In 2018, Lewis Hamilton secured pole position with a lap which for him felt like an out of body experience, having said in the Drivers’ Press Conference on Friday ‘I don’t know who was driving’. In Singapore, qualifying is crucial seeing how for the last three dry F1 races around the Marina Bay Street Circuit, saw the order of the top three from qualifying remain in that order by the time the chequered flag fell on race day or more appropriately – race night! Yes, this is a crucial moment and every racer knew this so surely this round of qualifying, the 15th of the 2019 calendar, would be one to remember.
Charles Leclerc concluded FP3 at the top of the timings and if that could be repeated, would be favourite to secure victory on Sunday which would be a third consecutive victory in a row. First though, he would have to overcome the pair of Mercedes drivers, Max Verstappen and also his 4-time World Champion teammate Sebastian Vettel.
Ahead of the top 10 shootout, the field of 20 cars had to be narrowed. George Russell had certainly been outperforming his ROKiT Williams Racing 2019 challenger in the run up to qualifying and the question was posed as to whether the British rookie could make it through to FP2. Unfortunately, not to be and so he (along with his teammate Robert Kubica who he out qualified yet again) were the two slowest cars of the first qualifying session. Lance Stroll and Daniil Kvyat joined them as did Romain Grosjean. The Frenchman never looked like making the cut having grazed the wall during the session and 1:40.277 was the best he could achieve. A strange way to celebrate being signed by Haas for another year – improvement needed tomorrow.
Out in front there was the battle for pride and having momentarily secured a 1-2 for Scuderia Ferrari, the pair of Mercedes would lay down a marker locking out the front row (in Q1 at least) with Valtteri Bottas head of the bunch with a 1:37.317. This time was a quarter of a second quicker than Hamilton and indication of the Finnish driver reminding the rest not to forget about him.
Eliminated at end of qualifying 1: KUB/RUS/GRO/STR/KVY
Having seen some familiar names depart from proceedings, the race was on to see which 10 motor racing gladiators would see it through to the end.
Mercedes and Ferrari chose to both run the soft compound showing that there would not be a gamble to go on medium after all. First across the line, early on in Q2, was Bottas (1:37.142) then this time was bettered by his teammate as Hamilton recorded a 1:37.061 but before anyone could draw breath, Charles Leclerc appeared on the main straight jumping to the top and also being the first to enter the 1:36s. The Monégasque’s time of 1:36.930 would signal his intent whereas Sebastian Vettel – the driver many fancied for pole – could only place in fifth for the time being.
Whilst reeling from Leclerc’s lap, the next focus point was Kimi Raikkonen making contact and as the cars headed for a new set of rubber, the Finnish driver was precariously placed in 14th and would stay there when the chequered flag came. Amongst this battle, the duel between Renault teammates was heatening up with Ricciardo edging it with a 1:38.399 to Nico Hulkenberg’s 1:38.580. Finally, with time running out, Sebastian Vettel had a stunning first sector finishing achieving a 1:36.720s - but Leclerc would not be beaten in Q2 and did so by going 0.070s quicker.1m36.720s, but Leclerc is 0.070s quicker.
Eliminated at end of qualifying 2: MAG, RAI, GAS (who had struggled with the rear), GIO, PER
Finally, the top 10 racers (being some of the best drivers in the world) had the opportunity to erase the ludicrous scenes from Monza and capture the headlines for all the right reasons and with less than half a second between the top 5 after Q2 – the spectators were in for a treat.
Ferrari looked to be the favourites so could Hamilton create yet another legendary lap time on the streets of Singapore? On this occasion he could not. Having been sat on provisional pole with a 1:36.437 Sebastian Vettel would see his teammate driving on the limit and in doing so secure pole with a 1:36.217 and declaration on team radio of “Oh my God!” Followed by expletives. To spoil the Ferrari 1’2, Lewis Hamilton crossed the line with a 1:36.408 bringing an intriguing charge to the first corner when the lights go out tomorrow.
The 2019 edition of the Singapore Grand Prix has been met with excitement and expectation and now the stage is set for a classic…that is of course as long as the cars are in a position to overtake because pole plays a major part in a race victory around the Marina Bay Street Circuit and pole, for the third race in a row, belongs to Charles Leclerc.
Q3 results: 1 Leclerc, 2 Hamilton, 3 Vettel, 4 Verstappen, 5 Bottas, 6 Albon, 7 Sainz, 8 Ricciardo, 9 Hulkenberg, 10 Norris.