Hamilton storms to pole for Singapore GP ahead of Maldonado and Vettel
By Berthold Bouman
A very hot day at the Marina Bay Circuit in Singapore, with ambient temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius, and combined with the high humidity, a real torture for man and machine. A cool new helmet design for Sebastian Vettel, this time a helmet with blue flashing LED’s that light up in the Singapore night, but his flashy good luck charm didn’t work and it was Lewis Hamilton who took pole for McLaren for the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday.
“I’m very happy with pole position. It’s been a good weekend so far, but there are no points for today, and it’s going to be a long, tough race, so I still need to be cautious. I hope we’ve done the work we need to do to put us in a strong position for tomorrow — the key will just be to stay out of trouble and look after the tyres,” said Hamilton.
Pastor Maldonado surprised friend and foe again and seemingly effortlessly took second place, while current Word Champion Vettel will start from third place on the grid.
Sergio Perez in the Sauber was the first to set a time in Q1, and he lapped the circuit in 1m52.725s, but it was Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso who set the first serious time on the board with a lap of 1m49.511s. Kimi Raikkonen had to take the escape road after missing his braking point but nevertheless one lap later posted the fourth fastest time, the same happened to Jean-Eric Vergne but he also could continue his qualifying run.
But Hamilton was the one to set the benchmark in Q1 with a lap of 1m48.285, almost a second faster than Alonso. With five minutes still remaining, it was time for the super soft tyres for those who were not certain of a place in Q2, also Raikkonen went out on the supersoft Pirellis and he took first place from Hamilton who had set his time on the harder compound.
But much to everyone’s surprise, Romain Grosjean was fastest in Q1 as he put together a great lap with a time of 1m47.688s. But the last seven drivers, Kamui Kobayashi, Vitaly Petrov, Heikki Kovalainen, Timo Glock, Charles Pic, Narain Karthikeyan and Pedro de la Rosa did not make it into Q2.
Q2 became a waiting game, most drivers initially stayed in the garage, but with ten minutes left on the clock Vettel was the first go under the 1m46 marker, and he set a time of 1m46.791s, at the same time Bruno Senna set another but more dubious record by hitting the wall for the second time today, and the third time this weekend, he again damaged the right-rear suspension of his Williams and had to retire.
Just four minutes to go and all 17 remaining drivers were ready for their last run in Q2, Grosjean went out first and took third place from Jenson Button. Nico Rosberg, Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa were in the drop-out zone, both Mercedes drivers qualified for Q3, but Raikkonen and Massa did not.
Thus Nico Hulkenberg, Raikkonen, Massa, Perez, Daniel Ricciardo, Jean-Eric Vergne and Senna did not make it into the top ten for the third and final qualifying session Q3.
Both McLaren and Red Bull drivers decided to do two runs, but the rest stayed in the garage to save tyres and they waited until there were just three minutes to go. When they finally were on their first lap, Grosjean had a big moment but managed to keep his Lotus out of the walls and took fourth place despite his earlier mistake.
Again Formula One was in for a surprise as Maldonado took second place ahead of Vettel in third place. Hamilton couldn’t improve his time but stayed in first place, Button was fourth, Alonso fifth and Paul di Resta in the Force India was sixth. Webber and Grosjean were seventh and eighth respectively, while Schumacher and Rosberg completed the top ten without recording a timed lap.
The latter two will start the race tomorrow on the soft Pirellis, the rest of the top ten on the super soft tyres. De la Rosa has a five-place grid penalty for changing his gearbox, and he will start from 24th and last place on the grid.
McLaren Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh summed it up like this, “It was Vodafone McLaren Mercedes’ fourth consecutive pole position and the 153rd pole position in McLaren’s history, and it was achieved one day shy of the 40th anniversary of our very first world championship grand prix pole position, which was notched up by the late Peter Revson at Mosport Park [Canada] on September 23rd 1972.”
Second-place man Maldonado said, “We continued improving throughout qualifying and we found a good balance in the car. I then had to put together a good lap in Q3 and I knew we could be right up at the front.” He’s already looking forward to the race, “I’m really looking forward to the race as we’ve shown consistently good pace on our longer runs throughout practice. We have all the tools to be competitive tomorrow, so it should be a good race for us.”
And last but not least Vettel, who was sure he could have grabbed pole, “It’s hard to say what happened. I was happy until the end of Q2, but then in Q3 we weren’t able to go with the track and improve. In Q3 I couldn’t feel the grip so well and convert it to the lap time.”
He also thinks tomorrow will be a different story, “The most important day is tomorrow and we have got pace in the car. We have been competitive this weekend and our target is to have a good race tomorrow; P3 is still a good place to start from.”