Charles Leclerc will start the Singapore Grand Prix on pole position after edging out Sergio Perez and Lewis Hamilton in a sensational conclusion to a wet-dry qualifying session at Marina Bay Street Circuit.
After a final practice session in the rain, conditions improved considerably during the build-up to qualifying and, while the intermediates featured in Q1 and Q2, slicks were used across the board for the fastest laps of the decisive phase of Q3.
As for the pole position shootout, it was Leclerc who emerged amid a flurry of late wins as the drivers pushed the limits amid ever-improving grip levels. His 1m 49.412s puts him just 0.022s ahead of Perez and 0.054s ahead of Hamilton.
Max Verstappen had to drop a final lap that could have put him on the line as he was called into the pits by his Red Bull team – leading to a rude radio message as the reigning world champion took a modest eighth place.
Running of the red bulls
Carlos Sainz finished fourth in the other Ferrari, while Alpine’s Fernando Alonso, McLaren’s Lando Norris and AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly all capitalized on the Verstappen drama to take positions five to seven. Haas Kevin Magnussen and Yuki Tsunoda’s other AlphaTauri round out the top 10.
A shock development in Q2 saw George Russell retire in 11th as he struggled to keep pace with team-mate Hamilton. Aston Martin pair Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel sandwiched Mick Schumacher’s second Haas 12th and 14th respectively, with Zhou Guanyu 15th.
Valtteri Bottas fell at the first qualifying hurdle after a late improvement from Schumacher demoted him, while Daniel Ricciardo suffered his third Q1 outing in seven weekends, taking 17th place. Esteban Ocon had a painful run to 18th – ahead of only Williams pair Alex Albon and Nicholas Latifi – after experiencing brake issues.
Can Leclerc convert pole position into victory at the 2022 Singapore Grand Prix? Or can Verstappen engineer another comeback as he targets title glory? Sunday’s 61-lap race is set to start at 2000 local time, with live coverage and breaking news on F1.com.
Qualifying Highlights: Singapore Grand Prix
HOW IT HAPPENED
Q1 – A wet start under the lights of Marina Bay
After a soggy FP3 session, the rain clouds moved away from the Marina Bay area and – with the typical Singapore heat and humidity in full force during the two-hour break – the track had cleared. considerably dried up by the time qualifying began.
Nonetheless, intermediaries were still needed when the pit lane opened up for Q1 as Hamilton kicked off proceedings with a 1m 56.937s on the green-marked rubber – nearly 15 seconds slower than Sainz’s dry benchmark from FP2.
As the session progressed, a host of drivers lowered the P1 time as they dialed themselves in – Leclerc saving a wild slide in the process – and the track accelerated, with Verstappen finishing the fastest over a 1m 53.057s.
Hamilton trailed Verstappen by a tenth in P2, but there was a significant gap to the rest of the field, with Leclerc a second off the pace in third, followed by Perez, Sainz and Russell.
Gasly, Vettel, Latifi, Tsunoda and Albon were the drivers on the brink heading into the final minutes of the session, but Gasly, Vettel and Tsunoda all managed to escape with late efforts.
Tsunoda finished eighth as he underscored the changing conditions, moving just behind Magnussen, while Alonso – who survived a spin on his final run – and Zhou completed the top 10 in rallies opening.
Vettel brushed the wall en route to 11th, with Gasly 12th, Stroll 13th, Schumacher 14th (as the last driver to improve) and Norris 15th. As Norris slipped away, Ricciardo suffered his third Q1 exit in seven race weekends as he could only manage 17th, behind Bottas’ fellow Alfa Romeo.
Ocon was a surprise name to fall on the first qualifying hurdle, despite reporting on the radio that he had “no brakes” on his way to 18th, ahead of the drivers Williams – Albon beating Latifi on his return to the cockpit.
Eliminated: Bottas, Ricciardo, Ocon, Albon and Latifi
Q2 – The track is drying up, but is it enough for slicks?
It was more or less the same when the action resumed in Q2, with the remaining 15 drivers putting in more splits and ever lower lap times – Leclerc working his way down to 1m 52.343s.
A few minutes later, with some wet spots still lingering, Leclerc called the Ferrari pit wall and asked to switch to slicks, only to be assigned a fresh set of intermediates for his final run.
With the Scuderia playing it safe, it fell to Stroll and Aston Martin to roll the dice and aim for the slicks, but the Canadian swerved at Turn 13 and suffered a half spin. Vettel and Zhou joined Stroll in switching to slicks, but the four-time world champion also had a moment at Turn 7, ending his Q3 hopes.
In the lead, Hamilton again took P2, around three-tenths off Leclerc’s time. Verstappen and Perez were next, with Alonso keeping his place in the top five. Sainz progressed to the shootout from pole in sixth, ahead of top-flight AlphaTauri pair Gasly and Tsunoda, while Norris and Magnussen were the last drivers to reach Q3.
This came unexpectedly at the expense of Russell, who missed by just 0.006 seconds after a difficult session. Referring to his struggles throughout practice, which included a few off-track excursions, he apologized to Mercedes over the radio and lamented there was “nothing he could do”.
Stroll and Vettel finished 12th and 14th respectively after their skillful bets failed, with Schumacher 13th and Zhou 15th – the rookie also struggling to turn on the red-marked rubber.
Eliminated: Russell, Stroll, Schumacher, Vettel, Zhou
Q3 – A spectacular shootout for pole position
With 10 cars remaining for Q3, the Red Bulls took the first step as Verstappen and Perez headed out on soft tires – a few more minutes had passed since Vettel, Stroll and Zhou sampled slicks.
With the sector times of the aforementioned trio looking promising late in the second quarter, Verstappen picked up the slack, although it initially looked like the middlemen could still be the way forward. Indeed, his opening lap of 1m 56.940s was far from the times seen in the previous phase.
However, a cleaner second lap demonstrated that the conditions were almost ready for smooth rubber and a wave of improvements followed, with provisional pole changing hands countless times as the clock stopped at zero.
In the end, it was Leclerc (having told Ferrari to go for softs, not in-betweens) who did enough as he stormed a 1m 49.412s to eclipse Perez and Hamilton by the finest of margins – all three pilots getting up close and personal with the barriers in the process.
Verstappen was lighting up the timesheets in the closing stages but Red Bull ordered him to retire from his final lap and return to the pits, with the Dutchman later revealing his car had been underpowered.
That left Sainz in fourth, ahead of Alonso, Norris and Gasly. Verstappen will line up eighth, needing another outstanding recovery effort if he is to claim victory and have a shot at the title this weekend. Magnussen and Tsunoda were the last runners in Q3.
“Qualifying was very tricky in Q1 and Q2 with the intermediates. Then, in the third quarter, we didn’t really know what to do. We opted for apps at the very last minute and it paid off. It was really very tricky. I made a mistake on my last lap so I thought we wouldn’t get pole, but that was just enough,” said pole-holder Leclerc.
“I’m really, really happy, especially considering the Friday we had; we had a very limited number of laps yesterday for some issues, but we recovered well. We don’t have a lot of data for the race, but if we have the perfect execution of it, I’m sure we can win.
The 2022 Singapore Grand Prix is set to start at 2000 local time on Sunday, with Leclerc leading Perez away from pole position. Visit the RACE HUB to find out more.