Charles Leclerc continued his F1 2019 hot streak in style by sealing a stunning pole position for Ferrari at the Singapore GP, outpacing Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel in a thrilling qualifying under the lights.
Leclerc, pole-sitter and winner of the previous two races in Belgium and Italy, produced a stonking final lap to beat Hamilton and Vettel by 0.2s, with Ferrari unexpectedly faster than Mercedes and Red Bull around the Marina Bay streets.
“Charles Leclerc: Now I’m really impressed – that is outstanding,” said Sky F1’s Martin Brundle after Leclerc’s 1:36.217.
“The track they were supposed to struggle on, and he’s smashed it. What a lap.”
Vettel, in need of a strong weekend, was on provisional pole but backed out of a messy last Q3 lap and his in-form team-mate capitalised – while Hamilton then snatched a front-row position to split the Ferraris.
“I don’t know where Ferrari picked up their pace today,” admitted Hamilton. “It was potentially not one of their tracks, but Charles put a great lap in. I’m really happy to be on the front row and in the mix with them.”
Max Verstappen was fourth for Red Bull, 0.6s slower than Leclerc, while Valtteri Bottas was the best part of a second a second off the pace in fifth in the other Mercedes.
Red Bull newbie Alex Albon was sixth – his best F1 grid position – while Carlos Sainz won the midfield battle ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg in the Renault, and McLaren team-mate Lando Norris.
Singapore GP Qualifying Result1) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari2) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes3) Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari4) Max Verstappen, Red Bull5) Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes6) Alex Albon, Red Bull7) Carlos Sainz, McLaren8) Daniel Ricciardo, Renault9) Nico Hulkenberg, Renault10) Lando Norris, McLaren
How did Leclerc, and Ferrari, do that?Ferrari came into the weekend on the back of consecutive victories at power-hungry circuits, but were expected to fall back in Singapore, where downforce is key. Although they debuted a new upgrade, their standing at the end of Friday practice – around a second off the pace – appeared to confirm that it was going to be Mercedes vs Red Bull, and Hamilton vs Verstappen, in the battle for pole.
But the Scuderia surged forward on Saturday to leave their rivals perplexed, securing what is quite possibly the most surprising pole of the season. It is also potentially a game-changing result for the rest of F1 2019, with Ferrari now seemingly able to compete on different tracks rather than those that rely on their engine.
Ferrari gained most of their advantage through the more power-friendly first sector, but as Mercedes boss Toto Wolff frankly stated: “It’s just quicker everywhere.”
It looked like it would be Vettel, a four-time Singapore winner, who was going to deliver that shock pole, and his first lap in Q3 near-faultless as he out-paced the Mercedes by a second.
But Vettel made several mistakes when it mattered most – and an F1 driver is always asking for trouble when he fails to improve on his final lap.
“The final bit of Q3 wasn’t great but sometimes that’s the way it goes,” said a downbeat Vettel.
Sky F1’s Paul Di Resta added: “That’s another dent for the confidence.”
Ferrari could rely on Leclerc to beat Hamilton.
“I’m extremely happy – it was a very good lap but there were several moments when I almost lost control!” said Leclerc after his spellbinding lap.
The Monegasque is fast-becoming a superstar with his latest performances.
He now has five poles this season, more than any other driver, and will hope to make it three wins in a row on Sunday at a track where grid position is so important.
Since 2012, the pole-sitter has only failed to win the race once – and that was when Vettel crashed out at the first corner.