Singapore GP: Mercedes struggle for qualifying as Vettel takes pole from Ricciardo

Pole for the Singapore Grand Prix secured by Sebastian Vettel.

In a four car battle for pole, Vettel shocked the odds and secured pole on a day where Lewis Hamilton could have matched his hero’s record of eight consecutive poles. In the end, Mercedes were miles off the pace set by Ferrari and Vettel as Seb took his first pole since 2013.

The Singapore Grand Prix weekend appeared to have got off to a normal start when Rosberg posted the fastest time in FP1. But come FP2, it became clear Mercedes were struggling to switch on the supersoft tyres and match the pace shown by Ferrari and Red Bull. This theme even continued into the final practice session when Mercedes had to settle for fifth and sixth, over a second off of Vettel’s fastest lap.

Given their deficit to Red Bull and Vettel, the team went heavy with the spanners in the break to switch the set-up on both cars in a bid for a better qualifying and the chance for yet another pole. In fact, going in to qualifying today, no other engine manufacturer had taken pole position in the hybrid V6 era.

One team with a Mercedes power unit in their car is Williams, and their men took to the track from the green light. Given no other times had been put on the board, Bottas set the benchmark for the early runners. But given the downforce stricken package they run, especially compared to Red Bull, they found their time was nowhere to be seen when Red Bull made it a one-two with Ricciardo leading Kvyat.

Even with Red Bull taking the advantage early on, Vettel engaged 2013 mode and stormed to the top spot like he was when driving for Red Bull and took his three wins in a row in Singapore. His 1:46.017 was in fact good enough for a 7 tenth lead, four tenths off of last year’s pole and still on the soft tyres.

Jenson Button on the other hand was running the supersoft tyres already and stormed into fifth place, ahead of both Mercedes with Lewis sitting down in 14th place along with the Lotus duo, Sainz and Perez.

With Lewis sitting down in the bottom and Hulkenberg improving for fourth on the supersoft tyres, Mercedes hit the panic button and brought out the supersoft tyres to ensure the Q2 appearance. Something that has not been seen in recent races.

Luckily for them, Hamilton could improve to temporarily top the time sheet before Kvyat made a new four tenths gap to the championship leader. Rosberg also tucked himself into the top four but was nearly a second down on the Red Bull.

With more drivers on the supersoft rubber, Jenson found his time pushed down to the drop zone border with just the Sauber’s and Maldonado splitting him from the Manor’s. But as the last man to cross the line, he pushed the Sauber’s back into the drop zone by seven hundredths of a second after both Ericsson and Nasr pushed the car and temporarily pushed Button out of qualifying.

While Jenson had to leave it late to beat the drop on the supersofts, Raikkonen made it through to Q2 on the soft tyres after finishing his run in eight place, over a second down on Kvyat’s P1 time. In the other Ferrari, Vettel also ended the session on the prime tyres. But unlike Kimi, Seb ended the session in third, six tenths off Kvyat but just two tenths behind Hamilton.

Once again, it was Williams braking the silence when the green lights were turned back on. And once again, Bottas set the benchmark time for the drivers to aim at. But while Hulkenberg could not instantly knock the Finn off, his team-mate could as Massa found half a second on Bottas.

Hamilton temporarily moved ahead of the Williams duo for the top spot, but a resurgent Red Bull once again showed the Mercedes duo up as both drivers pushed both Silver Arrows down the order. Kvyat also became the first man to breach into the 1:44’s and beat the pole time from last year.

Once the first runs came to an end, Button sat rock bottom of the order with a two second gap to the leaders as Red Bull lost the top spot to Vettel. But behind Red Bull and Ferrari remained Mercedes, who were bunched together with Massa, Grosjean and Verstappen.

After being comfortably in the lead after their first Q2 runs, Red Bull and Ferrari kept both cars in their respective garages for the remainder of the session while Mercedes joined the rest in the rush for a top-10 shoot-out place.

Unfortunately for those who did take back to the track with the urgency for an improved time, Carlos Sainz hit the wall and broke his suspension while leaving debris on track, forcing the waved yellows and no opportunity for any to improve.

With no one able to improve under yellow flags, McLaren saw both of their drivers eliminated from qualifying at a track they thought would be their best chance for points in the remaining races this year. Force India also saw both drivers eliminated in Q2.

But from the 10 men who made it into the top-10 shoot-out, provisional pole went to Vettel as he snatched P1 from Ricciardo by three tenths of a second after setting purple sectors in sector one and two. Vettel’s lap beat Ricciardo’s in the first two sectors after the Aussie had posted purple times in all three parts of the track.

On Hamilton’s provisional lap, he straddled the kerb on the exit of turn seven and eventually abandoned his lap while running on the tyres broke in during Q2. As for Rosberg, he also used scrubbed tyres but saw out his lap for fifth place and a 1.5 second deficit.

For the final laps of the top-10 shoot-out, Vettel had track position to be the final man across the line, with Ricciardo leading the pole-chasers.

Unfortunately for the Australian, his final qualifying lap had a slow first sector, beat by Kvyat, Hamilton and Vettel. And worse for Ricciardo was the rest of his lap was not enough to beat Sebastian’s provisional lap time as he fought hard to make up the ground and set the fastest final sector of the session.

Kvyat and Raikkonen slotted in behind Ricciardo for the second row of the grid, but Vettel still had his foot hard down to claim his first pole position since 2013 by half a second.

At the end of the session, Mercedes had to settle for the third row of the grid as their clutch on pole slipped away from their hands. Now the run that could have reached 24 races ends on 23 and Ferrari become the first engine manufacturer to secure pole in the hybrid V6 era. Today’s pole position is also Ferrari’s first P1 in qualifying in the dry since 2010.

Hamilton’s aim for 8 poles in a row also ends on 7 and Lewis fails to match his idol’s run of eight poles in a row in the same amount of starts. Rosberg came home in sixth place as Mercedes ended their worst day for many of races.

Position Driver Best lap
1 Vettel Q3: 1:43.885
2 Ricciardo 1:44.428
3 Raikkonen 1:44.627
4 Kvyat 1:44.745
5 Hamilton 1:45.300
6 Rosberg 1:45.415
7 Bottas 1:45.676
8 Verstappen 1:45.798
9 Massa 1:46.077
10 Grosjean 1:46.413
11 Hulkenberg Q2: 1:46.305
12 Alonso 1:46.328
13 Perez 1:46.385
14 Sainz 1:46.894
15 Button 1:47.019
16 Nasr Q1: 1:46.965
17 Ericsson 1:47.088
18 Maldonado 1:47.323
19 Stevens 1:51.021
20 Rossi 1:51.523