x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

A hat-trick of Poles for Hamilton

Third pole for Brit, and he is joined at the front by Maldonado for street-circuit race.

McLaren-Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton will start from pole for the 24th time in his Formula One career. Franck Robichon / EPA
McLaren-Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton will start from pole for the 24th time in his Formula One career. Franck Robichon / EPA

SINGAPORE // Under the twinkling lights of Marina Bay Street Circuit, Lewis Hamilton showed all the fight of the lion that this weekend adorns his helmet as he sealed the 24th pole position of his career ahead of today's Singapore Grand Prix.

The McLaren-Mercedes driver tore his way through the streets of the South-east Asian island to clock a fastest lap of one minute 46.362 seconds. The result means he has now sealed pole at three of the past four grands prix and McLaren - who watched Jenson Button claim pole in Belgium last month - have now secured four successive poles for the first time since 1999.

"I am very, very happy to pull that time out," Hamilton, who cast a typically subdued figure as rumours continue to swirl regarding his future, said without a smile. "It's been a good weekend so far, but there are no points for qualifying, and it's going to be a long, tough race, so I still need to be cautious. We've done the work we need to do to put us in a strong position - the key will just be to stay out of trouble and look after the tyres.

Staying out of trouble will prove as important as ever as Hamilton is joined on the front row by Pastor Maldonado, the Williams driver with a penchant for penalties.

The Venezuelan produced a storming flying lap to finish just 0.442 secs behind and snare his first front row start since May's Spanish Grand Prix, the scene of his maiden win.

Since that victory, however, the 27 year old has retired twice and failed to finish in the points in all other rounds after a series of mishaps and mechanical issues.

"This track is completely different to Barcelona," Maldonado, a vocal enthusiast of street circuits such as Singapore, said. "At the start of the weekend we were a bit lost with set-up, but we made some changes and adapted the car to my style. Finally, we put the car together and in qualifying we found very good balance, so looking forward to the race."

The threatening figure of Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing's reigning world champion, will appear prominently in Hamilton's rear-view mirror as the German starts in third. Vettel had finished fastest in all three practice sessions this weekend, but struggled to extract the required pace to usurp Hamilton at the top of the time-sheets in the final laps of qualifying.

"I am a little bit disappointed, but nevertheless, third is a good place to start from," Vettel said. "It's a long race here where lots can happen, but surely if you don't make the last step in qualifying, it's a shame."

This weekend marks the fifth race in Singapore and all four previous races have seen the deployment of safety cars during the event.

None of the top three drivers said they would factor the likelihood of such an occurrence into their strategies, but said they would be ready to act immediately if the situation arises.

"We just have to be ready to react," Hamilton said. "We need to hope that it is not for us and then leave it to the team to direct us in terms of fuel and other things."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae