Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc secured pole position with a time of 1:49.412s for the Singapore Grand Prix in changeable track conditions even as title-favourite Max Verstappen had to settle for only eighth place in the qualifying session held at the Marina Bay Street Circuit on Saturday.
Red Bull’s Sergio Perez took second, just two-hundredths of a second behind Leclerc, with Lewis Hamilton and the other Ferrari of Carlos Sainz completing the second row of the grid.
However, the big shock of the day was Verstappen being asked by his team to abort his final qualifying lap just as it looked like the reigning champion could have challenged for the front row of the grid as he was improving on his time even as Leclerc had made a mistake on his final run and aborted it.
Verstappen was furious with his team’s call to abort the lap but the team just gave a coded message that it will be explained later. He later said that his Red Bull car would not have had enough fuel left in the car to provide a sample to the FIA, had he completed the lap and tried to return to the pits.
In case the FIA finds the car did not have enough fuel, the car will be excluded from qualifying and sent to the back of the grid.
Verstappen’s hopes of sealing his second world title here took a big hit as he needed to outscore Leclerc by 22 points. But on a track where overtaking is extremely difficult, Verstappen’s chances look slim with his chief rival starting on pole.
Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso in the Alpine and Lando Norris in the McLaren came fifth and sixth, respectively, with Pierre Gasly in the AlphaTauri and Verstappen occupying the fourth row.
In the second session of qualifying to find the top ten quickest drivers, Mercedes’ George Russell was the big loser as he had to settle for 11th and missed out on progressing to the final part of the session by just less than a tenth of a second.
Similarly, in the first part of qualifying to determine the 15 fastest drivers to move to Q2, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon made a shock exit due to brake problems and he will start 18th.
Due to rains earlier in the day, parts of the track were damp and most drivers used the intermediate tyres in the first and second part of qualifying. It was only in the last session that the dry weather tyres were used with drivers improving on every lap in a thrilling end to qualifying. Towards the end of the second session, three drivers - Lance Stroll, Sebastian Vettel (both Aston Martin) and Guanyu Zhou (Alfa Romeo) - tried the soft compound tyres but could not find enough grip to make it to the top ten.
Leclerc incidentally was on pole position the last time F1 raced in Singapore back in 2019. That time, he was pipped to victory by his former teammate Sebastian Vettel due to a team strategy that benefitted the German driver.
Leclerc will hope for a better outcome on Sunday as he looks for his fourth win of the season and first since the Austrian GP back in July.