Singapore GP 2017: Conclusions from qualifying
Sebastian Vettel the master of Singapore again but Red Bull ready for war as Mercedes' worst nightmare comes true.
By Jonathan Green, Matt Morlidge and James Galloway
Last Updated: 17/09/17 12:54pm
Vettel proves he's master of Singapore
When the heat is on, great champions deliver and Sebastian Vettel proved once again that he is the master of the Marina Bay circuit with a storming lap to claim the 49th pole of his career.
Vettel's hopes of making up the three-point deficit he holds to Lewis Hamilton in the Drivers' Championship at the first attempt had looked under threat after lacking pace on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning.
Red Bull had appeared in control all weekend but Vettel pulled it out of the bag when it mattered most, smashing the ultimate lap record with a 1:39.491 to finish three tenths clear of the rest of the field. It was arguably one of the best laps of the German's glittering career.
"That was one of those mega pole positions you see from a great champion," Sky F1's Damon Hill said.
Vettel's time was half a second better than team-mate Kimi Raikkonen's and more than six tenths quicker than what Hamilton could manage.
This is a track Vettel loves and if he can hold off the two Red Bulls immediately behind him at the start, he'll be odds-on for a fifth win in Singapore on Sunday.
Mercedes' worst nightmare comes true
Beaten not only by both Ferraris but the two Red Bulls as well, it was a horrible case of déjà vu for Mercedes as they were left to lock out the third row of the grid like in 2015.
The Silver Arrows had feared the worst in the build-up and their struggles around tight, twisty circuits this season continued once again.
Hamilton recorded his second-worst qualifying result of the season, despite "giving it everything and more", while team-mate Valtteri Bottas was six tenths slower in the sister W08.
"We knew today would be tough but I didn't anticipate Ferrari would be as strong as they were. I thought Red Bull would be as quick as they were," Hamilton told Sky F1. "I don't know where Ferrari have picked up that pace."
Mercedes had no answer to the one-lap speed of their rivals.
The glimmer of hope for Hamilton will be that Singapore has served up plenty of drama in the past and a Safety Car period is a near certainty.
Given the lack of overtaking opportunities, the Briton will have to play the long game in his attempt to limit the damage to his title ambitions.
Red Bull lose battle but ready for war
The ever-dynamic Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo traded blows throughout a fascinating Singapore GP qualifying session, and it seemed certain that one of them would seal Red Bull's first pole since last year's shootout in Monaco. It even looked like Red Bull were on for their first front-row lock-out since the 2013 US GP.
But after appearing to be in cruise control throughout every practice and qualifying session prior to Q3, losing out to a superb last-gasp effort from Vettel was a bitter pill to swallow.
"It is promising, but a shame we couldn't put it on pole," said Verstappen, who had his sights set on becoming F1's youngest ever pole-sitter on Saturday. "The final lap wasn't great."
And Daniel Ricciardo, a couple hundredths adrift of Verstappen as he was out-qualified by his team-mate for the 10th time this season, added that he was "envious" of Vettel and Ferrari.
But while Verstappen insisted the narrow streets of Singapore meant a Lap One pass was imperative if Red Bull were to secure their second victory of the season, Ricciardo was at least confident that their superior race pace would eventually turn the tide.
"I will accept a little bit of defeat but I'm still confident we will get victory," added the Australian. "Seb turned it on today but I think we have better race pace."
Indeed, in Friday's long runs during Practice Two, Verstappen and Ricciardo were consistently lapping in the mid 1:46s on the ultrasoft and supersoft tyres, with Vettel around the low 1:47s on softs.
"We've been quickest in every session and then the one that really counts, in those last stages we just don't have that last little bit," Red Bull chief Christian Horner admitted. "But the race pace we had yesterday puts us in good stead for tomorrow."
It is a sign of how much Red Bull have improved this weekend that they are so disappointed with a second and third-place performance, having been distant behind Mercedes and Ferrari for much of the season. But it's clear that after losing the battle, they have set their sights on Sunday's war and are ready to swarm over Vettel's Ferrari come lights out.
"We have nothing to lose, Seb has a championship to think about," Horner rightly added. The rundown to Turn One and beyond could be rather special.
Williams setting the wrong trends
Double Q1 exits are becoming a worrying trend for Williams as the money-paying end of the season approaches. Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll's latest early qualifying exits may not have been a complete surprise on the kind of slow and twisty circuits Williams' cars long haven't tended to favour, but Saturday's latest early bath made it four double Q1 eliminations in the last six races.
Williams are desperate to ensure an already disappointing season doesn't get worse than fifth place in the Constructors' Championship and while their points from Monza have given them a handy buffer over the three-team chasing pack, Renault in particular are in line to make a dent in that on Sunday from row four of the grid.
Still, Williams' drivers have performed some reasonable salvage missions this year and technical chief Paddy Lowe certainly isn't giving up on this weekend yet, believing "we can still race well, it's a long race that is usually filled with incidents".
But the wider trend certainly isn't going the way Williams want and it's little wonder that Lowe has promised a very different 2018 car in an attempt to do more justice to what remains F1's class-leading Mercedes engine.
What Red Bull and McLaren would give for one of those.
Watch the Singapore GP LIVE on Sky Sports F1 this weekend. F1's marquee night race starts on Sunday at 1pm. Want to watch but not a subscriber? Get a NOW TV day pass for £6.99!
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