Formula One: Nico Rosberg senses chance

Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg at Turn 22 during qualifying for the Singapore Grand Prix last night. Six times in eight years, the race has been won by drivers at the top of the grid, as the narrow track limits overtaking.
Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg at Turn 22 during qualifying for the Singapore Grand Prix last night. Six times in eight years, the race has been won by drivers at the top of the grid, as the narrow track limits overtaking.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Pole-sitter upbeat on being just fourth winner here but defending champ Vettel will start last

Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg, never one to mince his words, has called the Singapore Grand Prix one of the toughest races of the year and has spoken openly about his dislike for the winding track.

Yet, the Marina Bay Street Circuit could well be the venue where the German turns the tables on team-mate and title rival Lewis Hamilton, whom he last month labelled a "safety freak" and who is only two points ahead of him in the driver standings with 250.

Yesterday, amid a qualifying session which saw a crash and surprise dropouts, Rosberg secured pole position in a record time of 1min 42.584sec in qualifying.

The previous mark of 1:42.841 was set by Sebastian Vettel in 2013.

The circuit's narrow track limits overtaking opportunities, a reason why winners in six of the eight years started at the top of the grid.

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    Nico Rosberg has qualified at least second, before penalties, in all 15 races so far this season, including seven pole positions.

Hamilton, the reigning world champion, will start in third place, behind Daniel Ricciardo, last year's runner-up in Singapore.

Rosberg, who finished fourth last year, is clearly optimistic about his chances of taking the chequered flag. He said: "I think it might be time to change (the fact that the Singapore GP has been won only by world champions - Hamilton, Vettel and Fernando Alonso).

 
 
 
 
 

"I will give it everything tomorrow but I was surprised to hear that actually only three people have ever won the Singapore Grand Prix all these years. But anyway, I'm feeling good for tomorrow and of course, I have a good chance."

Hamilton, who retired after 32 laps last year, said: "I have been on the back foot all year long, so it's not really different to me.

"I'll give it my best shot from there and try to fight my way through this. It's a very hard track to overtake, there are safety cars in this race so lots can happen."

Overall, it was a good night for Mercedes, especially considering their dismal showing here last year.

The same cannot be said for Ferrari's Vettel, a four-time winner here but who will start from the back of the grid after suffering mechanical failure in qualifying.

Haas' Romain Grosjean also had a night to forget, after his car crashed at Turn 10 during the second qualifying session.

Vettel, a four-time world champion said: "Obviously I was a bit annoyed because first we decided to go for another lap but it wasn't really any quicker. Then we decided to pit to try and fix it but there was no time to do it."

•Additional reporting by Wang Meng Meng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 18, 2016, with the headline 'Rosberg senses chance'. Print Edition | Subscribe