Nico Rosberg will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole position alongside Daniel Ricciardo after Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton failed to fire.
The German, who trails Hamilton by two points in the championship, dominated the session, his 1 minute 42.584 seconds was more than half a second quicker than any other driver in Q3.
“Definitely happy with that one for my 200th grand prix,” he said. “It really went well.”
“At times it wasn’t clear in qualifying how we were going to stack up against Red Bull because they were very quick on Q2
“I knew I had to give it everything, and I pulled one out of the bag, which was cool.”
Doubts about Mercedes’s form in Singapore persisted after inconclusive practice times, but in qualifying the runaway constructors champion stretched its legs.
Its advantage should have been sufficient to ease into a front row lockout, but an error-strewn lap by Hamilton at the end of Q3 opened the door to Red Bull Racing’s Ricciardo to steal second.
The pressure has been on Red Bull Racing all weekend after the team publically pinned its best hopes of a second victory on the tight and twisty Singapore circuit, but Ricciardo refused to get ahead of himself.
“The aim was to try to be on the front row,” confirmed Ricciardo. “We knew it’d be hard to get in front of the Mercedes, but it was nice to at least get one.
“The last lap in Q3 was clean — it probably wasn’t as good as Nico’s, but it was clean and good enough.”
Hamilton, twice a winner at Singapore, had little choice but to admit he had been outclassed.
“It’s just not been my weekend so far,” he said. “I haven’t had many good laps out there and haven’t been able to string them together.
“Hopefully tomorrow I’ll try to at least get one step ahead to get that front row for the team.”
Max Verstappen qualified fourth and, like teammate Ricciardo in second, set his fastest Q2 time on the supersoft tyre, allowing both Red Bull Racing cars to start on the more durable tyre.
Neither Mercedes attempted to do the same in Q2, setting up a fascinating strategic battle between the top four drivers in the race.
Kimi Räikkönen was Ferrari sole representative in Q3 after teammate Sebastian Vettel’s car failed in Q1, but the Finn was 0.2 seconds behind Verstappen and almost a second off Rosberg’s pace to classify P5.
Toro Rosso made good on its promise to deliver strong results at a circuit that negated its outdated Ferrari power unit. Carlos Sainz qualified sixth, two-tenths ahead of teammate Daniil Kvyat.
Force India’s Nico Hülkenberg qualified eighth and Sergio Perez tenth, split by McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.
With the Singapore Grand Prix poised between a two and three-stop race, Red Bull Racing chose to equip its drivers with supersoft tyres as opposed to the faster ultrasofts for Q2, which would allow them to start the race on the more durable tyre.
Unlike in Italy, where the power-hungry straights left the team too far off the pace, both Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen comfortably set the third and fourth-fastest times of the session.
The decision could put the team at a significant advantage in the race with the only drivers in the top 10 not required to start on the most delicate tyre.
The top five — including Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen behind the Bulls — were satisfied with their first run times, leaving 11 cars to compete for the remaining five top-10 spots.
Both Toro Rosso cars made it through ahead of Fernando Alonso’s McLaren and both Force India cars, but yellow flags truncated the final runs for Romain Grosjean’s crashed Haas.
The Frenchman’s car snapped out of control at turn 10, embedding him sideway but unhurt in the barrier.
Both Williams cars were caught out by the late-session yellow flags, with Valtteri Bottas leading Felipe Massa in eleventh and twelfth.
Jenson Button qualified thirteenth after picking up damage from a brush with the walls on his final lap, ahead of Haas teammates Esteban Gutierrez and Grosjean.
Sauber’s sole Q2 entrant, Marcus Ericsson, made one attempt at a fast lap early in the session, but couldn’t manage any better than P16.
After an inconclusive series of practice sessions the opening segment of qualifying began to hint at the true pace of the front-running cars.
The usual suspects were closely match at the front, with Mercedes, Ferrari, and Red Bull Racing all threatening at the top of the time sheets.
One of the fastest six was missing form the action, however — Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was knocked out of the session with an apparent rear anti-roll bar failure.
The German, winner in Singapore 12 months ago, identified the problem with fewer than 10 minutes remaining on the track, and his pit wall decided to have its driver set a time rather than take the risk of attempting to repair the car and running out of time to return to the track.
The gamble backfired, however, and it soon became clear that the Vettel’s SF16-H wasn’t capable of setting a time, leaving him in P22.
Eliminated ahead of him was Renault duo Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer in seventeenth and nineteenth, split by Sauber’s Felipe Nasr.
Manor duo Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon were almost a second off the pace of their backmarker competitors for P20 and P21.