It all seemed to be going so well for Sebastian Vettel. Heading into qualifying he’d topped the times in all three practice sessions at the Singapore circuit.
But his trademark ‘number one’ finger was nowhere to be seen come the end of qualifying. Instead it was Lewis Hamilton who planted his McLaren on pole position for the fifth time this year.
Vettel didn’t even have a front-row start to console himself with. He lines up third following a brilliant qualifying effort from Pastor Maldonado, who claimed second on the grid for Williams.
Hamilton the clear favourite
Pole position makes Hamilton the clear favourite for victory at Singapore with odds of 1.6. He won from pole position at Singapore three years ago.
Passing at Singapore is very difficult and the pole sitter has won all bar one of the previous four F1 races at this track. The only exception was the inaugural race in 2008.
On that occasion Felipe Massa led comfortably from pole position, but lost the lead when a pit stop went wrong during a safety car period. It later emerged the Renault team had deliberately caused the safety car to come out by arranging for one of their drivers, Nelson Piquet Jnr, to crash. That allowed the other Renault of Fernando Alonso to inherit the lead of the race.
All of which suggests it’s going to take something unusual to disrupt the run of pole-to-flag winners at Singapore on Sunday.
Good odds on Maldonado
Maldonado starts from second on the grid and his odds of winning are extremely attractive at 15.00.
Admittedly, saying Maldonado has been accident-prone this year is like saying Bernie Ecclestone is not short of a bob or two. The Williams driver has already had a run-in with fellow front row starter Hamilton, crashing into him in the closing stages of the European Grand Prix.
But Maldonado acknowledged the need to tone down his approach after collecting three penalties in one weekend at Spa. With a Williams that has been quick on this sort of track before, he could spring a surprise, especially if he beats Hamilton to turn one and gains control of the race.
The other contenders
Vettel may have been bumped back to third on the grid but he’s not to be discounted in the hunt for victory. In Friday practice Red Bull’s race stint pace looked good, and starting from the clean side of the grid gives him a decent chance of picking off Maldonado.
But he will be concerned about his car’s reliability. His alternator failed during the last race and Singapore’s combination of high temperatures and low-speed corners are just the sort of conditions that could cause a repeat. He’s on odds of 4.50 to win.
Finally there’s the one man who should never be overlooked: Alonso. He may only be fifth on the grid but he has seldom failed to finish higher than he’s started this year. The world championship leader’s odds of winning here are 12.00.
The random element
Singapore is a long, hot, punishing race. It will take up to the two-hour time limit to complete 61 laps. Tyre degradation will play a major role in determining the outcome. The drivers at the front of the field will start the race on the super-soft tyres, but within a few laps they are expected to start struggling for pace.
Two or three pit stops for tyres are likely. But the teams will also be wary that the high chance of a safety car deployment could wreck their carefully-planned races. The safety car has appeared six times here in the previous four Singapore Grands Prix.
Keith Collantine is the editor of Formula One blog F1 Fanatic.