SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel put himself on pole position to retake the Formula One lead from Lewis Hamilton with a sensational late lap in Singapore Grand Prix qualifying on Saturday.
Hamilton, who leads the German by three points with seven rounds remaining, qualified his Mercedes only fifth for Sunday’s night race with team mate Valtteri Bottas set to start alongside in sixth.
Dutch teenager Max Verstappen will start second for Red Bull, after going fastest in the first two phases of qualifying, with Australian team mate Daniel Ricciardo third and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen fourth.
Vettel, who lost the lead to Hamilton at the previous race in Italy, is a four times winner in Singapore and the pole was also his fourth in the city state as well as the 49th of his Formula One career.
It was also his third of the season but he had to put everything on the line when it really mattered to beat the Red Bulls in a close-run session, lighting up the timing screens with a lap of one minute 39.491 seconds.
“I’m still full of adrenaline so maybe whatever I say doesn’t make any sense,” a breathless Vettel, who let out a loud whoop of joy over the team-radio, said after he stepped out of the car.
“The car was tricky but it came alive and it was getting better and better as the night progressed, so I‘m really happy that we got it done.”
Red Bull had topped the timesheets in every session leading up to qualifying and had looked on course for their first front row lockout since the U.S. Grand Prix in 2013, with Verstappen also fastest in the opening two phases of qualifying.
Had he been on pole, the 19-year-old would have been the youngest driver in the history of the sport to start from the top slot.
“I think the final lap was not great but we were quite close so I’m pretty happy with that,” said the Dutch driver, who turns 20 in two weeks’ time.
“During the race it will be difficult to pass him so we have to see on the first lap.”
Ricciardo, a winner in Azerbaijan in June, also remained confident.
“I’m still confident we’ll get victory. I think we’ve got a good package. Seb turned it on in qualifying but I’m looking forward to tomorrow,” said the Australian.