Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel grabs vital pole position at Singapore Grand Prix

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Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel came from nowhere to seize pole position at the Singapore Grand Prix as he threw down the gauntlet to championship leader Lewis Hamilton on Saturday.

Vettel, who had been anonymous in practice, timed a record 1min 39.491sec at the floodlit Marina Bay street circuit ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo.

Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen will start fourth with Hamilton, who leads Vettel by just three points in the standings, fifth ahead of his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

Verstappen had looked set to become the first teenager on pole position but Vettel stormed through with two blistering laps in the final session to snatch it by three-tenths.

“Yesterday was difficult, this afternoon was difficult but tonight the car just came alive,” said Vettel, who looked surprised by his own performance.

Qualifying has often been crucial in Singapore, where seven of the nine races so far have been won by the driver who started from pole position.

The drivers had got off to a slow start after a fire in a Porsche Carrera Cup race before qualifying left oil on the track at Turn 20, making driving conditions treacherous.

“The oil seems everywhere in the final sector,” complained Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat, as the early times were far slower than those seen in practice.

Williams driver Felipe Massa slid heavily into the barriers, puncturing a rear tyre, and he was one of the five to drop out in Q1 as Red Bull’s Verstappen and Ricciardo led the timings.

The Ferraris set a quick pace at the start of Q2 as first Raikkonen and then Vettel went top, before Verstappen returned to the head of the table with a time of 1:40.379.

Verstappen and Ricciardo led the Ferrari pair and Hamilton into the top 10 shoot-out and the Dutch teenager soon gunned to 1:39.814 – before being eclipsed by Vettel’s 1:39.669.

Verstappen made a hash of his final lap and Vettel lowered his time to 1:39.491, afterwards whooping and shouting to his team-mates in Italian as he celebrated pole.

Provided by AFP Sport

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Valtteri Bottas signs new one-year deal at Mercedes

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Valtteri Bottas.

Lewis Hamilton will be partnered alongside Valtteri Bottas for a second season after Mercedes confirmed the Finnish driver has been retained for next year.

Bottas, who replaced defending world champion Nico Rosberg at Mercedes following his shock retirement, has won two races this year and heads into Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix third in the standings, 41 points adrift of championship leader Hamilton.

The 28-year-old Finn has agreed a one-year deal, which allows Mercedes to keep their options open with Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen both contracted at Red Bull until the end of 2018.

Hamilton’s deal with Mercedes also expires at the end of next year, but the Englishman is expected to sign a new long-term contract with the team.

Bottas, drafted in by Mercedes following Rosberg’s decision to walk away from the sport only five days after he won the championship, has steadily impressed in his opening year. The cool-headed Finn also provides the team with much-needed stability following three years of bitter in-fighting between Hamilton and Rosberg.

Mercedes non-executive chairman Niki Lauda revealed he had spoken to Sebastian Vettel about the German’s future plans, but following the announcement of his new three-year extension with Ferrari last month, Bottas was always likely to be retained.

“We gave Valtteri a big challenge this year by joining the team at the eleventh hour, stepping up to the forefront of F1 and pairing with the sport’s best driver as his team-mate,” Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said on Wednesday. “With that in mind, his results have been probably even more impressive.

“There have been ups and downs – more ups, fewer downs – and some great highlights like his two race wins in Russia and Austria. Overall, the balance of his performances and his upward trajectory made it a no-brainer for us to continue with him into 2018.

“For our team, the bonus factors are the respect and sportsmanship that have grown between our two drivers. The chemistry and dynamic between Valtteri and Lewis work and are what we need to take the fight to our competitors.”

Mercedes lead rivals Ferrari in the constructors’ championship by 62 points with only seven rounds remaining – and despite Singapore expected to suit the Italian team’s car – are odds-on to secure a fourth consecutive title.

Bottas, who spent four seasons at Williams before his switch to Mercedes, secured his maiden pole position at the third round of the championship in Bahrain before landing his first win one race later in Russia. He also won the Austrian Grand Prix in June, but has been unable to keep pace with Hamilton in recent races.

“I am honoured and proud to continue to work with Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport in 2018 and to remain part of the Mercedes family,” Bottas said. “Together, we continue to grow stronger day by day, and by keeping up our hard work I believe the sky is the limit.

“Since joining the team in January, I’ve enjoyed every day working with them. The welcome and the support from every team member and all the fans has been invaluable.

“As a driver, I’ve been able to learn and grow massively, and we have already enjoyed some really good moments this season that I will never forget. Partnering Lewis has also been really good, and I’m enjoying the respect we have and the will to push this team forward together.

“However, there’s always room for improvement and I still have not shown my full potential. I will continue to work hard on and off the track, to further improve my driving, get even better results and show that putting their trust in me was the right decision.”

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Hamilton's Mercedes team braced for difficult weekend and four other talking points ahead of Singapore Grand Prix

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The Formula One circus heads to Singapore following the conclusion of the European leg of the season at the Italian Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton’s Monza victory moved him to the summit of the championship for the first time this year, but will Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel strike back under the lights of the Marina Bay street circuit?

Here, Press Association Sport looks at the key talking points ahead of the 14th round of the campaign.

Hamilton’s Mercedes team braced for difficult weekend

It has been non-stop for Hamilton since his win at Monza took him three points clear of Vettel in the race for this year’s title.

First, the Briton was needed at the Paul Ricard circuit in the south of France for a Pirelli tyre test before heading to America for New York Fashion Week.

On Monday, he touched base at Mercedes’ Northamptonshire HQ, and then on to Frankfurt to launch Mercedes’ £2.4million Project One hypercar.

On Tuesday, Hamilton jetted out to the Far East for the first of three races in Asia, and he will have done so well aware that he could be in for a tough weekend.

The slow nature of the Marina Bay street circuit is one expected to suit Vettel’s Ferrari car, and play against Mercedes’ strengths.

Hamilton’s record in Singapore is poor in recent years, too.

He retired from the race in 2014, and was only third last season.

Hamilton has been in outstanding form since the summer break, but Sunday’s race could be a case of damage limitation.

Lewis Hamilton.

Lewis Hamilton.

McLaren’s engine future to be resolved

McLaren are set to announce their separation from beleaguered partner Honda this week.

The British team have run out of patience with the Japanese manufacturer following three years plagued by an under-performing and unreliable engine, and are poised to be powered by Renault next term.

Honda are expected to remain in the sport and team up with Red Bull’s sister outfit Toro Rosso, while Carlos Sainz is likely to join Renault as a sweetener for the French manufacturer.

McLaren’s move to Renault is also set to be enough to persuade Fernando Alonso to remain with the British team for at least one more year, and the announcement of his new contract is likely to be revealed in Singapore.

McLaren have endured a miserable year, and are last but one in the constructors’ championship.

They hope a switch to Renault engines will provide them with the necessary muscle and reliability to compete with Red Bull, also powered by Renault, next year.

McLaren.

McLaren.

The end game for Palmer?

Sainz’s heavily-mooted move from Toro Rosso to Renault would see him replace Englishman Jolyon Palmer, with reports indicating that the switch could be triggered in time for the Malaysian Grand Prix.

With Red Bull junior Pierre Gasly in the frame for Sainz’s vacant Toro Rosso seat, Sunday’s race in Singapore could mark Palmer’s last in the sport.

The 26-year-old Englishman is one of only two drivers yet to score a point this season, and he has been out-qualified by his Renault team-mate Nico Hulkenberg at every round this year.

Hulkenberg has also scored 34 points.

Palmer’s father Jonathan Palmer – the former F1 driver and circuit owner – could yet find the funds to secure Palmer a seat for 2018 – but with most drives rubber-stamped for next term, his options could be running out.

Jolyon Palmer.

Jolyon Palmer.

Red Bull ready to pounce

While Ferrari will start the Singapore Grand Prix weekend as favourites, do not be surprised to see Red Bull in the mix, too.

The former champions impressed at Monza with Daniel Ricciardo voted Driver of the Day following his charge from 16th to fourth.

The twisty surroundings of the Marina Bay track will also suit the Red Bull, as Ricciardo proved last year when he split the Mercedes cars to finish second.

Red Bull took a series of engine penalties at the last round in Monza to ensure they are in the best shape for Singapore. Now they must make it count.

Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen.

Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen.

Hulkenberg set for unwanted record

Hulkenberg is set to become the new holder of a rather unwanted record following Sunday’s race when, barring a miracle, he will move above his German countryman Adrian Sutil as the driver with the most F1 starts yet to record a podium.

The Renault driver, who won the famous Le Mans 24 hours race in 2015, has finished fourth on three occasions, but has failed to step on to the rostrum in his previous 128 F1 starts.

Nico Hulkenberg.

Nico Hulkenberg.

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