SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton described his stunning lap that secured pole at the Singapore Grand Prix as “magic” on Saturday.
The Briton is more than adept at pulling rabbits out of the hat during qualifying and his latest trick is probably the finest to date.
Despite arriving in Singapore with a 30-point championship lead over Sebastian Vettel with seven rounds remaining, his Mercedes is regarded as inferior to his German rival’s Ferrari, yet Hamilton somehow defied all the odds to dominate qualifying.
The 23-turn floodlight Marina Bay Street Circuit is almost the perfect stage for Ferrari to perform at their best and, after the Italian team had dominated practice, a pole position for Vettel or team mate Kimi Raikkonen was considered almost a formality.
Hamilton, however, had not read the script. Having struggled to find both the right balance in his car and the best lines through the corners, he put together the perfect lap to secure a record-extending 79th pole position in stunning fashion.
“That lap felt like magic,” the world champion told reporters after clocking 1:36.013, three-and-a-half seconds faster than Vettel’s pole lap last year. “I don’t know where it came from. I am overwhelmed.
“I was half a second behind everyone and I didn’t think I could find that time anywhere,” he added of the final practice session earlier on Saturday.
“Then we went into that last phase of qualifying and it was about pulling all of those little bits from practice together - 99.9 percent of the time it doesn’t go to plan.
“I just maximised on every corner and I kept pushing. It’s so physical here, I was shaking and my heart was racing, I tried to go further and break half a metre and I gave it absolutely everything I had.
“I was nervous when I came in at the end because I didn’t know if it was good enough.
“Everyone has been working so hard trying to find those extra bits of performance. It’s very special, and it’s amazing for us to be on pole given the circumstances.”
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff found it difficult to describe how quadruple world champion Hamilton upset the odds to out-qualify Ferrari and Red Bull, who also thrive on street circuits.
“He’s just such an exceptional individual, exceptional driver. Only he will know what he did around this lap,” the Austrian said.
“What makes me so happy is that I am not sure whatever the race result is tomorrow, we found clues how to set the car up and I want to say thank you to all the guys back in the UK that made that happen and we were able to deliver today.”
Hamilton’s quest for a fifth world title was helped further by a brilliant qualifying lap by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who will start next to the Mercedes on the front row with Vettel one spot further back and running out of races to catch the Briton.
Editing by John O'Brien; Editing by Tony Lawrence