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.

Super Leclerc beats Hamilton and VettelExclusive: Ricciardo & Verstappen’s SkyPad double actWhen does Sunday’s race start?

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.”

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.