Sebastian Vettel coolly claimed his fifth pole position of the season after sitting out the final moments of the top ten shoot-out.
Vettel told his team he could find a tenth of a second at most following his first run in Q3, so they kept him back in the garage while his rivals tried in vain to beat his time.
Nico Rosberg almost managed to do it – falling short by less than a tenth of a second – while Romain Grosjean claimed third for Lotus.
With the super-soft tyres offering a performance gain of around two seconds over the mediums there were few teams who believed they could get through to Q2 without using them.
Mercedes, who’ve had their fingers burnt in qualifying already this year, chose not to risk it, giving Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton runs on the super-soft tyres. Hamilton set the pace with a 1’44.196.
But Red Bull committed to the medium tyre and both their drivers made it through – Webber slightly faster than Vettel, as had usually been the case on the medium tyre during qualifying.
Another driver to made the gamble paid off was Romain Grosjean – though he was just 0.3s clear of the drop zone. Team mate Kimi Raikkonen also got into Q2 despite nursing a back injury.
Felipe Massa continued to lag some way off team mate Fernando Alonso’s pace. Beginning his final run he was down in 18th place, facing potential elimination. His last effort brought him within half a second of Alonso and secured his place in Q2.
It came at the expense of Paul di Resta and Pastor Maldonado. The Williams driver, who qualified on the front row last year, was seven-tenths of a second slower than team mate Valtteri Bottas on his first visit to the circuit.
Drivers eliminated in Q1
|17||Paul di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||1’46.121|
|20||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham-Renault||1’48.320|
Vettel eradicated any doubt about who would be on pole position, lapping eight-tenths of a second faster than any of his rivals could manage in Q2. Just as impressive as his margin over his rivals was the manner in which he achieved it – a clean, error-free tour of Singapore’s two dozen corners and seemingly endless barriers.
Behind him the field was closely-matched and produced a few surprises ahead of the top ten shoot-out. Among those who failed to make the cut was Raikkonen, still struggling with his back, who ended up on the wrong end of a close-knit bunch of cars.
Also narrowly failing to make the cut was Nico Hulkenberg, who for the first time this year had to watch team mate Esteban Gutierrez reach the final ten instead of him.
Drivers eliminated in Q2
|12||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso-Ferrari||1’44.588|
|15||Adrian Sutil||Force India-Mercedes||1’45.185|
Vettel’s first effort in Q3 looked like an action replay of his Q2 lap and it produced almost the same time – just six-hundredths quicker. It was still sufficient to put him ahead by more than half a second to begin with.
Red Bull were confident it was enough to keep him out of reach of his rivals – and Vettel climbed out of the cockpit with two minutes to go while his rivals tried to beat his time.
Rosberg led his challengers, followed by Webber, Hamilton and Grosjean – the only other drivers to join the track at the start of the session. Having been over half a second off Vettel to begin with he came within a tenth of a second of giving Vettel a nasty surprise. “I think he was watching your lap, getting somewhat anxious,” said Ross Brawn.
Webber couldn’t move closer to his team mate on the grid as Romain Grosjean clinched third place.
Having been slower than Alonso earlier in the session Massa beat his team mate to sixth place, thanks in part to race engineer Rob Smedley explaining where Alonso had found the time he was missing.
Gutierrez elected not to set a time after reaching Q3 for the first time in his career and will start tenth behind Jenson Button and Daniel Ricciardo.
Top ten in Q3
|1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault||1’42.841|
|4||Mark Webber||Red Bull-Renault||1’43.152|
|9||Daniel Ricciardo||Toro Rosso-Ferrari||1’44.439|
2013 Singapore Grand Prix
- Penalty for third reprimand “disappointing” – Webber
- Di Resta still unsure over cause of Singapore crash
- Singapore showed Vettel’s true advantage – Hamilton
- Fourth Driver of the Weekend win for Vettel
- Second-lowest ever rating for Singapore Grand Prix
Image ?é?® Red Bull/Getty