Red alert from Vettel

Red alert from Vettel
Sebastian Vettel took pole position last night in 1min 43.885sec, ahead of his former team-mate Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull. It was Ferrariā€™s first pole in 61 races.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Stunned silence, followed swiftly by rapturous cheers, echoed across the Marina Bay Street Circuit last night.

Thousands in attendance and millions across the world saw something special at the Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix - as many had expected. But that moment of magic was not provided by Mercedes' world champion Lewis Hamilton, chasing the late great Ayrton Senna's 1989 record of eight successive pole positions.

Instead, it was the gleaming red Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel - a three-time winner here - that negotiated the 23 turns quickest to top a breathless qualifying session.

It was the first pole for a non-Mercedes-powered car since the 2013 finale in Brazil. It was also the Italian marque's first pole in 61 races.

"Mercedes must have some problems but our car, it was just fantastic to drive," said Vettel, flashing a megawatt smile with his trademark index-finger salute after the session.

"It came together with a near-perfect lap at the end, though I'm surprised by the margin."

A four-time world champion, the German's flying lap of 1min 43.885sec was 0.543sec - an eternity in Formula One - ahead of Daniel Ricciardo's second-placed Red Bull.

Mercedes were left to feel the hurt they have been dishing out to rivals over the past 18 months.

Despite an earlier visit from hip-hop star Pharrell Williams in the Mercedes garage, Hamilton was not happy.

Quizzed on what went wrong in a season of so many successes, the defending champion here, who qualified only fifth, replied simply: "Tyres. The tyres aren't working on our car. It's very strange."

The Briton insists tonight's goal is "still to win", for it will tie him with Vettel and Senna for all-time race victories (41).

But pole is king on the low-speed Marina Bay set-up, with five of the seven past editions having been won from that position.

As just 36 per cent of each lap is taken at full throttle, raw power is overshadowed by downforce, which is the ability to grip and slingshot around corners.

In that regard, the aerodynamic packages of Ferrari and Red Bull gave them the edge over Mercedes, not only during qualifying but in two of the three practice sessions.

In perhaps a veiled taunt aimed at the Silver Arrows, Vettel referred to the circuit as one "where the driver can make a difference".

Hamilton and team-mate Rosberg - who qualified sixth - have been accused of bullying their rivals at tracks with long straights and wide turns, such as Spa and Monza, where their power units make a difference.

But this edge has been blunted in Singapore, where cornering within inches of concrete walls tests every aspect of a driver's arsenal.

A dejected Rosberg - 53 points adrift of Hamilton in the drivers' title race - said: "It's very frustrating to be so far back and off the pace. I am lacking a lot of grip." Mercedes' gloom was a boon for their long-suffering rivals.

Ricciardo, whose third-place finish in Hungary remains his main season highlight, said: "It's been a while. To not have Mercedes in the top three is a surprise to everyone but when they have issues, we must capitalise."

And that is just what Vettel has done on super-soft tyres that have a near-1.1 sec edge over the remaining soft option.

For the man who won nine races in a row in 2013, the winning feeling is one he sorely misses.

Once accused of being so dominant for Red Bull that fans were turned away from the sport, he noted how this season, "it's been Mercedes this, Mercedes that".

He added: "It's time to remember there are other teams around, other drivers who can do the job.

"On Sunday, I want to win not just for Ferrari, but for F1 as a whole."


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This article was first published on Sept 20, 2015.
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