- Ferrari claimed pole position for a second consecutive Grand Prix
- Carlos Sainz dominated proceedings on the narrow street circuit
- Max Verstappen failed to qualify inside the top 10 after being eliminated
Max Verstappen’s hopes of leading Red Bull to the first invincible season in Formula One history were crushed in a topsy-turvy qualifying session for the Singapore Grand Prix. ‘Forget it,’ declared the Dutchman.
He qualified only 11th fastest — a number so unexpected that it almost warranted Grandstand vidiprinter treatment: (ELEVENTH). Team-mate Sergio Perez was only 13th best.
The world champion and runaway championship leader was sanguine by the time he came to his media engagement in the paddock, grateful for his unparalleled span of unbroken success stretching back to Azerbaijan on the last day of April, but he could not contain his anger as his fate unfolded.
‘I don’t know if you saw that,’ he seethed on the radio. ‘That was just f***ing shocking. An absolutely shocking experience.’
He stalked back to the garage and ripped off his balaclava like a man in search of a punch bag. He later escaped a grid drop but was fined €5,000 (£4,308) over two cases of impeding.
Max Verstappen qualified a ‘shocking’ 11th for the Singapore Grand Prix after failing to make the final qualifying session
Verstappen (middle) fumed on the team radio after struggling with his cars handling
His Red Bull team searched for answers and found none all weekend. They were nonplussed, as Verstappen struggled to brake as late and hard as he would have liked because his car bottomed out when he tried to. It slid at other moments.
Ah, but what chances of a revival by the most skilful escape artist there is? Remember, at Jeddah in March he drove to a ruthless victory after a driveshaft problem condemned him to start 15th.
Asked about the possibility of conjuring what would be a 11th straight win, he shook his head and smiled ruefully, saying: ‘You can forget about that. It is very hard to pass in Singapore. You need to be one-and-a-half to two or three seconds faster, which we are not. It will be a very tough afternoon. I knew there would be a day when we would not win any more. We had a really good run. I would take a season like this with one really bad weekend rather than the other way around.’
He thinks of this as a blip, and suggests normal service will be resumed in Suzuka next weekend. That means pole man Carlos Sainz, fastest in consecutive weeks, or Britain’s own George Russell, second quickest, just 0.072sec off the pace, must exploit their rare chance.
Charles Leclerc will start third for Ferarri, Lando Norris fourth for McLaren and Lewis Hamilton fifth for Mercedes. The seven-time world champion magnanimously lent Russell his moral support, saying: ‘George has a good shot at winning and I hope he does. That would be amazing for him and for the team.
George Russell (left) will start second on the grid while Carlos Sainz (middle) took pole and Charles Leclerc (right) finished third
Sainz dominated qualifying and looked comfortable throughout the evening sessions
Aston Martin star Lance Stroll brought a premature end to the first qualifying session after suffering a huge crash
‘I will see what I can do. If I get further up, then great. I changed the car last night and I don’t know what is going on with it. It is the hardest car I have ever driven to get right.’
Earlier, Lance Stroll suffered a big shunt at 110mph. The Aston Martin driver was right on the edge as he careered into the final bend. He whacked into the barrier and was spun back on to the track, his head shaking.
The Canadian’s front left wheel was torn off and hurtled across the track. Norris took evasive action, threading his McLaren between Stroll’s car and the stray wheel.
The team said Stroll was taken to the on-site medical centre for precautionary tests before being cleared to race. If his mangled car can be rebuilt in time.