Formula 1

Lewis Hamilton claims Singapore pole ahead of Nico Rosberg

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Lewis Hamilton produced an excellent final sector to beat Nico Rosberg for pole at the Singapore Grand Prix.

The Briton posted a 1:45.681 to edge his championship rival by just seven thousandths of a second in one of the closest qualifying sessions in some time.

Daniel Ricciardo was third for Red Bull just under two tenths behind the two Silver Arrows with his team-mate Sebastian Vettel fourth.

Tyre strategy

The big story of the session was tyres as the huge delta time between the soft and super-soft compounds meant all the drivers were forced on the red-striped rubber from the first part of qualifying.

With the same tyres being used in the race it was also a case of managing their Pirelli allocation as some used the same set for two runs or simply took the gamble of running just once as Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo and the two Ferrari's did in the crucial second segment.

Tightly packed

With the streets of Singapore not playing to the power strengths of the Mercedes, the grid was much closer than in recent races as just six tenths of a second covered the top nine.

Ferrari looked the most likely to challenge Mercedes in the early sessions indeed the two Prancing Horse's led the second part of qualifying, but when it mattered, Kimi Raikkonen was hampered by engine problems and could only take seventh with Fernando Alonso also couldn't quite find the extra pace as he took fifth.

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As expected, Williams were much improved from Friday, however, after being clearly best of the rest at Monza, the twists and turns of Marina Bay again meant they couldn't quite match their recent results.

Felipe Massa had provisional pole after the first run of Q3, however, as others improved, the Brazilian was only sixth with Valtteri Bottas eighth.

At the bottom of the top 10, Kevin Magnussen again was the leading McLaren and produced a good lap to tag on the bottom of the leading four teams in ninth ahead of Daniil Kvyat who also impressed beating team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne, who was fourth in the final practice session, and claimed tenth.

Button under pressure

The most noticeable absentee from the top 10 was Jenson Button who missed out on the top 10 by just .018 of a second, the 2009 champion locked up through turn 13 and that small error was likely enough to make the difference.

This setback comes at a key time as rumours persist over who will be at McLaren in 2015. The Briton is being beaten 8-6 by his Danish team-mate in qualifying so far this year and therefore a big race could be needed tomorrow.

Midfield pack

The same nine tenths that covered the top nine in Q3 also covered the seven cars who missed out on the top 10 in Q2.

Button led them in 11th ahead of Vergne while the Force India's struggled to match their midfield rivals.

Nico Hulkenberg was only 13th with Sergio Perez down in 15th place as Sauber's Esteban Gutierrez enjoyed a better qualifying session.

Lotus, however, remain in the doldrums as Romain Grosjean was furious with his team complaining of a lack of power as he only achieved 16th with team-mate Pastor Maldonado again failing to make Q2 and was the slowest midfield car in 18th just behind fellow Q1 casualty Adrian Sutil.

Battle for wooden spoon

At the back the two slower teams were again led by Jules Bianchi's Marussia for the seventh time this year. The Frenchman was a full second clear of Kamui Kobayashi's Caterham as the Japanese pipped Max Chilton with Marcus Ericsson grateful to his mechanics for fixing an ERS issue from practice but still last.

Mercedes vs Red Bull

So for the first time this year we look set for a straight fight between Mercedes and Red Bull for the victory.

With the super-soft tyres a weakness of the Silver Arrows yet so much faster than the prime soft compound it really does offer Daniel Ricciardo, in particular, a chance to fight for the win.

The Australian has proven he can look after the tyres and was quick during his race simulation. As for Vettel behind, he too will likely have a role but after missing out on a race simulation on Friday may have more trouble with the Ferrari's.

Trouble ahead for Ferrari?

Despite their improved weekend, however, the race could prove rather tricky for the Italian Scuderia.

Their problem with rear tyre degradation is not one to have around a rear-limited street circuit and while they may have had the pace over a single lap, maintaining it over a full race distance could be much harder.

Those issues could allow Williams to fight for the top six, but a big battle is brewing for the lower positions in the top ten.

Force India threat

Despite their poor pace in qualifying, Force India will likely be much more of a threat in the race with a two-stop strategy possible whereas most will likely complete three.

Toro Rosso are also in the mix and should another tropical downpour hit the track before the race their strength on low-grip tracks makes points a very realistic aim.

For Force India much of their attention will be on McLaren as they are involved in the big battle for fifth in the Constructors' championship.

Button will be strong in the race while Magnussen's good qualifying gives the Woking team the advantage heading into the race.

F1's endurance race

There are certainly plenty of battles up and down the top 10 to watch for in Sunday's race. With lap times around 1:50 likely during the race the 61 laps will guarantee Singapore lives up as the sport's longest race in terms of time.

Fuel is critical on the stop/ start circuit and with engine parts reaching the end of their life retirements could be plentiful, but with a big race on our hands at the front and the chance for drama increased, the Singapore Grand Prix could be crucial in deciding the fate of the 2014 world championship.

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