Vettel searing in Singapore qualifying

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel will attempt to recapture his championship lead from pole position after blitzing qualifying at the Singapore Grand Prix.

Red Bull Racing had led every practice session as well as Q1 and Q2, but Vettel improved by more than a second between Q2 and Q3 to claim pole by 0.323 seconds.

The result was sweet because Mercedes could manage only the third row — behind both Red Bull Racing cars in second and third and the second Ferrari in fourth — with Vettel’s chief title rival Lewis Hamilton set to start fifth.

But with the adrenaline of his lap still coursing through him, the German was unable to think about much more than his result.

“I don’t know,” Vettel said when asked where he found the time improvement. “I love this track.

“I struggled this morning. The car was tricky, but it came alive and it was getting better and better.

“I think I need to calm down, but for now I’m very, very happy. If you feel the car is coming alive, you can do what you want to. I knew we had it in us.”

Daniel Ricciardo was the fastest driver during Friday practice, but on Saturday morning a brush with the barriers opened the door to Max Verstappen during FP3.

Verstappen subsequently led the way for Red Bull Racing, keeping ahead of the Australian by less than a tenth of a second throughout qualifying.

“It’s just a shame we couldn’t put it on pole,” Verstappen said. “I think the final lap wasn’t great, but we were pretty close, so I’m happy with that.”

Ricciardo was obviously disappointed that he couldn’t overcome the 0.026 gap to his teammate, but he took solace in the fact that pole position was out of reach for both Red Bull Racing drivers.

“I’m a little envious today,” he said. “Seb turned it on in qualifying, but I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

Ricciardo maintained that winning the race would be the only acceptable result for him.

“I’ll accept a little bit of defeat today, but tomorrow I’m still confident we’ll get victory.”

Hamilton was 0.635 seconds off Vettel’s time in fifth place, and the Briton was a similar margin ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas in sixth.

Mercedes expected to struggle in Singapore relative to Ferrari, but the appearance of Red Bull Racing between the two title-contending teams could make the weekend particularly costly points-wise for the Silver Arrows.

Nico Hülkenberg qualified seventh for Renault, just 0.1 seconds ahead of McLaren-Honda’s Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne and one second ahead of Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz.

With the track improving extremely quickly, all 15 drivers competed throughout the session — not even Red Bull Racing felt safe — and when the chequered flag fell Jolyon Palmer was the quickest man caught without a spot in the top 10.

However, the Briton, who is fighting to keep his seat from the Malaysian Grand Prix onwards after being told he won’t have a drive with Renault in 2018, was almost 0.3 seconds outside the top 10 and more than a second slower than his teammate.

Force India’s Sergio Perez complained of poor grip on his final run, which left him P12 and ahead of Daniil Kvyat’s Toro Rosso in P13.

Esteban Ocon qualified the second Force India car fourteenth, ahead of Romain Grosjean’s Haas.

The Singapore circuit had lacked grip for much of the day — a problem made worse by an oil spill during a support category — which meant that lap times improved throughout the first session as the tarmac cleaned up.

The rapidly accelerating conditions enabled Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne to place their McLaren cars in the top five and allowed Jolyon Palmer and the two Toro Rosso drivers to punch above their weight.

Red Bull Racing concluded the first session in first and second; Mercedes, however, was adrift in the midfield and Ferrari came perilously close to the knockout zone in P11 and P12.

In a tricky session for all drivers Felipe Massa clobbered the wall with his right-rear wheel, separating the tyre from the rim.

Fortunately the pit lane was only a few metres away from the scene of the accident, allowing for a quick turnaround of the Brazilian’s car, but the work was in vain, with the Williams car too uncompetitive to make it out of Q1.

Massa led teammate Lance Stroll in P17 and P18, the pair 2.0 and 2.7 seconds off the pace respectively and headed by Kevin Magnussen’s Haas.

Sauber duo Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson, both of whom are fighting to keep their seats next season against competition from Ferrari-backed junior drivers, qualified at the back of the grid in P19 and P20, notwithstanding a five-place grid for a gearbox change applying to Ericsson’s car.