McLaren’s excellent mid-season form has continued into the far east with Lewis Hamilton (1:46.362) claiming pole position under the lights at the 2012 Singapore Grand Prix. On a blistering lap he managed to escape harm after brushing the wall on the way to his third pole position from the last four races and the 24th of his career.
Sebastian Vettel had been looking good to fulfill Red Bull’s promise of greater success in the fly away races by topping the time sheets in all three Free Practice sessions. In the end P3 (1:46.905) was the best the dual world champion could manage, with a sizeable gap of five tenths back to Lewis.
Splitting the two front runners was the unlikely Pastor Maldonado for Williams (1:46.804). The Venezuelan is prone to moments of raw pace, but his sometimes arguable racecraft may strike fear into Hamilton and Vettel when the lights go out to start the race.
The top six is rounded out by Jenson Button (McLaren, 1:46.939), Fernando Alonso (Ferrari, 1:47.216) and Paul di Resta (Force India, 1:47.241).
Mark Webber (1:47.475) put his Red Bull into P7, but is under investigation for impeding Timo Glock (Marussia) in Q1. Any penalty would surely frustrate the Australian immensely.
The usual Toro Rosso qualifying result of Daniel Ricciardo being one place ahead of his teammate, Jean-Eric Vergne, has come to fruition once again. They’ll start from P15 and P16 respectively.
And before we bring you the transcript from the first three qualifiers we can’t let it go unmentioned that Pedro de la Rosa (HRT, 1:53.355) will drop five places from the last spot on the grid due an early gearbox change. We wonder, in order to give this penalty any merit, should Charlie Whiting hold Pedro on the line for a cheeky second or so at the start?
[Pic: Red Bull/Getty Images]
UPDATE: Good news for Webber, with Autosport reporting the stewards let him off with a reprimand.
Singapore GP – Conference 3
1 – Lewis HAMILTON (McLaren)
2 – Pastor MALDONADO (Williams)
3 – Sebastian VETTEL (Red Bull Racing)
Lewis, a phenomenal margin, very, very quick indeed, well done.
Lewis HAMILTON: Thank you. The guys have done a fantastic job all week and to come here with some small things that have improved from the last race. Obviously we have high downforce here so we weren’t sure where we would turn out against the others but obviously Sebastian was incredibly fast through most of the sessions, I’m not really sure what happened in the end. Nonetheless I’m very happy that I was able to pull that time out. A great lap, I’m very happy with it.
It must be a very, very difficult circuit indeed. We saw you make a couple of mistakes in Q1, very tricky around here?
LH: Oh, it is. It is absolutely. Just trying to find the gaps is quite difficult, particularly in Q1. And making sure your tyres are up to temperature, making sure your brakes are up to temperature without using them before you start your lap. And yeah, the first few laps I did on the prime was quite poor and I feel very fortunate that I was able to get at least one lap on them, so I didn’t have to go again.
Pastor, where did that lap come from? Well done.
Pastor MALDONADO: We were working very hard because at the beginning of the weekend and during the practice we were a little bit lost with the setup and yeah, we were improving, especially during the quali, y’know, during the qualifying just trying to adapt the car to my style. We find naturally very well balanced, especially in Q2 and then Q3. I’m really looking forward to the race because yesterday we showed very good pace, very consistent so I think it’s going to be a good one for us this time.
Sebastian, fastest in all three practice sessions. A little bit disappointed with third on the grid?
Sebastian VETTEL. Yeah, a little disappointed. Especially Q3. I don’t know why we couldn’t do the step. Nevertheless, third is a good position to start from. There is a long race tomorrow, a lot of things that can happen. I think the pace is there, we’ve proven throughout the weekend – but surely if you don’t do the last step in qualifying it’s a shame, because I think the speed was there. So, yeah, it didn’t come together in the end.
Lewis, a final thought on tomorrow’s race. What are the main factors?
LH: It’s an incredibly tough circuit for tyre degradation, as we have at pretty much every track but especially as it’s hot and humid here. So I think everyone is going to struggle with that, and I think we just have to try and get away cleanly at the start and stick to the strategy that we have planned and be prepared if it doesn’t work.
So Lewis, well done, obviously as you say, tyre degradation the big thing but the walls… so many different factors, so many difficult things, and the heat as well, and at an anti-clockwise circuit. It must be a really tough circuit, this?
LH: It is, and I think everyone here will see that tomorrow. I think we all felt that with our long runs. Hopefully we’ve done the work we need to do to hopefully put together a good package tomorrow. We’ve put ourselves in the best position so I hope that we will be able to capitalise on that tomorrow.
Pastor, again it’s fantastic that you’re once again so close. Is this because it’s a similar circuit, do you feel, to Barcelona?
PM: It’s completely different than Barcelona. Especially because the lack of grip. We were struggling a little bit to put the car together but, including the qualifying, we managed to find a very good balance and we are really looking forward to tomorrow. Yesterday we did a couple of long runs and it’s looking pretty good for us. The tyre degradation I mean. So I’m really looking forward.
Sebastian, any further worries about alternators or is that firmly behind you?
SV: There’s no guarantee. It’s hard to get a guarantee on anything in life, so we’ll see. So far we didn’t have any problems, no signs. Monza was a different story. Obviously we had a failure on Saturday and Sunday. Today no failures and hopefully tomorrow we’ll be fine as well. So no concerns.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (Michael Schmidt – Auto, Motor und Sport) Sebastian, what happened in Q3, you seemed to have lost the speed a little bit?
SV: Yeah, I don’t know to be honest. I think the speed was there but we weren’t able to really improve, whereas in Q2 I got the lap in reasonably safely and I was a little bit off Lewis, I think, one and a half tenths. I was confident that we can go quicker somewhere, lower in the 46s region. I think Lewis’s time in Q3 was very quick so… if, could, would, should… we don’t know but I think the pace was there to do better than what we did in Q2 but in Q3 we just couldn’t pick and in the end I was even struggling to repeat the lap I did in the beginning, so yeah, obviously a bit disappointing but I think the speed is there. We have been competitive throughout the weekend. The race is very long here, a lot of things can happen – safety cars – so it’s important to be in the right place at the right time and then we go from there.
Q: (Kate Walker – Girl Racer) For all three of you: every race that we’ve had here has featured some safety cars, so to what extent do you guys take that into account for your own strategies in the race?
LH: Well, I think for us as drivers we just have to be ready to react, hope that it’s neither of us and then we just leave it to the team to work on what we have to do. They will direct us what we have to do with fuel-wise and all those kind of things.
PM: I agree. I think either we need to be fully focused in this race on the conditions very very hot, very warm and we need to put everything together to get a good performance. It’s not only from our side, the team has to work together.
SV: It’s difficult to know what happens. You can’t drive round waiting for the safety car, to have a break but obviously there’s little run-off here and we saw in free practice that if a car stops on the circuit then it’s already enough to have yellow flags at least and a potential safety car in the race. It’s difficult to know what happens but we’ll see tomorrow I guess. So far we’ve always had one as far as I can remember.
Q: (Frederic Ferret – L’Equipe) To all three of you: how confident are you that you can overtake tomorrow during the race?
PM: I think it’s possible to overtake here, especially because of the big tyre degradation that we will have tomorrow. I think everybody will be struggling with the tyres at some time, but the strategy-wise must be really good for everyone, just to try to be consistent but I think here it’s possible to overtake. We have a long straight, good DRS, it’s not going to be very easy but we have a couple of places.
LH: Yeah, I think he’s said it pretty good. You can overtake here.
SV: Yeah, it’s not the easiest circuit but it’s not impossible.
Q: (Andrea Cremonesi – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Lewis, looking at the TV in slow motion, we saw that you touched the wall a little bit on the last lap. What happened? Did you feel something in the car or is it OK?
LH: I did?
Q: (Andrea Cremonesi – La Gazzetta dello Sport) …touched the wall a little bit.
LH: Yessss. That means I’m using all the road. I didn’t mean to and I didn’t feel it so it hopefully hasn’t done any damage but I honestly didn’t feel it.
Q: (Ian Parkes – PA) Lewis, we’ve not seen too much emotion from you when you’ve got out of the car, either here today or following the victory in Italy. I’m just wondering if there’s any particular reason for that.
LH: No, I’m pretty happy.
Q: (Ian Parkes – PA) Really? Because you don’t seem to be.
LH: I am.
Q: (Ian Parkes – PA) Was it tough out there today, because obviously you’re sitting there fanning yourself with a sleeve of your overalls? Was it a really tough one for you?
LH: It’s easy for you to sit in your shorts – if you’re wearing shorts – and T-shirt but I’ve got like three or so layers on and I’ve got this extra jacket on which doesn’t help. It’s pretty warm.
Q: (Matt Coch – pitpass.com) To all three of you: Pastor mentioned tyre degradation. The supersofts don’t last a great length of time. The guys behind you, the Mercedes guys, didn’t set a time so they’ve got a choice of tyres. How worried are you about the start of the race and what the guys behind you are doing for when you come out of the stops?
SV: I think that hopefully by the time we pit we have a big gap to the guys who are maybe on a different strategy. I think it’s difficult to know now how long we will be able to stay out. Obviously we have a rough idea. I think we’re all on the same tyre and the same amount of laps so we will see when the lights go off but I think it will be a difficult race for tyre degradation and I think the difficulty is that we probably don’t know what to expect so we will see tomorrow, I think.
LH: I think this weekend there seems to be a bigger gap between all the drivers and teams so perhaps that will allow… that will mean that there are bigger gaps throughout the race. Maybe.
PM: I think that especially at the beginning of the race we are in very similar conditions, especially with the tyres, so it’s difficult to predict what’s going to happen, because this is an unusual race, an unusual track but I think it’s going to be very tight for everyone, especially at the beginning.
Q: (Kate Walker – Girl Racer) Another question for all three of you: we heard today that the race contract has been extended for five years and that the organisers are open to the possibility of configuration changes. Are there any changes to the layout that you guys would like to see: hairpins, faster corners, anything like that?
SV: I think we’ve discussed it many times, every year actually, to find a better solution in turn ten which probably requires to take a little bit of land from the cricket club for those couple of days or maybe remove the pavement for three/four days. I don’t know, but if you consider the costs for this whole event, I think taking a pavement away and putting it back on shouldn’t be a big problem, but in terms of safety, yeah, I think that’s one of the worst corners we have on the calendar, because you’ve got these big kerbs, big bumps and it’s a bit tricky to find a better solution right now with the space we have, but I think that’s something we need to work on.
LH: The same.
PM: The same.