MARINA BAY, Singapore — Despite the best efforts of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, Sebastian Vettel won his 49th pole position on Saturday for the Singapore Grand Prix.
“Yeah, it’s a long lap,” Vettel said. “There are a lot of corner – a lot of things to get right, and equally a lot of things you can get wrong. No, I’m really happy.”
“Obviously the weekend so far has been a bit up and down for us. Yesterday was difficult. This afternoon was difficult. Tonight the car really came alive and it was just getting better. These guys were extremely quick. Q1, I didn’t know how the hell I was going to find a second and a half. But then, by Q2, the car was like a switch, from off to on – much better. I knew that the track would ramp up but probably I didn’t expect it that much. But, yeah, at the end, Q3 I was very happy with both my laps. A bit lucky in my final lap, because I brushed the wall quite severely out of 19. It was not just a little brush; it was actually a hit. I thought, “OK, I have to keep going”. It was fine until I approached the last corner; I had huge vibration. Thankfully there was only one corner left but I really pushed as hard as I could. I knew in the final run that even if I had the upper hand going in, these guys… the track would come up, these guys would have something in their pocket, so I needed to get it absolutely right. I was very relieved when I crossed the line. I looked at the screens behind and I waited for the call. I knew that Daniel was behind me so… I was very, very happy obviously. I think right now I’m starting to cool off.”
Ferrari has been struggling to find speed this weekend, though Sebastian Vettel was just 0.072 seconds off of Max Verstappen in FP3. Championship leader Lewis Hamilton was third, 0.142 seconds back. But in the opening part of Q1, Raikkonen and Vettel were 1-2 for the Scuderia, but McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne jumped to the top, then Verstappen by nearly three-tenths of a second.
Felipe Massa clipped the wall in his Williams, causing his right rear tire and rim to be damaged. Massa would end up 17th, despite setting a time that could have gotten him into Q2 right at the end of the session. Carlos Sainz, who it was announced would be moving to Renault on loan next season, had his Toro Rosso’s engine go while he was in 13th place.
At the front, it was Verstappen from Ricciardo by 0.053 seconds, then Hamilton, Bottas, Raikkonen and Vettel. Romain Grosjean struggled for most of Q1, but got into 10th towards the end, despite slamming the barrier in a similar fashion to Massa. Teammate Kevin Magnussen got into Q2, beating Grosjean into 10th, though would end up 16th and out of qualifying.
The surprise of the session was Daniil Kvyat, who got his Toro Rosso up to fourth behind Hamilton, while Jolyon Palmer jumped up to fifth for Renault. McLaren, who announced a switch to Renault engines for 2018, put both cars into the top ten, with Alonso third and Vandoorne fifth. The drivers who were out after Q1 were Magnussen, Massa, Lance Stroll, Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson.
Ferrari once again headed the timesheets early in Q2, with Vettel 0.150 seconds ahead of Raikkonen, with Ricciardo third. Verstappen jumped up to the lead from Vettel, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Hamilton and Vandoorne. Alonso sat eighth, though Hulkenberg bumped him down to ninth at the end of the session. Sainz held on for 10th, while Palmer fell out in 11th.
Alonso sat top of the timesheets with Vandoorne second, but Raikkonen beat his time by 1.875 seconds for first, then Verstappen got into the 1:39 mark, but Vettel pipped him for pole.
“This is a track that we knew would play to the strengths of our package, so it was pleasing to see our drivers pushing the limits right up at the sharp end of the field,” McLaren Racing Director Eric Boullier. “Getting two cars into the top 10 today sets us up well for what is always a difficult, demanding and unpredictable race. We hope to come away from it tomorrow with more valuable world championship points.”
“Fernando and Stoffel have both driven outstandingly well all weekend, and it was a joy to watch them attacking this difficult and uncompromising street circuit. Likewise, the whole team has performed at an extremely high level throughout this busy Singapore GP week – whether that’s been in the sweltering pit garage, the hospitality suite or back at the factory. When these things come together, it’s worth emphasising that, as a race team, we operate as a singular unit, and it’s days like today that remind us what we can achieve together when we have the merest sniff of a competitive package.”
The teams all dove into the pits for prep before one last run. Ferrari released Vettel, then Red Bull released both Ricciardo and Verstappen with 2:45 left. Bottas and Hamilton were released with 2:30 left, and it was on.
Raikkonen went purple in sector one, but Vettel went faster. Sector two saw Raikkonen drop time a bit, while Vettel went purple. Raikkonen ended the session fourth, while Hamilton ended up fifth and Bottas sixth. Vettel did a 1:39.491, 0.333 seconds faster than Verstappen.
Despite getting the pole, Vettel said he was thinking about the challenges of the 60-lap race tomorrow.
“Yeah, I mean, we have a long race and a lot of things can happen,” he said. “Certainly grid position is king or crucial, but still it’s a long race. The fact that our car was good this evening I think is promising for tomorrow.”
“Yesterday we had a scrappy car, I lost the car, I had damage, so the runs after that were compromised. But the feeling was there. I knew that the car has got it, we just needed to get it out and that’s what we did tonight. I’m confident for tomorrow. For the others? Max is next to me, so first of all I guess I’m racing him and then Daniel and so on and so forth, so not too bothered where other people are. I think there is a long race ahead and there are a lot of things we need to get right, so we should focus on ourselves.”
1. Sebastian Vettel
2. Max Verstappen
3. Daniel Ricciardo
4. Kimi Raikkonen
5. Lewis Hamilton
6. Valtteri Bottas
7. Nico Hulkenberg
8. Fernando Alonso
9. Stoffel Vandoorne
10. Carlos Sainz
11. Jolyon Palmer
12. Sergio Perez
13. Daniil Kvyat
14. Esteban Ocon
15. Romain Grosjean
16. Kevin Magnussen
17. Felipe Massa
18. Lance Stroll
19. Pascal Wehrlein
20. Marcus Ericsson