SINGAPORE – Charles Leclerc took pole position on Saturday for the Singapore Grand Prix, but Formula One world championship leader Max Verstappen was left fuming after finishing only eighth fastest.
Leclerc clocked 1min 49.412sec in his Ferrari in damp conditions to top the timesheets 0.022sec ahead of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, with the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton third.
Verstappen, who has a mathematical chance to retain his world title this weekend, had looked set to challenge Leclerc’s time on his final flying lap before being told to abandon by his Red Bull team.
The Dutchman, who had set the fastest first sector, then let fly an expletive-peppered tirade over team radio after being instructed to abort and return to the pits because he was low on fuel.
“We ran out of fuel, so it’s just incredibly frustrating and shouldn’t happen,” Verstappen told Sky Sports F1.
Only the top-10 shootout for pole took place on slick tyres under the lights of the Marina Bay circuit after heavy rain earlier.
Most of qualifying saw cars on intermediate tyres on a track too damp to risk slicks, with the unforgiving concrete walls of the street layout an ever-present danger for any loss of control.
“It’s been a very, very tricky qualifying,” said Leclerc.
“In Q3 we didn’t know what to do, we went for the soft at the last minute and it paid off. I made a mistake on my last lap so I didn’t think I’d get pole, but it was just enough.”
Monaco’s Leclerc can prevent Verstappen from sealing the championship this weekend by finishing higher than eighth in Sunday’s race.
‘It was so, so close’
Leclerc now has a commanding grid advantage over the Dutchman, who will start from the fourth row on a circuit that offers few overtaking opportunities.
Perez could help his Red Bull teammate by getting ahead of Leclerc at the start.
“It’s a good opportunity to attack Charles and go for the win,” said the Mexican.
“I was disappointed to miss out on pole by two hundredths. It was so tricky to learn the conditions today and tomorrow could be wet.”
Seven-time world champion Hamilton produced his best qualifying performance of the season, finishing in the top three for the first time, only 0.054sec behind Leclerc.
“I was pushing so hard, it was so, so close,” said Hamilton.
“These guys are so quick, but I thought with a perfect lap we could fight for first place, but I just didn’t have the grip in the last lap.
“We’ll get up and fight again tomorrow.”
Verstappen needs to win the race, score 22 points more than Leclerc and see teammate Perez finish fourth or lower to retain his world title with five races to spare, or the chase moves on to Japan next week.
But he has to find a way past seven drivers to do that, which looks extremely unlikely.
Ahead of him are Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, Fernando Alonso — who was fifth fastest in the Alpine ahead of his 350th GP start — and the McLaren of Lando Norris in sixth.
Lining up alongside Verstappen on the fourth row will be Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri.
It wasn’t all good news for Mercedes. George Russell failed to find any grip on his intermediate tyres and had a surprise failure to make it into Q3 after being only 11th fastest.
Alex Albon, who did well just to make it to Singapore three weeks after appendicitis at the Italian Grand Prix and then suffering complications from surgery, was 19th in his Williams. – AFP