Sebastian Vettel tore up the formbook in qualifying for the Singapore Grand Prix on Saturday night as he stormed to their first pole position since joining Ferrari at the beginning of the 2015 season.
This season has been all about one team: Mercedes. The dominance that the German marque enjoyed in 2014 has extended into the current season, and although Vettel has swooped to two victories, few expected him to take pole as convincingly as he did at Marina Bay.
Even fewer could have predicted Mercedes struggling so much in qualifying, for Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg could only finish fifth and sixth in Q3, leaving them on the third row of the grid for today’s race.
It was left to Ferrari and Red Bull in the fight for top honors, and although Daniel Ricciardo did put up a fight and score his first front row start in 18 months, no-one could stop Vettel. The margin of half a second prompted the re-emergence of his famous ‘finger’ celebration, harking back to his heyday in 2013 when such results were the norm.
Qualifying lived up to all of the expectations that we had, and has created a fascinating state of play ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday (live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7:30am ET).
2015 Singapore Grand Prix – What To Watch For
2013-SPEC SEB IS BACK IN TOWN
Sebastian Vettel’s victory in the 2013 Singapore Grand Prix was arguably one of his best for Red Bull. After a safety car period wiped away his advantage, the German driver pulled away from the field at two seconds per lap to give himself a crushing victory. It was Vettel at the very peak of his powers.
On Saturday in Singapore, we saw that same Vettel return (if he has ever left, that is). He has proved many of his critics wrong with Ferrari in 2015, and the manner of his pole position arguably makes it his biggest success to date. Converting it into a third victory would be a considerable achievement, and judging by his pace, it would take a brave man to bet against him.
RED BULL LURKS AND LINGERS
Don’t discount Red Bull just yet though. Daniel Ricciardo and Daniel Kvyat qualified second and fourth respectively on Saturday, split by Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari car. The pace shown by both drivers in practice over the long runs on Friday is certainly encouraging, suggest we’re in for a close fight for the win on Sunday.
Ricciardo spoke on Saturday about his new-found comfort with the RB11 car since the Hungarian Grand Prix in July, and with the nature of the Marina Bay Street Circuit masking the deficiencies of the Renault power unit, Red Bull could, much like Vettel, throw it back to 2013 with a win in Singapore.
Ferrari remains the favorite, but it’s far from being a foregone conclusion.
DAMAGE LIMITATION THE GOAL FOR MERCEDES
“Damage limitation” and “Mercedes” don’t ordinarily mix in F1 nowadays. And yet on Sunday in Singapore, it appears to be about all that the German marque can truly hope for. Both Hamilton and Rosberg struggled to find any kind of pace in qualifying, finishing 1.4 seconds behind Vettel’s pace.
To make matters worse, no-one at Mercedes seemed capable of putting their finger on the problem. Was it the tires? Was it the setup? Whatever it was, it’s unlikely to have changed much for the race on Sunday.
A good start could take both Hamilton and Rosberg into the scrap for the podium, but barring a drastic change in fortunes, the points swing in the championship will be just a handful of points. For Rosberg, it’s probably a good thing – falling 60 points behind Hamilton would leave his already-blighted title bid surely in tatters.
The close battle in the midfield is only set to rage on in Singapore on Sunday as the race to follow home Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes (the likely top six finishers) looks hard to predict.
Williams and Toro Rosso appeared to enjoy the edge on their midfield rivals in qualifying on Saturday, but with Force India showing good signs of pace throughout the weekend, Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg could yet come into play once the lights go out on Sunday.
The team to keep an eye on will be McLaren as Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button go in search of their third points finishes of the 2015 season. Just as we’re seeing with Red Bull, McLaren’s power unit problems are less damaging in Singapore, giving the team hope of a top ten finish.
ROSSI FLIES THE FLAG
2,982 days since the last American driver started a grand prix, Alexander Rossi will bring the drought to an end when he realizes a life-long dream and lines up on the grid on Sunday. Although his maiden qualifying outing with Manor was largely disappointing (he finished last), Rossi has made a big impression given his lack of recent F1 experience.
Rossi will be hoping to run teammate Will Stevens close in the race, and their intra-team scrap will offer a good insight into just how he compares to a full-time driver.
Regardless of his result, the American flag will be flying high once again in Singapore on Sunday.
STARTING GRID FOR THE 2015 SINGAPORE GRAND PRIX
1. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
2. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
3. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
4. Daniil Kvyat Red Bull
5. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
6. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
7. Valtteri Bottas Williams
8. Max Verstappen Toro Rosso
9. Felipe Massa Williams
10. Romain Grosjean Lotus
11. Nico Hulkenberg Force India
12. Fernando Alonso McLaren
13. Sergio Perez Force India
14. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
15. Jenson Button McLaren
16. Felipe Nasr Sauber
17. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
18. Pastor Maldonado Lotus
19. Will Stevens Manor
20. Alexander Rossi Manor
The Singapore Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7:30am ET on Sunday.