Lewis Hamilton is calling for a miracle to dig him out of his Singapore hole after he qualified only fifth for Sunday’s race.
Sebastian Vettel, who trails Hamilton by three points in the championship, fended off the challenge from the rampant Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo to seal the front spot here at the Marina Bay circuit by one-third of a second.
The Ferrari driver punched the air with visible delight and celebrated his 49th career pole like a victory.
With overtaking virtually impossible at this 3.2-mile street circuit – indeed seven of the previous nine pole-sitters have gone on to win – the German will start the race as the overwhelming favourite to move ahead of Hamilton and return to the summit of the title race.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team have long predicted that they would struggle at this grand prix and so it proved in qualifying with the Briton 0.635 seconds adrift of Vettel’s pole lap. His team-mate Valtteri Bottas was even further back in sixth.
The high-downforce tracks have suited Ferrari this year, and worked against Mercedes, and while it appeared at one stage as though Red Bull teenager Verstappen would become the sport’s youngest ever pole sitter, Vettel produced the goods when it mattered most.
His record-breaking lap of one minute and 39.491 seconds provided the best possible retort to both his and Ferrari’s critics following their troubles in Italy last time out.
It was Hamilton who triumphed in Ferrari’s back yard, but there were instead grimaces on the faces of Mercedes bosses Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda here in Singapore as their star man failed to trouble the top.
“I am going to have to figure out how to pull a miracle out of somewhere,” said Hamilton. “It is difficult to know what to predict at this track.
“It is not a good racing circuit because you can’t overtake as it is very hard to follow so the race is generally a procession. But there is the start which can be exciting and safety cars do often come in to play here, too.
“Strategy can also be an exciting part of the race. I have just got to keep the pressure on the guys in front without overcooking my car.”
The race in Singapore has been billed as a must-win for Vettel and the relief in his voice was palpable when he stuck his Ferrari on pole. Luck was also on his side after he escaped a thud with the barriers in the closing moments.
“I was a bit lucky on the final lap because I brushed the wall on the exit of turn 19,” Vettel said. “It was not just a little brush either, it was actually a hit.
“It was fine until I approached the final corner and then I had huge vibrations, but thankfully there was only one corner left. Grid position is crucial here. There are a lot of things we need to get right so we should focus on ourselves.”
Away from the track, Hamilton, 32, has also revealed this weekend that he will be adapting his diet after watching the pro-vegan Netflix film ‘What the Health’.
Explaining his decision, Hamilton added: “I love animals, and this documentary is really insightful. The pollution that is coming from producing cows is incredible. They say it is more than what we emit with our cars and flights.
“I want to live a healthy life. I don’t want to have diabetes, or heart and cancer issues which have been in my family. I don’t want to catch any of that stuff.”