A gamble on opting out on a final run paid big dividends for Sebastian Vettel in terms of saving an alottment of tyres, but it could’ve been a different story, with Nico Rosberg coming within a tenth of pole position in Singapore.
With a massive gulf in performance between the option and prime tyre, half the field that entered Q1 on the green chose the conservative prime for their first runs. No-one was expecting a miracle from Raikkonen however, after Lotus revealed back pain was the cause of his lacklustre FP3 performance.
Hamilton fired the first warning shot by jumping to the top of the order – half a second clear of Daniel Ricciardo. Rosberg immediately bettered his team-mates first effort by nearly a second.
One man still struggling with balance was Pastor Maldonado, who got himself into a tankslapper over the kerbs. An overcorrection saw the front wheels bite at just the wrong moment, but a marriage between carbon fibre and concrete was miraculously avoided.
As suspected, the gang of four (consisting of both Caterham and Marussia drivers) decided to chance their hand on the option tyres, believing the two second deficit might be enough for them to steal a position or two. Esteban Gutierrez – under pressure from his team-mate – also opted for the super softs. Unfortunately for the Mexican, Hulkenberg had the same idea and had already topped the timesheets.
Until things got serious of course; Webber responding by punching in a 1:45.2. This time would in a matter of seconds only be good enough for sixth after being overtaken by Rosberg, the supersoft-shod McLarens of Perez and Button… And a blinding 1:44.1 from one L. Hamilton.
Under threat of elimination was Massa who only managed to scrape into thirteenth. So too Grosjean, but remained safe in fourteenth place and with an extra set of softs for his effort. Those bumped out of Q1 were di Resta, Maldonado, Pic, van der Garde, Bianchi and Chilton.
Q2 and Raikkonen was first to set a banker time followed by Alonso and Ricciardo. Massa then decided he’d enjoy a little fresh air at the top of the tree before being regulared by his team-mate Alonso. Raikkonen immediately responded but was unable to live with the one-second advantage enjoyed by Rosberg and Hamilton. Most Q2 runners appeared to be running used supersofts given the high tyre wear expected on Sunday.
Hulkenberg ended his first run a strong fourth, but was warned that another three-tenths would be required to progress to Q3.
When Vettel ventured out, the obligatory purple sectors followed with an astounding 1:42.9, eight-tenths up on team-mate Webber, Rosberg and Hamilton. Sutil, Vergne and Ricciardo meanwhile were dancing on the bubble of Q2. Ricciardo was throwing everything at his next lap, jumping up to seventh and the fall of the chequered.
A big surprise was Gutierrez in sixth (proving his Thursday comments about self-analysis correct), but the biggest of all was the elimination of Raikkonen (his spine obviously still feeling the pinch) in thirteenth. Others out in the cold were Hulkenberg, Vergne, Perez, Sutil and Bottas.
At the start of Q3, Alonso, Massa Gutierrez and Ricciardo all bided their time in the hope of saving a set of tyres, but in the process leaving everything to chance on a one lap flyer. Vettel however was wasting no time recording his first time lap. Rounding the strike, the provisional order was Vettel, Rosberg, Webber, Hamilton, Grosjean and Button, with the aforementioned above yet to complete a timed lap. Vettel was enjoying a sixth-tenth gap to P2 – just the amount the track improves between sessions – but the three-time World Champ opted to jump out of the car and go for an early shower.
Massa’s effort was only good enough for sixth, but enough to outqualify Alonso. Webber was currently mathing Vettel’s times, only faling at the post by three tenths. Rosberg and Grosjean would however deny the Australian of a top three start as Hamilton was no doubt scratching his head in fifth.
So a Red Bull/Mercedes front row, followed by Grosjean, Webber, Hamilton, Massa, Alonso, Button, Ricciardo and Gutierrez.
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