Lewis Hamilton tightened his grip on securing a fifth Formula One world title by coming from nowhere to claim a stunning pole position for the Singapore Grand Prix in his Mercedes on Saturday.
The Briton, 30 points clear of closest rival Sebastian Vettel with seven rounds remaining, lapped the Marina Bay street circuit in 1:36.015 to claim a record-extending 79th pole position, 0.319 seconds ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
The Ferrari pairing of Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen had set the pace for most of the weekend, but the German could manage only third place, more than half a second down, and will start alongside Mercedes’s Valtteri Bottas, who was fourth fastest.
“That lap felt like magic. I don’t really know where it came from,” Hamilton said in an interview.
“It was just perfectly to the limit. It felt like one of the best laps I can remember feeling,” the Briton added of a 23-turn floodlit circuit that he later described as “Monaco on steroids”.
Hamilton’s time was three-and-a-half seconds quicker than Vettel’s pole position from a year ago and should he make a clean start on a circuit where he has won three times before, the Briton is highly likely to extend his championship lead.
Verstappen also sprang something of a surprise to finish just behind Hamilton, narrowly missing out on becoming the youngest ever pole-sitter in Formula One but the 20-year-old was delighted with his performance.
“Honestly this feels like a victory. To be second is unbelievable,” Verstappen said. “We just have to make sure we have a clean start and then everything is possible.”
Vettel is also seeking a fifth world title and while he remains a huge threat in a very competitive car, the German was disappointed not to have been able to capitalise on the dominance Ferrari had over their rivals in practice.
“For us it was a bit of a messy qualifying,” he lamented. “We had two laps (in the final qualifying session) and they were both not good enough.”