Sebastian Vettel took a huge step towards overturning Formula 1 rival Lewis Hamilton’s lead in the drivers’ championship by taking an emphatic pole position on Saturday night in Singapore.
With arguably one of the finest qualifying displays of his illustrious F1 career, Vettel eked every last tenth of a second out of his Ferrari en route to his 49th pole position, and his fourth in Singapore.
Hamilton was left to settle for fifth as Mercedes lacked the pace to fight with Red Bull or Ferrari around the streets of Marina Bay, running as the third-fastest team.
Hamilton’s three-point advantage in the drivers’ championship looks precarious, but as Singapore has taught us time and time again, this race is rarely a straightforward one.
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Here’s what to watch for in today’s race.
2017 Singapore Grand Prix – What to watch for
Vettel ready to extend excellent Singapore record
Sebastian Vettel has always been a force around the streets of Singapore, but could make it his most successful track in F1 with a fifth win on Sunday from pole position.
Vettel didn’t get in a good groove until the very end of qualifying, having trailed the Red Bull drivers in every single session up to Q3, but was able to deliver a knock-out blow when it mattered.
Vettel’s big challenge now will be to keep the charging Red Bulls at bay. Questions may still linger about Ferrari’s race pace, but with overtaking being so difficult in Singapore, with a good start, victory could be his for the taking.
Red Bull ready to win on merit?
Daniel Ricciardo has been in a defiant mood in Singapore. After topping both FP1 and FP2 on Friday, he boldly set his sights on a “dominant” weekend, and then despite falling short in qualifying, ending up P3, the Australian said: “I’m still confident we will get victory.”
Red Bull started the year well off the pace compared to Ferrari and Mercedes, and while the nature of the Singapore circuit may play to the strengths of the RB13 car, to even be within a shout of winning a race on merit – Baku was largely down to good fortune – is an impressive feat.
With both Ricciardo and Max Verstappen at the sharp end of the field, Red Bull could play it smart and split its strategies to try and force Ferrari and Vettel into a mistake.
Mercedes facing race of damage limitation
Not since the Singapore Grand Prix two years ago has Mercedes looked as weak as it does this weekend, with its struggles to dial in its W08 cars to the street course putting it on course for a race of damage limitation.
Lewis Hamilton will start down in fifth today, meaning his three-point lead at the top of the drivers’ championship is in serious doubt, particularly with Vettel on pole.
While incidents could occur and vault Mercedes up the order, as things stand, it’s not looking all that good for the German marque.
Hulkenberg ready to break an unwanted record
The tight fight in F1’s midfield looks set to continue in Singapore, with the form-book being flipped from Monza as Renault and McLaren emerge as the leading teams to be ‘best of the rest’ behind the big three.
For Nico Hulkenberg, today’s race may see him become an F1 record holder – but not for good reasons. On his 129th start, he is poised to become the driver with the most race starts in F1 history not to score a podium, breaking Adrian Sutil’s record.
Renault does look in good shape this weekend, so could benefit should a crazy race ensue, but McLaren is also flexing its muscle at a track where its Honda engine woes are not so damning.
Strategy hard to play, but could rain come into force?
The Singapore Grand Prix is one of the most unpredictable on the calendar when it comes to incidents and safety cars, making any kind of firm strategy hard to define pre-race.
Many of the backmarkers may opt to come in at the end of the first lap in anticipation of an early safety car, while the front-runners will know that bridging the gap between one and two stops is a risky thing to do.
Keep an eye on how Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes play things at the front, and what the midfielders will do to try and capitalize on any craziness – including rain, which is hammering down at the time of writing in Singapore.
2017 Singapore Grand Prix – Starting Grid
1. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
2. Max Verstappen Red Bull
3. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
4. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
5. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
6. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes
7. Nico Hulkenberg Renault
8. Fernando Alonso McLaren
9. Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren
10. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
11. Jolyon Palmer Renault
12. Sergio Perez Force India
13. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
14. Esteban Ocon Force India
15. Romain Grosjean Haas
16. Kevin Magnussen Haas
17. Felipe Massa Williams
18. Lance Stroll Williams
19. Pascal Wehrlein Sauber
20. Marcus Ericsson Sauber*
* Five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change.