Mercedes’ 15-month domination of Formula One qualifying came to a shuddering halt on Saturday when Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel snatched pole position for the Singapore Grand Prix.
Mercedes had started at the front of the grid in each of the last 23 Grands Prix, dating back to the middle of last year, and needed just one more to equal the all-time record, set by the Williams team in the early 1990s.
But the Silver Arrows pairing of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were unable to keep up with the Ferrari and Red Bull teams, who staged their own high-speed battle for pole.
Vettel came out on top, giving Ferrari their first pole position since 2012 with a masterful lap around the floodlit Singaporean track.
The German, a three-time winner in Singapore when he was with his previous team Red Bull, continued his love affair with the tricky street circuit by setting the fastest qualifying time of one minute 43.885 seconds.
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Vettel’s pole position was the 46th of his career. His last was in 2013, when he was with Red Bull.
The 28-year-old was more than half a second clear of Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo, who booked his spot on the front row for Red Bull with the second best time.
Hamilton, who had started from pole in 11 of the previous 12 races this season, could only manage fifth spot, with Rosberg starting alongside him in sixth.
Dripping with sweat on a hot and humid night in the Southeast Asian state, Vettel climbed from his cockpit and celebrated like he had won the race.
“I’m surprised by the margin but I think it just came together. It was near perfect,” Vettel said.
Mercedes have been unstoppable for the past two seasons but the advantage they have with their superior engines is largely negated on slower, tighter circuits such as Singapore, which has 23 turns.
Held at night against the backdrop of the city’s skyscrapers, Singapore provides one of motor racing’s great spectacles on and off the track.
With sparks flying off the back of his car, Vettel dominated the hour-long qualifying session. He was third after the first stage using soft tyres but topped the second and third sessions after switching to super softs.