Leclerc on pole after Verstappen runs out of gas

FORMULA 1: Charles Leclerc took pole ahead of Sergio Perez and Lewis Hamilton in a wet and unpredictable qualifying hour in Singapore.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc celebrates pole position in Singapore. Photo: Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP

FORMULA 1: Charles Leclerc took pole ahead of Sergio Perez and Lewis Hamilton in a wet and unpredictable qualifying hour in Singapore.

Title leader Max Verstappen was forced to retire from a final lap that was to take him to pole position due to a lack of fuel.

Torrential rain hit Singapore in the hours leading up to Saturday’s practice, and the track was still not completely dry at the start of qualifying, with intermediate weather tires used for most of the session.

It wasn’t until the top 10 shootout that the dry weather tires broke, but with standing water still on the track, all riders were fueled to stay out for the entire 12 segment. minutes to ensure they were on track when conditions were at their best.

Lap times quickly improved as the grip improved and the checkered flag flew, Leclerc leading Sergio Perez by just 0.022 seconds, with Lewis Hamilton 0.032 seconds behind.

But Verstappen was accused. After having to give up a fast penultimate lap after a big oversteer crack under the stands in the final sector, he was on another flyer that was to propel him past Leclerc by at least half a second.

The team ended the lap early, however, when they radioed the Dutchman back to the pit lane. A furious radio exchange ensues, but the Dutchman obeys the order.

The team later confirmed Verstappen was low on fuel. If he had finished qualifying without enough to provide a fuel sample, he would have been sent to the back of the grid.

Leclerc was off the hook to claim his ninth pole of the season.

“It was a very, very tricky qualifying,” he said. “Overall I managed to do a pretty clean lap and it worked out well.

“It was really, really special.

“If we do the perfect execution, I’m sure we can win.”

Sergio Perez was just 0.022 seconds off his second pole of the season after the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix earlier in the year but said he hoped he could make the most of his start in the front row Nevertheless.

“I think it’s a good opportunity tomorrow at the start to attack Charles and go for the win,” he said. “It’s quite disappointing to miss pole by 0.2 seconds, but in the end it’s a great team result.”

“Really happy and solid work.”

Hamilton was an early leader in Q3 before being capped for the front row, but the Briton said it was rewarding to be on pole position again and end up with his best qualifying result of the season.

“I was pushing so hard,” he said. “It was so, so close, I was trying so hard.

“I really thought that with a perfect lap, which was really hard to get, we could fight for first place. I just didn’t have the grip.

“I hope tomorrow will be a better day.”

Carlos Sainz completed the top four 0.171 seconds behind his team-mate but will ensure Ferrari a key strategic advantage against the individual cars of Perez and Hamilton.

Fernando Alonso was superb to take fifth and 0.6 seconds faster than any other midfielder.

Lando Norris was an unexpected competitive sixth after a difficult Friday for McLaren, the team expected the worst – the Briton even came close to being eliminated in Q1.

Pierre Gasly was seventh ahead of Verstappen, with Kevin Magnussen and Yuki Tsunoda completing the top 10.

George Russell was a surprise elimination in 11th on a weekend that Mercedes had hoped could win its first race of the season. The Briton struggled to brake over the bumps, especially on his aging split-time tyres.

Lance Stroll finished 12th for Aston Martin after betting on slicks too early. He beat Haas driver Mick Schumacher, who will start 13th.

Sebastian Vettel and Zhou Guanyu also sampled the slicks but were eliminated 14th and 15th.

Valtteri Bottas edged out Daniel Ricciardo in 16th place as the first drivers to be eliminated from the wet Q1 session, with all cars in intermediate for the start of the hour.

Esteban Ocon suffered brake problems en route to 18th place for Alpine, 13 positions behind team-mate Alonso.

Thai driver Alex Albon, back in the car despite being in intensive care after an appendectomy three weeks ago, beat Williams teammate Nicholas Latifi to 19th and 20th from the back of the grid.

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