FORMULA ONE: Charles Leclerc has taken pole ahead of Sergio Perez and Lewis Hamilton in an unpredictable damp qualifying hour in Singapore.
Title leader Max Verstappen was forced to abandon a final lap that was set to take him to pole position due to running low on fuel.
Torrential rain struck Singapore in the hours before Saturday practice, and the track wasn’t yet fully dry by the time qualifying started, with intermediate-weather tyres used for most of the session.
It wasn’t until the top-10 shootout that the dry-weather tyres broke cover, but with some standing water still on track, all drivers were fuelled to stay out for the entire 12-minute segment to ensure they were on track when conditions were at their best.
Lap times improved rapidly as the grip improved, and as the chequered flag flew Leclerc was leading Sergio Perez by just 0.022 seconds, with Lewis Hamilton 0.032 seconds further back.
But Verstappen was on a charge. Having just had to abandon a rapid penultimate lap after a big crack of oversteer underneath the grandstands in the final sector, he was on another flyer that was set to rocket him past Leclerc by at least half a second.
The team ended the lap early, however, when it radioed the Dutchman to return to pit lane. A furious radio exchange ensued, but the Dutchman obeyed the order.
The team later confirmed Verstappen was running low on fuel. If he’d finished qualifying without enough to supply a fuel sample, he’d have been sent to the back of the grid.
Leclerc was off the hook to take his ninth pole of the season.
“It’s been a very, very tricky qualifying,” he said. “Overall I managed to do quite a clean lap and it worked well.
“It was really, really special.
“If we do the perfect execution, I’m sure we can win.”
Sergio Perez was just 0.022 seconds off taking his second pole of the season after the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix earlier in the year but said he was hopeful he could make the most of his front-row start regardless.
“I think it’s a good opportunity tomorrow at the start to attack Charles and go for the win,” he said. “It’s quite disappointing to miss out on pole by 0.2 seconds, but at the end of the day it’s a great team result.”
“Really happy, solid job.”
Hamilton was an early Q3 leader before being pipped for the front row, but the Briton said it felt rewarding to be in pole contention again and end up with his best qualifying result of the season.
“I was pushing so hard,” he said. “It was so, so close, I was trying so hard.
“I really thought maybe with a perfect lap, which was really hard to get, that we could be fighting for first place. I just didn’t have the grip.
“Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day.”
Carlos Sainz completed the top four at 0.171 seconds off his teammate but will ensure that Ferrari has a key strategic advantage against the individual cars of Perez and Hamilton.
Fernando Alonso was superb to take fifth and 0.6 seconds quicker than any other midfielder.
Lando Norris was an unexpectedly competitive sixth after a difficult Friday for McLaren had the team expecting the worst ‒ the Briton even came perilously close to being knocked out in Q1.
Pierre Gasly was seventh ahead of Verstappen, with Kevin Magnussen and Yuki Tsunoda completing the top 10.
George Russell was a surprise elimination in 11th on a weekend that Mercedes had hoped it might be able to win its first race of the season. The Briton struggled with braking over the bumps, particularly on his ageing intermediate-weather tyres.
Lance Stroll was 12th for Aston Martin after gambling on slick tyres too early. He beat Haas driver Mick Schumacher, who will start 13th.
Sebastian Vettel and Zhou Guanyu also sampled the slicks but were knocked out 14th and 15th.
Valtteri Bottas pipped Daniel Ricciardo to 16th as the first drivers to be eliminated from the damp Q1 session, with all cars on intermediates for the start of the hour.
Esteban Ocon suffered brake problems on his way to 18th for Alpine, 13 positions behind teammate Alonso.
Thai driver Alex Albon, back in the car despite being in ICU after an appendectomy three weeks ago, beat Williams teammate Nicholas Latifi to 19th and 20th at the back of the grid.