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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 September 2018

Lewis Hamilton has 'wow' factor in Singapore but hope not lost for Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel

World champion is on pole in Singapore but title rival still in contention from third place

Lewis Hamilton is on pole for the Singapore Grand Prix. AP Photo
Lewis Hamilton is on pole for the Singapore Grand Prix. AP Photo

You could tell that Lewis Hamilton knew the 79th pole position of his illustrious Formula One career was a bit more special then usual.

The Briton, to his credit, is usually pretty animated after achieving the fastest time in qualifying or taking a race win, being good at interacting with the fans at track.

But the big grin on his face and the fact he said the word "wow" twice after taking top spot for Sunday's Singapore Grand Prix made him rather more jubilant then usual.

There was also an emotional hug with Mercedes-GP team principal Toto Wolff as both he and his team celebrated arguably the most surprising pole in their history.

Hamilton and Mercedes were expected to struggle here. This had been signposted as where Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari kickstarted their fightback.

Hamilton has a 30-point lead over his fellow four-time world champion, and with seven races remaining time is beginning to run out for the German.

Expecting Mercedes to be off the pace was not an unreasonable expectation.

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Read more

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Sebastian Vettel: I can still win the 2018 F1 drivers' title

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Yes, they have won three of the past four races here but they have been some of the most unconvincing during the team's dominant run that has seen them win the drivers' and constructors' crowns for the past four seasons.

Hamilton won last year, but he had qualified fifth and only prevailed because Vettel took himself out in a three-way crash with teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull Racing's Max Verstappen.

He was a distant third in 2016, with former teammate Nico Rosberg winning, but only after surviving heavy pressure from the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo.

In 2015 he failed to finish, and Rosberg was only fourth as Mercedes were completely outclassed by Ferrari and Red Bull.

So, you get the picture, the Marina Bay Circuit is a place where you could definitely use the word fallible to describe Mercedes.

But, out of nowhere, after not really being on the pace in practice, came a lap record of 1 minute, 36.015 that proved too hot for the rest of the field.

"That lap felt like magic," he said. "I don't know where it came from but it all came together.

"I don't think there was a bad moment in the lap, it was just perfect."

Vettel did not even have the consolation of second spot, beaten also by Verstappen's Red Bull as he had to be content with third spot.

Third is not the end of the world for Vettel and he can still win the race from there.

A good start, get past Verstappen, and pressurise Hamilton will be the strategy for Sunday's 61-lap race, which begins at 4.10pm UAE time.

But, Vettel and Ferrari would have been hoping for more than that. They would wanted to have had Hamilton further back in the pack, not leading it.

Mercedes have one of the largest budgets in F1 and have used it wisely in a bid to crack why they have been so average at Singapore in the past.

Ferrari, instead of being able to control the race are in a situation where they are going to have be smart tactically at a venue where overtaking is very difficult, to get both Vettel and Raikkonen, who starts fifth, on the podium.

Pitting early for fresher tyres is one way of doing it, and then doing faster laps while the car ahead remains on track with older rubber to get the undercut is one way of getting track position if you cannot pass on track.

The downside is, if it is an one-stop race, then stopping too early could force a second pit stop, and with the pitlane at Singapore very long, an additional pit stop is not one the teams will want to undertake willingly due to the amount of time lost.

It is unexpectedly advantage Hamilton but the challenge for Vettel and Ferrari is for them to be the ones having the last laugh on Sunday.

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