Nico Rosberg secured pole position for the Singapore Grand Prix with an impressive performance on a track typically not suited to Mercedes.
Hamilton lacked pace all weekend and could only manage third place on the grid. Starting between them will be Daniel Ricciardo who turned in a fantastic lap to put his Red Bull in strong contention for a podium finish. Verstappen – in the other Red Bull – could only manage fourth.
The top five all finished within a second of Rosberg making for a dramatic end to qualifying.
But Ferrari couldn’t escape their troubles in the sweltering Singapore humidity with Vettel braking his front anti-roll bar and qualifying last on the grid.
Tale of Two Stories at Mercedes
While Rosberg looked strong throughout practice and qualifying, the story couldn’t be more different for title rival Hamilton.
The Englishman lost most of Friday’s second practice session because of a hydraulic leak and he couldn’t complete a qualifying simulation during Saturday’s practice session after locking his brakes and going straight on at Turn 7.
However, Mercedes has now revealed that Hamilton may have also been suffering from a separate mechanical issue during qualifying with their data showing that his car produced less downforce – critical in Singapore – than Rosberg.
“It is a track where you need a real good rhythm and I haven’t been in a rhythm all weekend,” said Hamilton.
“I couldn’t hook up the laps, couldn’t find grip, which is unusual for me.”
But despite qualifying 0.704 seconds behind his team-mate, Hamilton remains cautiously optimistic for his prospects come Sunday.
“I’ll do the best job I can from there and try and fight my way through. It’s a very hard track to overtake, so you’re usually stuck where you are – but there’s lots of safety cars at this race so lots can happen during the race.”
Red Bull Remains a Threat
Although Mercedes appears to have found some pace compared to the corresponding race in 2015, Red Bull will go into the race spirited by their quick pace during practice.
Ricciardo starts from second – qualifying 0.531 seconds behind Rosberg – but his Red Bull was faster than Mercedes when they did their race simulation runs in second practice on Friday.
To mix it up further, both Ricciardo and Verstappen will start the race on super-soft tyres – which tend to last longer – while Mercedes will be on ultra-softs.
“It was always the plan, even before the weekend,” added Ricciardo.
“We expected other teams to do it as well. I would say we are surprised we are the only ones.”
“I think we’ve created a good opportunity, starting on the front row. Our race pace was pretty good yesterday.”
“Here track position can dictate a lot and safety cars as well. We’re in a good position.”
Ferrari Wobbles Continue
Ferrari’s disappointing season almost looks certain to continue in Singapore with Vettel struggling through qualifying.
On taking to the track in Q1 he almost immediately radioed the pit wall saying that something was wrong at the front of the car but was instructed to complete the lap. Vettel responded angrily with, “This is stupid, we are losing time.”
On returning to the pits the Team Principal, Maurizio Arrivabene, could only look on despondently as it emerged that Vettel’s anti-roll bar had broken.
His team-mate, Raikkonen, starts from fifth on the grid and looks to be Ferrari’s best chance of a podium place.
The race starts at 20:00 local time and runs over 61 laps.