Can anyone stop Vettel?

Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel putting in a stunning lap during qualifying on Saturday. The German, who has been in imperious form this season, winning six of the 12 races held so far, clocked 1min 42.841sec to lock up the sweetest spot on the grid at the SingTel Singapore Grand Prix.

Sebastian Vettel lit up the night at Marina Bay on Saturday, clocking the fastest-ever pole position at the SingTel Singapore Grand Prix.

The German, who has been in imperious form this season, winning six of the 12 races held so far, clocked 1min 42.841sec to lock up the sweetest spot on the grid. That bettered the best pole (1:44.381) set in Singapore - which was also recorded by Vettel in 2011.

Lining up beside the world champion was Mercedes' Nico Rosberg, who timed 1:42.932.

As expected, the session extended the Red Bull v Mercedes qualifying battle this year. The two teams have bagged all 13 poles so far this season, with Mercedes on eight (Hamilton five, Rosberg three) and Red Bull on five (all Vettel).

Lotus' Romain Grosjean broke up the teams' duopoly of the top four spots by putting in a stunning 1:43.058 lap on his final run to demote Red Bull's Mark Webber to fourth (1:43.152).

That consequently pushed the season's "pole king" Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes down into fifth (1:43.254).

The Ferraris of Felipe Massa (1:43.890) and Fernando Alonso (1:43.938) struggled on the high downforce circuit as expected, managing only sixth and seventh.

The only consolation for Ferrari and the thousands of Tifosi in Singapore is that the F138 has a good race pace. And watching Alonso attempt to keep alive his slim championship hopes by moving up the field tonight should be an exciting and entertaining prospect.

Already 53 points (222-169) behind Vettel with just six races left after this one, his chances of landing a third drivers' crown would suffer a near-fatal blow if he loses further ground on the standings leader.

The sizzling performances from the leading drivers placed the focus of the event squarely back on the track after the build-up to the race was overshadowed by speculation involving the driver movements at Ferrari. And rightly so.

The circuit's nature is best described in three Ts - tricky, tight and twisty - which explains why pole is critical to success here, for overtaking opportunities do not come easily.

But Vettel stamped his mark as the master of Marina Bay, negotiating the track with pin-point accuracy to secure the 41st pole of his career.

He even ended his session two minutes early to save his tyres, although he later admitted that it had been a nerve-racking time watching Webber, Rosberg and Grosjean attempt to beat his time.

But it stood, and now it remains to be seen if anyone or anything - the safety car has been deployed in every edition of this race - can trip him up in his bid to become the first man to claim a third consecutive title in Singapore.

He added: "I am very happy with the result, the car has been phenomenal all weekend.

"This is one of the toughest races we face all year. It is the toughest physically and mentally. It is so long, one lap is so long, there are so many corners and there's hardly any room for mistakes. Pole is a good position to start from."

Still, the three-time world champion is taking nothing for granted, warning: "We have to look after ourselves." But statistics point to a Vettel win - drivers on pole have gone on to win three out of the five Singapore Grands Prix.

As Rosberg admitted: "Sebastian is out of reach".

yulin@sph.com.sg


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