Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari survived a brush with the wall on his final flying lap as the German used every inch of the track (plus a little extra) in his bid to dethrone the impressive Red Bulls on the twisty street circuit. It was just enough, his lap being three tenths of a second quicker than Max Verstappen's best effort.
"Woohoo! Yes yes yes yes yes! I had to go for it!," Vettel cried over team radio after setting the time, presumably in part as an apology to the mechanic who'll be charged with checking the bodywork before tomorrow's race. The lap came as something of a shock, given that Ferrari had struggled in practice and looked well adrift of Red Bull.
"Yesterday was difficult, this afternoon was difficult but tonight the car just came alive," Vettel said after the session. "I knew we had it in us. It was a bit of a struggle to get there but now I'm just happy."
Verstappen, who would have taken Vettel's record as F1's youngest ever pole-sitter but for the German's late lap, was followed by his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo. Kimi Raikkonnen claimed fourth in the other Ferrari, more than half a second behind his teammate.
Lewis Hamilton could only manage fifth as Mercedes seemed to struggle on the Singapore streets. Hamilton's teammate Valtteri Bottas had an even tougher time, but still secured a spot besides the Brit on the third row.
Germany's Nico Hülkenberg had another impressive outing for Renault, qualifying seventh, while the horse-power-light McLaren Hondas of Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandorne fared comparatively well on the twisty track, qualifying eighth and ninth. Carlos Sainz rounded out the top 10.
Vettel, who trails Hamilton by three points in the championship, will hope to cash in on Sunday. On a track where overtaking can be tough, he will start with a three-car—including his own teammate—between him and his title rival.
Wheeling and dealing in the 'Lion City'
Singapore has become a key political venue on the F1 calendar—a late season magnet for the super-wealthy and the sponsors, rather like Monaco in spring. As a result, the race weekend has coincided with the standard flurry of political F1 headlines and announcements.
McLaren have ended their engine partnership with Honda, and will be using Renault power plants next season. Honda, which the powers that be were keen to keep in a sport with only four engine suppliers, will be moving across to Red Bull junior team Toro Rosso. In related but not directly connected news, Red Bull has also announced that its engine partnership with Renault will end after the 2018 season, but it's not yet clear who they'll be switching to.
Similarly, some of the last pieces of the driver market puzzle clicked into place. Mercedes extended Valtteri Bottas' contract, while Fernando Alonso is believed to be close to a new deal with McLaren, which was contingent on the Woking team ditching their Honda motor, or as Alonso likes to call it, their "GP2 engine."Mark Hallam