Singapore GP qualifying: Charles Leclerc beats Lewis Hamilton to pole
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc took his third pole position in a row with a superlative performance in qualifying at the Singapore Grand Prix.
The 21-year-old beat Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes by 0.191 seconds as both slipped ahead of early pace-setter Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari on their last laps.
Vettel, who was nearly 0.2secs up on Leclerc after the first runs, aborted his final lap after an error.
Hamilton snuck ahead of Vettel by 0.029secs to join Leclerc on the front row.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was fourth, split from team-mate Alexander Albon by Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas.
Wow. Where did Ferrari’s pace come from?
Ferrari and Leclerc have won the past two races but they were expecting to struggle relatively in Singapore, a track that features lots of slow and medium-speed corners and of a type where they have not generally been competitive this season.
But the team brought a big aerodynamic upgrade package to Singapore and it has worked a treat.
They had a difficult Friday practice, especially Leclerc, but the Monegasque set the pace from the start of running on Friday and he had too much for Mercedes in the end.
It was a scintillating lap from Leclerc, right on the edge on one of the toughest circuits on the calendar, and he came close to losing the car at one point on the famous Anderson Bridge section, but kept it together to produce one of the qualifying performances of the season.
‘We brought new bits that worked’
“I’m extremely happy about today,” Leclerc said. “It was a very good lap but there were some moments when I thought I had lost the car, but I took it back.
“I would like to thank the team so much. We came here knowing it would be a difficult track for us but we brought the package we needed.
“We brought some new bits that worked properly which is not always the case and was good to see. I have had a very tough Friday – it was not my day and I did not feel comfortable in the car. But I worked hard and today it paid off and I am very happy.”
Hamilton needed to pull out everything he had to split the Ferraris, whose pace surprised him.
“I don’t know where Ferrari picked up their pace today because this should not be potentially one of their tracks,” the world champion said. “Charles did a great job and I needed a really special lap at the end. It was as much as I could get out of the car and I happy to split them. I think we can be aggressive tomorrow.”
Vettel was always down on his earlier pace on his final lap and in the end a “wobble” caused him to abort his run.
Norris has ‘brain fade’
Albon, on his first experience of Singapore and facing his first direct comparison with Verstappen in qualifying since his move to Red Bull mid-season, was 0.6secs behind his team-mate, a creditable performance after a difficult Friday in which he knocked off a front wing with one off-track moment.
McLaren’s Carlos Sainz was best of the rest in seventh place, but his team-mate Lando Norris was disappointed with 10th.
The Briton had set a superb lap in the second qualifying session to be 0.4secs clear of Sainz but he could not repeat it in the final phase.
Had he done, he would have beaten Sainz by 0.3secs, but he ended up 0.5secs down and behind the Renaults of Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg.
However, Ricciardo was later excluded from the results for exceeding the MGU-K power limit of 120kW in the first part of qualifying.
Norris, who will start from ninth with Ricciardo sent to the back of the grid, said: “Q2 went very well – I did a really nice lap. I was confident in the car, we didn’t change anything. On my final lap, I didn’t quite get the warm-up I wanted on the tyres and I was a bit too close to the car ahead.
“Because of that I just didn’t have the confidence to push as hard as I had in Q2. Then I had some brain fades in the middle, wrong gears and so on and it went very wrong. I lost time trying to make up for it, because I’m an idiot.
“Just silly mistakes really. Until halfway I was pretty even with my Q2 lap. Then I made one big mistake, did the wrong gear in the hairpin, didn’t downshift as many as I should have done, then I had a bad exit, wheelspin, too much temperature in the rears and then it just spiralled.” – bbc.com