Ferrari, Red Bull again lead Mercedes at Singapore GP

SINGAPORE (AP) Sebastian Vettel waved his right index finger to celebrate pole position in an unexpected sight at the Singapore Grand Prix on Saturday as the German driver comfortably topped qualifying and prevented Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes team from equaling long-standing records.

Vettel took his first pole for Ferrari by half a second from Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo. The second row of the grid in Sunday's race has the same mix with Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen qualifying third and Red Bull's Daniil Kvyat in a career-best fourth.

Drivers' championship leader Hamilton qualified an unfamiliar fifth and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg sixth on the Marina Bay street circuit, which largely neutralized the team's long-held power advantage.

Hamilton had been going for his eighth straight pole, which would have equaled the record set by his idol Ayrton Senna across the 1988 and 1989 seasons, while Mercedes had been aiming for its 24th in a row, which would have tied the all-time mark set by the Williams team over 1992 and 1993.

It was Vettel's first pole position since Brazil in 2013 when he drove for Red Bull, and Ferrari's first since the 2012 German Grand Prix - a gap of 61 races.

''The car was fantastic to drive and just got better through qualifying,'' Vettel said. ''I am surprised by the margin but it just came together and I had a perfect lap at the end.''

Mercedes had surprisingly been off the pace throughout Friday's and Saturday's practice sessions, but its rivals had suspected the championship's dominant team was hiding its true pace. Instead, qualifying proved the silver cars were indeed struggling.

''It's a surprise,'' Vettel said. ''I thought yesterday they were `sandbagging' and this morning, because there is no doubt they have the best package this year, but they must have some issues.

''I will not rule them out tomorrow. It's not the easiest place to overtake but if you have the pace, you can come through.''

Hamilton was perplexed by Mercedes failure to generate enough grip from the tires, which he identified as the cause of the team's unfamiliar pace deficit.

''These tires for some reason aren't working on our car,'' Hamilton said. ''It's so weird. You heat them up the same as everyone else, you do your warm-up lap the same as everyone else. Then you finish your lap, which you think will be okay, and then you see someone else a second up the road.

''The goal is still to win the race, but it's very hard to overtake here, and the others, particularly the Red Bulls, were incredibly quick through the long runs. We'll fight as hard as we can but I doubt we'll find something between now and tomorrow.''

Coming into the race the focus had been on Hamilton's quest to equal Senna's total of 41 career race wins in precisely the same number of starts the Brazilian had: 161. Vettel also has 41, and he now looks a strong chance to move into outright third on the all-time list, behind only Michael Schumacher and Alain Prost.

Ricciardo's second place matched his career best but a first pole position still eludes the Australian, who has three race wins. The team had been bullish that its nimble handling would come to the fore through the frequent right-angle corners on the Singapore street circuit, where sheer engine power is not as important.

''It's definitely our best chance,'' Ricciardo said. ''Today has really backed up the confidence I had in the car and the team had coming here.''

Williams drivers Valtteri Bottas and Feliple Massa qualified seventh and ninth, with Toro Rosso teenager Max Verstappen in eighth and Lotus driver Romain Grosjean 10th.

Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso qualified 12th, which was the best Saturday performance this season by a McLaren-Honda driver.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.