The qualifying for the spectacular night race was expected to be a one way traffic as Sebastian Vettel topped the final two practice sessions with a car that looked so handy around the streets of Marina Bay. The party ambience at the Singapore GP is as extravagant as in Monaco with big names like Rihanna, Justin Bieber and my favourite band The Killers hitting the concert stage over the weekend. The 3.18 mile street circuit puts a peculiar challenge at night with drivers having to accommodate to 60c in the cockpit for a lengthy two hours during the race.
Fernando Alonso is the nearest title rival for Vettel with 53 points behind but his chances to be on the front row started dwindling already as he danced along with his Ferrari all throughout in practice struggling to find grip. The other teams apparently close to challenge the mighty Red Bull were Mercedes and Lotus with Lewis Hamilton, Rosberg and Grosjean managed to deliver quick laps that were quite as close to Vettel’s time in practice – let alone Webber threatened to be up there when it needed the most.
Hamilton had significant edge over team-mate Rosberg before getting caught out in traffic in the final practice. Grosjean was faster than his team-mate, and the 2014 Ferrari recruit Kimi Raikkonen, for Lotus all weekend which was down to the lower neck problem that hampered Raikkonen from any further progression. As the thousands of halogens lamps began to illuminate the qualifying session came alive with less drama expected from the weather and the conditions stayed hot and humid throughout the pole-deciding hour.
Q1: The struggling Williams of Pastor Maldonado headed out first with other tail end teams followed him up. The ever improving Romain Grosjean was accompanied by Hamilton and Button on track while the Red Bulls and Alonso stayed back in the garage. Hamilton clocked 1:47.087 to go half a second clear of Ricciardo at the top – replaced by Alonso first and then Nico Rosberg with a 1:46.288 lap for the latter. Kimi Raikkonen was injected for the pinched nerve and had to undergo seat re-fitting for clouting a kerb hard that caused his lower back problem.
Nico Hulkenberg went quickest clocking a 1:45.381 on super-soft tyres before being dispossessed by Webber who went a tenth up on the Sauber driver. While Perez and Button exchanged the top status on the leader board, Hamilton put on a 1:44.196 to go quickest of all. Felipe Massa rose back from the drop zone to scrap through into 13th while Paul di Resta fell victim to the underwhelming performance Force India were enduring after tyre specification changes since Hungarian GP. His fourth first round drop out in eight races won’t do him any good for sure.
Though Marussia burned down the gap to Caterham by half a second, understeer issues on both cars reflected in their lap times. Sutil and Bottas hung on to 15th and 16th at the expense of their team-mates being knocked out of the session.
Eliminated: 17. Di Resta 18. Maldonado 19. Pic 20. Van der Garde 21. Bianchi 22. Chilton
Q2: The Ferraris, Raikkonen and Hulkenberg were all out on the optional rubber in a hope of getting good lap times. The Finn posted a 1:44.794 before Nico Rosberg clocked a 1:43.892 to top the standings ahead of his team-mate Hamilton, Alonso, Hulkenberg and Raikkonen. Vettel, Webber and Grosjean headed out on the track with everyone else opting to sit back in the garage.
Sebastian Vettel romped up his pace to dip into the high 1:42s clocking a 1:42.905 to go quickest ahead of the other Red Bull of Mark Webber who was a second adrift of the reigning world champion. Rosberg and Hamilton ended the session third and fourth ahead of Lotus’ Grosjean.
While Toro Rosso’s Ricciardo booked his berth into the next round, Gutierrez impressed with the best qualifying of his rookie season as he scraped through to Q3. The ailing Raikkonen managed to put himself 13th on the grid while Hulkenberg had a crucial DRS issue to blame for being kicked out.
Eliminated: 11. Hulkenberg 12. Vergne 13. Raikkonen 14. Perez 15. Sutil 16. Bottas
Q3: The reigning champion headed out with a fresh set of super-soft tyres to bang in a fastest lap. He did so with a 1:42.841 the best time that had been seen all weekend. Rosberg dived into second but a considerable margin of over half a second separated the two. Mark Webber slotted in third ahead of Hamilton and Grosjean on their first runs.
Though comfortably ahead, Vettel wanted to do another as he contemplated improving his time by a couple of tenths. He was advised not to on his radio and hence he climbed out of the car with a couple of minutes remaining. But on the contrary the grip level improved highly and others went for the pole. The nervy moments for Vettel was evoked when his team-mate Webber registered purple time in sector one but the overall lap was not good enough.
It was Rosberg who pushed the limit with a tidy first and nailed the best middle sector to settle for second in the end with only 0.091 seconds adrift of Vettel. Grosjean mastered a fine flying lap – doing purple middle sector in the process – to move ahead of Webber for third. Hamilton had nothing to blame but himself for an unspectacular fifth place ahead of Massa who out-qualified his team-mate Alonso second race in a row.
Jenson Button went out on the medium tyres and then came back in without setting a lap time and will line up eighth ahead of the Toro Rosso’s Ricciardo and Sauber driver Gutierrez. Vettel’s fifth pole this season was the 41st of his career and just as dominating in some ways. Alonso will start seventh which has already hurt his podium opportunities but he will never give it up that easy. We can only hope that we are on for an exciting race where there is every possibility of a safety car.
Top 10: Vettel, Rosberg, Grosjean, Webber, Hamilton, Massa, Alonso, Button, Ricciardo and Gutierrez.