2013 Singapore GP: Sebastian Vettel in a league of his own to take another pole
Single Q3 flier just enough for Vettel; Rosberg wins battle for second
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 22/09/13 1:24pm
What appears to be the German's increasingly untroubled progress towards a fourth straight World Championship has showed no signs of stalling under the Singapore lights and he was operating several levels above his would-be challengers around the floodlit 5km lap throughout qualifying.
Indeed, having outpaced his rivals by a massive 0.6s margin at the end of the first runs in the final knockout phase, Vettel displayed the ultimate act of qualifying confidence - and bravery - by opting to stay in the garage for the final runs and turn TV viewer to see if any of his rivals could get close to his 1:42.841 time and deprive him of a 41st career pole.
Surprisingly, however, things did get a little closer for comfort in the Singapore humidity than Vettel, and anyone else, might have imagined as Nico Rosberg ultimately lapped just 0.091s slower to win what was a far tighter fight for the second front-row starting slot.
On a day team-mate Kimi Raikkonen had to take painkilling injections for a bad back and dropped out in Q2 for the second successive race, the other Lotus of Romain Grosjean capped an impressive start to his weekend by beating the second Red Bull of Mark Webber to third right at the last.
For Webber fourth place was undoubtedly a major disappointment given the undoubted superior speed of the Red Bull RB9 on the street circuit, allied to the fact the Australian also set the fastest first sector of all on his final hot lap.
Nonetheless Webber still outpaced the other Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, whose slightly underwhelming weekend relative to Rosberg continued with fifth on the grid.
After struggling with oversteer throughout practice, Ferrari's fears that their strong form on low-downforce circuits wouldn't transfer to Singapore materialised in depressing fashion as both their drivers lapped a full second off Vettel's pace.
Fernando Alonso may remain the German's closest championship challenger but that is increasingly in name only, rather than reality, and to compound the Spaniard's frustration he was again outqualified by Felipe Massa.
The Brazilian, who learned last week that he would be replaced by Raikkonen for next season, had appeared to be particularly off the pace through practice and into the early stages of qualifying but ultimately pipped Alonso to sixth by four hundredths of a second.
And having been quoted as saying by the Brazilian media earlier this week that "it's time to look after myself", Massa's approach to his race will be watched with interest as he fights to save his F1 career.
Alonso will share the fourth row with Jenson Button, the only McLaren to make the top-ten run-off, with Daniel Ricciardo once more impressing in ninth.
But by far the biggest surprise of the whole qualifying session was Sauber rookie Esteban Gutierrez who sensationally cast aside his season-long qualifying struggles, and general underwhelming form, to break into the top ten for the first time in his career.
The Mexican, who has yet to score an F1 point in 12 attempts, outqualified his in-demand team-mate Nico Hulkenberg (11th) for the first time before opting to sit out Q3 in order to give him a free tyre choice for Sunday's first stint.
Raikkonen will start down in 13th alongside the other McLaren of Sergio Perez, while with his candidature for a 2014 promotion appearing to have faded in recent weeks amid Force India's general slump in form, Paul Di Resta fell at the Q1 hurdle for the fourth time in the last eight events.