Sebastian Vettel needed only one run to claim his fifth pole position of the season at Marina Bay - but it was close...
The German, who had set the pace in the final two practice sessions, crossed the line with a 1:42.841, considerably ahead of the chasing pack.
Red Bull opted not to send Vettel out again and he faced an anxious wait as the rest of the top ten went out, with Nico Rosberg closing in on his time. The Mercedes driver posted a 1:42.932 to miss out by less than a tenth of a second while Romain Grosjean qualified in third place.
Mark Webber was fourth ahead of Lewis Hamilton while Felipe Massa won the Ferrari battle in sixth place.
It was dry and humid in Singapore as Qualifying got underway for F1's only night race with an ambient temperature of 29C and the track at 30C. For the first session of qualifying the teams took to the newly pressure-cleaned circuit on the Medium tyre.
Pastor Maldonado set the benchmark time for Williams with a 1:48.458. The Venezuelan wasn't expecting to emulate his heroics from 2012 where he had started on the front row alongside Lewis Hamilton. Romain Grosjean edged the time down to 1:48.385 before Lewis Hamilton slashed it with a 1:47.087 and then was soon beaten by his team-mate with a 1:46.288.
Fernando Alonso slotted into P2, then Grosjean took P2, and then Lewis Hamilton re-imposed himself in P2. With a two-second difference between the SuperSoft and Medium tyre it was very likely that any mid-grid team running the softer tyre could put the top teams in trouble. Sauber didn't even bother with a run on the Mediums and went straight for the SuperSoft, and thus Nico Hulkenberg was next on top of the timesheets with a 1:45.381.
Given that Hulkenberg had produced one of the qualifying laps of the season at Monza, the rest of the pitlane looked to the time of team-mate Esteban Gutierrez for guidance. When the Mexican crossed the line in P3 it was a clear signal that everyone at the front would need to switch to SuperSofts. However Red Bull had already made the decision to go out on the Medium tyre and Sebastian Vettel managed P2 - behind Hulkenberg but in front of Gutierrez - while Mark Webber put in a supreme lap, fastest of anyone with a 1:25.271.
With four minutes to go the danger positions were: 13.Verge, 14.Bottas, 15.di Resta, 16.Maldonado, 17. Van der Garde 18.Bianchi, 19.Pic, 20.Chilton, 21.Sutil (no time), 22.Perez (no time)
The timesheet began to pinball around as everyone set an improved time on the faster tyre - although Romain Grosjean stuck his neck out and kept with the Mediums and still made it through.
Rosberg on his SuperSofts took P1, Perez took it off him, Button took it off Perez and Hamilton took it off Button, recording a 1:44.191. With no time left on the clock the edge of the drop was: 15.DiResta, 16.Gutierrez, 17.Maldonado, 18.Massa.
Van der Garde almost brought the session to an abrupt end when he hit the wall quite hard with his Caterham but he was able to continue. Esteban Gutierrez jumped to P10 and Massa made use of every square inch of tarmac to put his Ferrari up to P13, and through, in the very last moments.
So out went: 17.Di Resta, 18.Maldonado, 19.Pic, 20.Van der Garde, 21.Bianchi, 22.Chilton.
What a difference a year makes - in last year's race Maldonado had ended up in P2 and Paul DiResta had achieved his best result, finishing the race in P4. This year they were both out in Q1. The timings had been tight. As Felipe Massa's engineer, Rob Smedley, told his driver on the inlap: "half a second quicker and you'd have been third."
Kimi Raikkonen, who had injured his back in practice after his seat came lose over the bumps, was out first in Q2 to put in a time on a set of used SuperSofts. The cars which had used sets of the tyre in Q1 found that they could still get some useful times out of them for another quick sprint.
What was remarkable about the times set throughout the Qualifying period at Marina Bay was the track's ability to pick up speed as the session evolved.
Raikkonen's P1 time was a 1:44.794, this was beaten by Nico Rosberg with a 1:43.892, while Lewis Hamilton was less than a tenth slower slotting into P2.
Eleven cars set a time in the first rush to the track, with Vettel, Webber and Grosjean, coming out on their own in a lull before the second rush, while the two McLarens left it till the very end to make their move.
Thus with four minutes left on the clock, five cars had yet to set a time with the positions: 7.Sutil, 8.Vergne, 9.Ricciardo, 10.Gutierrez, 11.Bottas, 12.Vettel (no time), 13. Webber (no time), 14.Grsojean (no time), 15.Button (no time), 16.Perez (no time).
Sebastian Vettel was clearly a lot quicker than Webber on the SuperSoft tyres and produced a scorching 1:42.905, Mark Webber could only manage P2 while Grosjean took P5. The two Mercedes drivers decided they had done enough to guarantee their participation in the next phase and sat tight in the garage, the rest of the field came out to try and improve their times.
Felipe Massa went quicker to keep hold of P6, Daniel Ricciardo claimed P7, team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne could only manage P9, Sutil came home P12, Bottas crossed the line in P13. Raikkonen could only manage P11. Then we had the Sauber shock of the session, this time with Esteban Gutierrez providing it by grabbing P6, ahead of his much talked about team-mate. Fernando Alonso then pushed him down a place to P7.
The two Mclarens running late in the session had left themselves vulnerable to a yellow flag but Jenson Button squeezed into Q3 while Sergio Perez came across the line in a dismal P13, demoted to P14 by last man home Button in P10.
So out went: 11.Hulkenberg, 12.Vergne, 13.Raikkonen, 14.Perez, 15.Sutil, 16.Bottas
There had been less than three-tenths of a second between Button in P10 and Perez in P14, with the Brit edging out Nico Hulkenberg by a few hundredths. Kimi Raikkonen was naurally gloomy about his race chances, but played down his back injury after finishing so much further behind team-mate Romain Grosjean.
The quickest cars in Q2 looked like they were going to try two runs at pole, with the slower half of the top ten attempting just one. Out came the Red Bulls, the Mercedes and Romain Grosjean for serious attempts at P1, while Jenson Button poodled round on a set of medium tyres. Given the huge difference in performance between the SuperSofts and the Mediums, it didn't seem likely that anyone would start on the Medium tyre, despite Marina Bay having the longest pit-stop across the season.
Vettel produced another sub-1:43 lap to set provisional pole at 1:42.841, Nico Rosberg slotted into P2 (a 1:43.431) with Mark Webber behind him. Yet again Lewis Hamilton couldn't beat Rosberg's time. So after the first runs it was: 1.Vettel, 2.Rosberg, 3.Webber, 4.Hamilton, 5.Grosjean. Button set two sector times and then returned to the pits.
Such was the advantage that Vettel had after the first runs, Red Bull were unsure if they should send him out again. "Can you go any quicker?" asked his engineer Rocky. Vettel wasn't sure, "I think I can find a tenth or two" said Vettel, whose lap had looked quite conservative and safe, given the distance by which he was missing the walls. In the end he didn't go out.
That decision immediately looked like it might come back to haunt him as team-mate Mark Webber set the fastest sector time so far - a 27.8 - in S1. Further up the road Nico Rosberg set the fastest time in S2. It was going to be close.
Felipe Massa parked his Ferrari in P6, Rosberg flashed across the line but only in P2 - though it had been very close to P1. He was just a tenth behind Vettel and had picked up half a second on his second run. Mark Webber could only manage P3 and Hamilton P4. Then they were both demoted by Romain Grosjean who will have dismayed Kimi Raikkonen by showing that the car was capable of P3 and able to beat both a Red Bull and a Mercedes.
Fernando Alonso was unable to beat his team-mate and having been the familiar P6 in most sessions ended up behind Massa in P7 with Button in P8, Ricciardo in P9 and Gutierrez returning to the pits to save his tyres.
Nico Rosberg asked about Vettel on his inlap and was told by Ross Brawn: "He didn't run. I think he was looking at your lap and looking somewhat anxious." Which was something of an understatement. Given Vettel's race pace Rosberg will have to beat him into Turn 1 tomorrow and on the times from Friday running, Romain Grosjean stands a very good chance of retaining his P3 position. If the Lotus can hang onto its tyres for one stop less than the Red Bull, he might stand an outside chance of something better...
01. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:42.841
02. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:42.932s +0.091
03. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:43.058s +0.217
04. Mark Webber Red Bull 1:43.152s +0.311
05. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:43.254s +0.413
06. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:43.890s +1.049
07. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:43.938s +1.097
08. Jenson Button McLaren 1:44.282s +1.441
09. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:44.439s +1.598
10. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber No time set
11. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:44.555s +1.650
12. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:m44.588s +1.683
13. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:m44.658s +1.753
14. Sergio Perez McLaren 1:44.752s +1.847
15. Adrian Sutil Force India 1:45.185s +2.280
16. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:45.388s +2.483
17. Paul di Resta Force India 1:46.121s +1.925
18. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:46.619s +2.423
19. Charles Pic Caterham 1:48.111s +3.915
20. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:48.320s +4.124
21. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:48.830s +4.634
22. Max Chilton Marussia 1:48.930s +4.734
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