Sebastian Vettel set a blistering pace in qualifying today for the Singapore Grand Prix, taking his 11th pole position of the season. Mark Webber was second, with Jenson Button third and Lewis Hamilton fourth.
If tomorrow’s race ended like that it would mean that the title race goes on to the Japanese Grand Prix, with Webber still in the hunt. In all likelihood we will see Alonso come up from fifth on the grid as the Ferrari has better performance and stronger tyre life in race conditions.
It was Red Bull’s fifth 1-2 grid lockout of the season and Vettel’s 26th career pole position, equalling Mika Hakkinen. Only Fangio, Mansell, Prost, Clark, Senna and Schumacher lie ahead of him.
Hamilton was unable to go out for a second run in Q3, due to a problem with refuelling the car, after losing time getting back to the pits due to a puncture and a random FIA weight check. The upside is he saved a set of tyres, but he also lost one with the punctured set. He also lost a front row start slot and two places in the process, as he was second after the first runs. It is the first time he’s been off the front row since Silverstone.
It’s been a messy couple of days for McLaren, with problems on both cars in Practice 2 and a broken floor stay, a puncture and a refuelling issue for Hamilton this evening. They have good pace in the car, but so far haven’t been able to maximise it. Vettel meanwhile, has exceptional long run pace and good tyre wear and only something exceptional will stop him from collecting his ninth win of the season.
Webber was quite pleased with his efforts, ending up 3/10ths off his team mate, who excels on tracks with stop and start corners like this. He believes that the ends of the stints will be crucial tomorrow, but acknowledged that a good start will be vital, something he’s often failed to do this season.
Ferrari’s lack of qualifying pace was highlighted with Alonso in fifth and Felipe Massa sixth, fighting off the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg. Alonso said that his lap was probably his best of the season as it put him a tenth off Webber and the McLarens and a whole second faster than Felipe Massa. Ferrari boss Stefano Domenicali observed that the qualifying result mirrored the story of the 2011 season; one car and driver in a league of their own with four drivers battling over who follows him home. Massa is very much adrift of that battle.
In the race we are likely to see the leading cars do three stints on supersofts and one on softs, with Ferrari possibly trying to make one stop less to gain track position. We could also see a one stopper in midfield, perhaps a Sauber.
The two Force India cars qualified in the top ten, but chose not to set a time in Q3, saving a set of soft tyres and two new sets of super soft tyres in the process. A one stop strategy could be on the cards for some of the midfield teams with good tyre durability tomorrow. Hamilton, meanwhile, will have to be aggressive in the race to make up the two places lost, even if he will have slightly better tyre life.
In the first part of qualifying the Renault’s weakness in traction out of slow corners was shown up with Vitaly Petrov eliminated with the new teams and Bruno Senna required to produce a high pressure lap to make it through. The Lotus cars were just over a second slower, while Daniel Ricciardo again outqualified his team mate Tonio Liuzzi, but lost out to the Virgin cars, with whom he’d been battling in Practice 3.
In Q2 Sauber’s chances of getting into the top ten took a knock as Kamui Kobayashi crashed heavily after taking off over a kerb. This brought out a red flag stoppage. Team mate Sergio Perez had been on an out lap at the time. He wasn’t able to find the speed to take on the Force India cars and wound up 11th.
In Q3 Mercedes opted to do only one run at the end with Rosberg pressuring Massa, who responded and stayed ahead. Michael Schumacher, like the Force India cars, didn’t set a lap time, so all three have the option of what tyre to start the race on. Both Mercedes have two new sets of softs and one set of super softs available.
So the top ten grid slots are in team order, with Red Bull, from McLaren, from Ferrari, Mercedes and Force India. The midfield is jumbled up apart from the two Williams together in 12th and 13th and then the last three rows are in team order again.
SINGAPORE GRAND PRIX, Qualifying
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m44.381s
2. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m44.732s + 0.351
3. Jenson Button McLaren 1m44.804s + 0.423
4. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1m44.809s + 0.428
5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m44.874s + 0.493
6. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m45.800s + 1.419
7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m46.013s + 1.632
8. Michael Schumacher Mercedes no time
9. Adrian Sutil Force India no time
10. Paul di Resta Force India no time
11. Sergio Perez Sauber 1m47.616s + 2.685
12. Rubens Barrichello Williams 1m48.082s + 3.151
13. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m48.270s + 3.339
14. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso 1m48.634s + 3.703
15. Bruno Senna Renault 1m48.662s + 3.731
16. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso 1m49.862s + 4.931
17. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber No time
Q1 cut-off time: 1m49.588s Gap *
18. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m49.835s + 3.438
19. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 1m50.948s + 4.551
20. Jarno Trulli Lotus 1m51.012s + 4.615
21. Timo Glock Virgin 1m52.154s + 5.757
22. Jerome D’Ambrosio Virgin 1m52.363s + 5.966
23. Daniel Ricciardo HRT 1m52.404s + 6.007
24. Tonio Liuzzi HRT 1m52.810s + 6.413