Lewis Hamilton dominated qualifying at the Singapore Grand Prix, outpacing both Red Bulls and Williams’ Nico Rosberg to take pole, while the Brawns suffered through a dismal day and will start 10th and 12th.
Team boss Ross Brawn and world championship leader Jenson Button both called their performance “disastrous”, with Button eliminated in the second session and Barrichello crashing heavily in the third, leaving the team with a tricky and high pressure repair job.
By contrast, Hamilton benefitted from an overnight rebuilding of his car to dominate final practice and went on to be comfortably fastest in the first qualifying session. He was outpaced by Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel in the second but set what would be the pole-winning time right at the start of the third.
He said: “It’s an absolutely fantastic result. We came here with several technical upgrades, and we didn’t know if we’d be up there – particularly after Friday practice, which wasn’t spectacular for me.
“My pole lap was very relaxed: the car has just got better and better as the track has evolved, and I think I would have gone faster on my final lap if the session hadn’t been aborted. I didn’t expect to be on pole today, but our pace has been really good.”
Vettel and Rosberg again ran him closest, but any last-gasp challenges were prevented by Barrichello’s crash at turn five, which red-flagged the session with 26 seconds remaining.
Red Bull’s Christian Horner said he believed Vettel’s aborted last lap could have beaten Hamilton’s time by two tenths of a second, while Mark Webber was also running well: “Both our guys were on really strong laps and we felt we could lock out the front row today.”
Barrichello was fifth-fastest at the time of the crash, behind Webber, but will be demoted to 10th as Brawn GP decided to change his gearbox after final practice, earning him an automatic grid penalty. Fernando Alonso, Timo Glock, Nick Heidfeld, Robert Kubica and Heikki Kovalainen rounded out the top 10 on the track.
The first qualifying session saw Force India’s Adrian Sutil eliminated, along with all four drivers who have entered F1 or changed teams during the season – Jaime Alguersuari, Giancarlo Fisichella, Romain Grosjean and Vitantonio Liuzzi.
Fisichella, who said a lack of confidence in the behaviour of his new Ferrari was making him brake sooner and drive less aggressively than team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, said more testing was needed if drivers in his position were to cope.
The casualties from session two included the big names of Button and Raikkonen, along with Sebastien Buemi, Jarno Trulli and Kazuki Nakajima.
Button had looked fast in practice, but late changes to his set-up as he searched for extra speed to beat championship challenger Barrichello ended up making him slower: “In Q1 the car felt good although we had a bit of understeer, so in the second session we tried to help that – but it didn’t help. We lowered the tyre pressures a bit but I hit the floor, locked the brakes and it cost me a lot of time.”
Ross Brawn added: “It was a disastrous session for us. We underestimated the competition in Q2 because we used one old set [of tyres], then one new set, and didn’t get the car balanced well on the new set. We were perilously close to losing both cars in Q2.”
The grid for the Singapore Grand Prix
Times given are for the latest session in which a driver competed.
- Lewis Hamilton, McLaren: 1:47.891 (Q3) 660.5kg
- Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull: 1:48.204 (Q3) 651kg
- Nico Rosberg, Williams: 1:48.348 (Q3) 657.5kg
- Mark Webber, Red Bull: 1:48.722 (Q3) 654.5kg
- Fernando Alonso, Renault: 1:49.054 (Q3) 658kg
- Timo Glock, Toyota: 1:49.180 (Q3) 660.5kg
- Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber: 1:49.307 (Q3) 650kg
- Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber: 1:49.514 (Q3) 664kg
- Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren: 1:49.778 (Q3) 664.5 kg
- Rubens Barrichello, Brawn GP: 1:48.828 (Q3) 655.5kg *
- Kazuki Nakajima, Williams: 1:47.013 (Q2) 680.7kg
- Jenson Button, Brawn GP:1:47.141 (Q2) 683kg
- Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari: 1:47.177 (Q2) 680.5kg
- Sebastien Buemi, Toro Rosso: 1:47.369 (Q2) 678kg
- Jarno Trulli, Toyota: 1:47.413 (Q2) 690.9kg
- Adrian Sutil, Force India: 1:48.231 (Q1) 693kg
- Jaime Alguersuari, Toro Rosso: 1:48.340 (Q1) 683.5kg
- Giancarlo Fisichella, Ferrari: 1:48.350 (Q1) 678.5kg
- Romain Grosjean, Renault: 1:48.544 (Q1) 683kg
- Vitantonio Liuzzi, Force India: 1:48.792 (Q1) 656kg
* Includes five-place penalty for a gear-box change.