Sebastian Vettel stormed to his fifth pole position of the season on Saturday at the Singapore Grand Prix as he strengthened his bid for a fourth straight world title.
The German timed a scorching 1min 42.841sec around the spot-lit Marina Bay street circuit to take first place on the grid ahead of Mercedes’s Nico Rosberg.
Lotus’s Romain Grosjean will start third, ahead of Vettel’s Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber, Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes and Ferrari’s Felipe Massa.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, second in the overall standings behind Vettel, could only manage seventh fastest ahead of McLaren’s Jenson Button, Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo and Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez.
The evening belonged, once again, to Vettel, who set the two fastest times and will now be favourite to claim his third win in a row in Singapore and his fourth out of the last five races.
Hamilton topped the standings in a swiftly shifting first qualifying period, ahead of Button, Alonso, Sergio Perez and Rosberg.
Webber and Vettel, one of only the few using the slower medium tyres in the opening stansa, were sixth and seventh.
Massa escaped the drop with a late lap which pushed him from 18th to 13th. Paul di Resta and Pastor Maldonado, and both Caterhams and both Marussias, missed out.
Rosberg was leading Q2 from his team-mate Hamilton with a super-fast 1:43.892 -- until Vettel started his flying lap.
The young German, bouncing over kerbs and speeding just inches from the track walls, obliterated Rosberg’s time by nearly a second as he screamed round in 1:42.905.
Vettel, Webber, Rosberg and Hamilton led the cars into the Q3 shoot-out, with Nico Hulkenberg, Ferrari-bound Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren’s Perez outside the top 10.
It was no surprise that Vettel stayed fastest, but he did it in impressive style, lowering his previous time and earning enough breathing space to garage early.
However, there were some nervy moments when Webber threatened his time -- and a relieved Vettel punched the air as he watched his Australian team-mate finish in a slower time.
The 26-year-old has a 53-point lead in the standings and victory on Sunday will put him closer to matching Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio by winning four championships in a row.
The starting grid: 1st row: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull), Nico Rosberg (Mercedes). 2nd row: Romain Grosjean (Lotus), Mark Webber (Red Bull). 3rd row: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), Felipe Massa (Ferrari). 4th row: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), Jenson Button (McLaren). 5th row: Daniel Ricciardo (Toro Rosso), Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber). 6th row: Nico Hulkenberg (Sauber), Jean-Eric Vergne (Toro Rosso). 7th row: Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus), Sergio Perez (McLaren). 8th row: Adrian Sutil (Force India), Valtteri Bottas (Williams). 9th row: Paul di Resta (Force India), Pastor Maldonado (Williams). 10th row: Charles Pic (Caterham), Giedo van der Garde (Caterham). 11th row: Jules Bianchi (Marussia), Max Chilton (Marussia). — AFP