The vision of a Formula 1 car on track is spectacular enough as it is. See one on a street circuit at night, with a different look to the colours and the sight of sparks aplenty, and it really becomes a spectacle. And when the car is red and driven by a man on a mission, Formula 1 comes alive at night.
Q1 and the red car has Charles Leclerc at the wheel. He’s followed by another red car, with the name Sebastian Vettel on the bodywork. Both would clock times in the 1:38s in their initial runs. Red Bull and Max Verstappen split the red and the silver, with Valterri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton in 4th and 5th for all but the last 980 seconds. Suddenly the two Mercedes cars were in the 1:37s and lead the time sheets. The end of Q1 would see the Red Bull car in 5th, the Ferraris in 3rd and 4th, and 6th would see Lando Norris.
Carlos Sainz was in danger of missing the cut for Q1 but found something deep inside the car to finish Q1 in 7th, ahead of Nico Hulkenberg from Renault, Pierre Gasly, and Alexander Albon. Antonio Giovinazzi, Daniel Ricciardo, Kimi Raikkonen, Sergio Perez, and Kevin Magnussen would make the cut. Daniil Kvyat would miss out by 0.015 and Lance Stroll, who brushed the wall during his run, was 0.037 shy of making it through. Romain Grosjean, George Russell, and the soon to retire Robert Kubica would be out as well.
Q2 and humid conditions greeted the teams as did the brilliantly lit skyline of the city. The faces on the Ferrari teams told the story, as they’d come to Singapore with the expectation they’d be up against it in hauling back the Mercedes cars. In a category where two tenths can be the difference between glory and devastation, Leclerc would throw down the gauntlet with a 1:36.950 early in the session. He’d lower this by a further three tenths, and would top the board in Q2. Vettel’s pace was quick too, with his 1:36.720 seeing him 2nd in Q2. Hamilton evaded disaster with a tap during his run, and 1:36.933 would be his best. Kimi Raikkonen hit harder yet managed to not break his Alfa Romeo. His time would see him out of contention for the top ten. Bottas was a full two tenths behind his team mate in Q2 and slower than Verstappen. Red Bull and Mercedes would clock the 4th and 5th quickest times for Q2.
Albon, Sainz, Norris, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Perez and Sainz would make the top ten. This left Giovinazzi, Gasly, Magnussen and Raikkonen as the minor placings. As the clock inched closer to ten pm local time, Q3 would get under way and it would be here that lead to shock news after qualifying for Renault and Daniel Ricciardo. Although eventually finishing in a creditable 8th, the Australian would be told later that his power unit had let him down. “Renault F1 Team acknowledges the decision from the FIA Stewards to disqualify Daniel Ricciardo from the qualifying session of the Singapore Grand Prix after he benefited from an advantage measured at one-microsecond due to a kerb hit that caused his MGU-K to overrev on his slowest lap of Q1. The decision will therefore not be appealed.”
Q3 and history has Hamilton as favourite for pole, having done so twice in the previous five years. The pace from Mercedes was clearly on par with expectations and both looked swift under lights. What would come into play was the determination of Leclerc. That determination took him to the ragged edge, as an exhausted Leclerc would declare:”Oh my god! Look at the lap. I lost control, I think, three times in the lap!” Vettel lead initially, with a rapid 1:36.437. However, like many before him, Vettel tapped the wall with the rear wheels. This was enough to put doubt into his mind and he’d garage the car shortly thereafter for a check before a second tilt. Leclerc was a full three tenths from that time, Verstappen nearly four tenths.
Leclerc would finally break the shackles and his 1:36.217 would see him on pole for the third time in a row. Hamilton was quick, but not quick enough to be anything other than 2nd on the grid. It was a scintillating drive from Hamilton, finding over a second when Leclerc had finished to snare that 2nd position. Although Vettel had a nervous car he’d finish Q3 in 3rd. Verstappen would head Bottas, whilst Albon impressed for 6th. The then official results saw Sainz, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Norris, and Perez as the top ten before the news broke about Ricciardo’s disqualification.
Hamilton seemed bemused afterwards, stating: “I don’t know where Ferrari picked up their pace today because this is not technically one of their tracks but they did a great job.Charles put some great laps in.” He also wondered about the shape of the cars, with: “We haven’t had an upgrade for a while. Maybe when that comes, it will help us a little bit.” This comes after Ferrari fitted new noses to their cars, and although Vettel struggled with rear end grip, he still will start this race from behind his team mate.
It promises to be an exciting race, and with previous events seeing the safety car make an appearance at least once, tactics will need to be flexible. The Singapore F1 gets underway at 20:10 local on Sunday September 22.