Singapore: Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton took a brilliant pole position for the Singapore Grand Prix ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen under floodlights on Saturday.
Hamilton produced something special to set a blistering time and secure a record-extending 79th pole position in Formula One and 200th for a British driver.
“I don’t know where it came from but it all came together,” Hamilton said. “I just managed that one lap to get it right.”
With title rival Sebastian Vettel qualifying only third, it was a great night for Hamilton and he surprised even himself by how quick he was.
“My heart’s racing, I’m having an anxiety attack,” he said, letting out a laugh of relief. “I don’t think there was a moment in the lap that was wide. It was perfectly on the limit, it felt like one of the best laps (I’ve done). I managed to maximise on every corner.”
Verstappen drove equally impressively but the 20-year-old Dutchman missed out on being the youngest ever driver to secure pole. He also started from second last year.
“I think it was a great qualifying,” said Verstappen, the youngest driver to win an F1 race when he was 18. “It’s the best I’ve ever done in F1. I can be very happy with it.”
Ferrari looked strong in practice on the sinewy 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) Marina Bay track.
But when it counted, Ferrari could not find the pace and Vettel’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen was fifth behind the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas.
Earlier Saturday evening, Vettel was fastest in the third and final practice ahead of Raikkonen, and Ferrari did not see this setback coming.
“Not ideal, we wanted to get pole,” Vettel said. “There was too much time missing.”
Last year, Vettel started from pole here and was perfectly poised to reclaim the championship lead from Hamilton. However, he crashed heading into the first turn, taking out Verstappen, Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso with him.
Vettel is under pressure as the title appears to be slipping away from him. Both Vettel and Hamilton are bidding to join Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio on five F1 titles and move level second all-time behind F1 great Michael Schumacher on seven.
Vettel is 30 points behind Hamilton and racing on a track where seven of the past 10 races have been won from pole.
After Singapore, there will only be six races left, and the German driver cannot afford to fall further behind Hamilton in Sunday night’s race.