That's magic! Hamilton scorches to Singapore pole

Singapore (AFP) –


Formula One championship leader Lewis Hamilton scorched to Singapore Grand Prix pole position with a "magic" lap that left title rival Sebastian Vettel down in the dumps on Saturday.

Max Verstappen of Red Bull will start on the front row for Sunday's race alongside Hamilton after crossing the line 0.319sec behind the Englishman's blistering 1min 36.015, but an exasperated Vettel could only manage third.

"That felt like magic," said a beaming Hamilton of his stunning lap record at the Marina Bay street circuit -- an astonishing 3.476 seconds quicker than last year's pole effort by Vettel.

"It was really special, I don't think there was a bad moment in the lap. It was just perfect," he added.

"I don't know where it came from but it all came together. It's one of the best laps I can remember. I am overwhelmed."

Ferrari's Vettel, who is 30 points behind Hamilton in the title race with seven races to go, cut a glum figure after encountering traffic on his flying laps and only managing a best effort of 1:36.628.

"It's not ideal obviously, we wanted to get pole and didn't," Vettel scowled.

The German is running out of time to make inroads into Hamilton's lead and Ferrari had targeted Singapore with its twisty, high downforce layout as a place they could turn the tables on Mercedes, a team that usually struggles in the Lion City.

But now Vettel will have to find a way past the flying Hamilton on one of the most difficult overtaking tracks if he is to close the gap, as both men chase their fifth drivers' world championship.

- Gone in 60 minutes -

"It was a messy qualifying session and there was too much time missing so we didn't get any better than third," he fumed.

"For sure I'm not happy with today. Qualifying wasn't as smooth as it should've been, other people did better than us. There was a lot of other cars around but you can't blame it on that. Both laps weren't great. I think we have a good car so let's see."

Verstappen had complained about a lack of power all through Saturday's third practice session in his Red Bull, so the 20-year-old was excited to be on the front row for a second year in succession.

"Honestly this feels like a victory," said the delighted Dutchman.

"The amount of problems we have had in qualifying with the engine, to be second is unbelievable and that shows we have an amazing car."

Verstappen said that with a good run to the first corner when the lights go out on Sunday he could put himself in with a chance of winning.

"We just have to make sure we have a clean start then after that everything is possible," he said. "We need to sort out the engine but I'm very happy with the car."

Hamilton's teammate Valtteri Bottas will join Vettel on the second row of the grid.

"Everyone knows it's going to be difficult to overtake here," said Bottas, who predicted a three-way tussle to the chequered flag between Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.

"All three teams will be close and find it difficult because we're all going for the same thing."

Kimi Raikkonen was fifth in the second Ferrari and a visibly upset Daniel Ricciardo, who has finished runner-up for the past three years in Singapore, was sixth fastest in his Red Bull.

The Australian was at a loss to explain his lack of performance after being fastest in both first practice on Friday and the first qualifying session, only to see his victory hopes virtually gone in 60 minutes.

"It fell away in the space of an hour and we don't know why. I'm a little bit emotional," said Ricciardo. "I want to figure out and understand why we lost out so much."