SINGAPORE - From staring elimination right in the face to pole position, Lewis Hamilton certainly had an eventful evening at Saturday's (Sept 15) Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix qualifying as he took pole with some sensational driving.
The Mercedes man was on the brink of missing the cut in the first period of qualifying owing to worn tyres but he fought back to take first place on the grid for Sunday's night race after a flying lap of 1min 36.015sec, ahead of Red Bull's Max Verstappen (1:36.334) and Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel (1:36.628).
"Wow, that was a hard-core qualifying session. That lap felt like magic. I'm super overwhelmed. I'm really happy," a delighted Hamilton, who won in Singapore in 2009, 2014 and last year, said after taking pole.
His joy is understandable especially since he had told the media earlier that he felt the Silver Arrows would be unable to match the raw power and aerodynamics of the Ferraris and Red Bulls in the twisty 23-turn Marina Bay Street Circuit.
At the end of the Q1 (first period of qualifying), which lasted 18 minutes, it was Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo who set the early pace with a hot lap of 1:38.153, followed by Ferrari pair Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.
That first period also saw Kevin Magnussen (Haas), Brendon Hartley (Toro Rosso), Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren), Sergey Sirotkin (Williams) and Lance Stroll (Williams) eliminated while a big scalp was nearly claimed with Hamilton sliding across the track as his rear tyres faded. H eventually clocked 1:39.403 to finish 14th.
But the defending world champion came fighting back in the 15-minute Q2. He was released from the pits with the pink hypersoft tyres, which offer the highest grip, and was fourth after posting a two-second improvement (1:37.344).
Raikkonen led Q2 (1:37.149), followed by Verstappen and Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas while Fernando Alonso (McLaren), Carlos Sainz (Renault), Charles Leclerc (Sauber), Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) and Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso) were eliminated.
The top 10 was decided in a final frenzy of 12 minutes that saw Vettel frustrated by traffic and Hamilton launching an all-out attack for his seventh pole of the season and 79th of his career.
"This track is epic, it's so difficult. It's the toughest track of the year... Monaco on steroids, really,"Hamilton said.
"We started on softs, which was a huge difference compared to the hypers. I was qualifying half a second behind the guys. It was a real challenge in Q1. Then we got into that last session, it was about playing all those bits you found in practice and put it into a puzzle. I managed to maximise on pretty much every corner."
An equally delighted Verstappen, who has never stood on the podium in Singapore, added: "To be second is unbelievable and this shows we have an amazing car."
For Vettel, who trails Hamilton (256 points) by 30 points in the Drivers' World Championship, there was disappointment.
The German said: "We wanted to get pole but we didn't. In the end, there was too much time missing. In the end, we had two laps and they were both not good enough."