McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton maintained his team's improved form by claiming pole position yesterday for the Singapore Grand Prix, and with a handy buffer to his Formula One championship rivals.
Hamilton gave McLaren their fourth consecutive pole position for the first time since 1999, and his victory chances in today's race were boosted by Williams' Pastor Maldonado snatching a surprise second place in qualifying.
"We have put ourselves in the best position, so we need to capitalise on that," Hamilton said. "It's an incredibly tough track for tyre degradation ... and everyone will struggle with that."
Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel qualified third after being the fastest in all three practice sessions. He was surprised he couldn't manage at least a front-row spot.
"A little disappointed, especially Q3," Vettel said. "It's a shame it didn't come together at the end."
Jenson Button of McLaren qualified fourth, ahead of Fernando Alonso of Ferrari, who holds a 37-point lead over Hamilton in the championship standings with seven races to go.
Force India's Paul di Resta equalled a career best by qualifying sixth, one place ahead of Red Bull's Mark Webber, who could be hauled before stewards to defend interference he allegedly caused to Marussia's Timo Glock in the first qualifying session.
Meanwhile, Formula One cars will continue to swerve around the skyscrapers of Singapore for the next five years after the government agreed yesterday to help cover the S$150 million (HK$950 million)cost of hosting the unique night race.
There had been some doubt about the future of the event, the only night race on the calendar, as media reports said the government was keen to drive down the cost of staging a race drivers describe as one of the toughest in F1.
"We have just concluded the terms of the agreement today," second minister for trade and industry S. Iswaran said at the Marina Bay Street Circuit just after final practice on the eve of the fifth edition.
"The negotiations have taken some time because all parties have had very specific objectives and wanted to arrive at a mutually beneficial outcome."
Iswaran said the race had attracted more than 150,000 international visitors over the last four years with an average annual tourism spend of S$140-150 million. "The Singapore government in particular has taken a very deliberate study of the costs and benefits of continuing with this race from a national perspective. Our view is that F1 has been good for Singapore," he added.
"We had estimated 150 million dollars a year to run the race and the government would share 60 per cent of the approved costs.
"We have been able to manage it slightly below that and going forward we think there will be additional scope for savings."
Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone, 81, said he was "more than happy" with the race continuing and paid tribute to the government's enterprise
Associated Press, Reuters