driving the Red Bull that Gasly campaigned in the first half of the year before his demotion to Toro Rosso…
Bringing up the rear, meanwhile, were the Williams pairing of George Russell and Robert Kubica, the Polish driver having announced at the start of the weekend that he’d be leaving the team at the end of the year.
Knocked out: Kvyat, Stroll, Grosjean, Russell, Kubica
Lando Norris was one of the stars of the second segment of qualifying, the McLaren driver winding up P6, one place ahead of Albon’s Red Bull and less than a second off the fastest time, on his first ever qualifying outing in Singapore.
That fastest time was set, in Q2, by FP3 leader Charles Leclerc, who ended up 0.070s ahead of team mate Vettel, the Ferraris over two-tenths clear of the Mercedes of Hamilton. That meant that both the Ferraris, along with a pair of Mercedes, a pair of Red Bulls, a pair of McLarens and a pair of Renaults, made it through to the final top 10 shoot-out.
Falling out of Q2 were Sergio Perez, Antonio Giovinazzi, Pierre Gasly, Kimi Raikkonen and Kevin Magnussen – Raikkonen missing the chance to secure the qualifying head-to-head against Giovinazzi at Alfa Romeo, with the Finn suffering a big wall-tap on one of his laps.
Knocked out: Perez, Giovinazzi, Gasly, Raikkonen, Magnussen
“We are well aware that Singapore will present new challenges and a layout in which our car is not as strong as at other circuits.” So said Ferrari Team Principal ahead of the race weekend in the Lion City. But it seems that that may have been some extremely false modesty, as both Ferraris looked to be the cars to beat in Q3, their updated floor and front wing package appearing to work a treat around the 23-turn track.
Initially, though, it was Vettel who looked to be the man on form, as he lapped in a 1:36.437s on his first flying lap, 0.354s clear of Leclerc in P2. As they wound up for the final runs, however, the onboard cameras showed Vettel failing improve on his second effort, with the German eventually pulling into the pits and leaving his rivals to duke it out and see if they could best him.
Unfortunately for him, however, they could, Leclerc enjoying a wild ride around the Marina Bay Street Circuit before eventually setting a stunning 1:36.217s, to claim pole number five of his career.
Hamilton also put in a mega final lap however, matching Leclerc in the last two sectors to end up 0.191s off, while Vettel’s first effort was impressive, too, when you consider that he only ended up 0.220s adrift in third.
There’ll be some head-scratching at Red Bull, however, as Max Verstappen, super-confident after a strong Friday, couldn’t do better than fourth – his lowest starting position here since 2016 – while Bottas looked scrappy in the final segment of qualifying as he ended up over nine-tenths off the pace, ahead of Albon.
McLaren were as strong as predicted, with Sainz getting the job done for the team in P7, over two-tenths ahead of Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, while Nico Hulkenberg qualified in the top 10 here for the fourth time in as many years, as rookie Lando Norris was 10th on his Singapore qualifying debut.
It’s lights out and away we go at 20:10 Singaporean time. And having stunned the paddock with their pace on Saturday, can Leclerc and Ferrari make it three wins out of three, at a track where the polesitter has won five of the last eight editions.