Lewis Hamilton expressed surprise at Ferrari’s shock Singapore GP qualifying pace – with the world champion simply “grateful” to secure a front-row slot.

F1’s world champion will start between polesitter Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel at the head of the grid for Sunday’s race after a thrilling qualifying session in which Ferrari belied pre-weekend expectations that the battle for honours on the street track would be between Mercedes and Red Bull.

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Hamilton had been one second adrift of the Ferraris after the first Q3 runs, but a stellar final lap when he ran the gauntlet between the Marina Bay’s barriers meant he ended up pipping Vettel to second place by under a tenth of a second.

“I don’t know where Ferrari picked up their pace today because this was not meant to be potentially one of their tracks, but they just did a great job,” said Hamilton.

“Charles put some great laps in and I really needed something special again. So I gave it absolutely everything I had. I’m really happy to be on the front row to be in the mix with them and we can try and divide them tomorrow.”

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Hear from the top three qualifiers after the Singapore GP

Hear from the top three qualifiers after the Singapore GP

Hamilton added: “Of course, we were not expecting to have such a strong performance from them and have that deficit. I’m grateful to have split them.”

Ferrari leave the Singapore ‘favourites’ trailingAlthough Ferrari have led the field this year for straight-line speed – and capitalised to the full on that asset in the last two races at high-speed Spa and Monza – their car has lacked downforce relative to their chief rivals.

When’s the Singapore GP on Sky?

Formula 1 next heads to Singapore for its marquee night race – watch live only on Sky Sports F1.

On F1’s previous visit to a high-downforce circuit – the Hungaroring at the start of August – Ferrari finished one minute behind Hamilton, the race victor.

But upgrades to the front of Ferrari’s car for this weekend appear to have proved game-changing for the Scuderia in such conditions.

“They are gaining a few tenths on the straights, but they are also very quick in the corners. It’s just quicker everywhere,” said Mercedes boss Toto Wolff to Sky F1.