Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc claimed his ninth pole position of the 2022 FIA Formula 1 season after Max Verstappen was forced to abort a faster final lap in a wet-dry Qualifying.
The Dutchman was seven-tenths up when the 25-year-old’s Red Bull team called the championship leader to the pit lane due to a lack of fuel, which led to an expletive-laden rant over the team radio from the Dutch driver.
Leclerc, 24, admitted to a mistake on his final lap on slick tyres, with Q1 and Q2 being run on wet tyres, but had done enough to beat Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez by just 0.022s.
“It’s been a very, very tricky qualifying. In Q3 we didn’t know what to do, we went for the soft at the last minute,” said the Monegasque driver, adding: “Considering the Friday we had, we recovered well. We don’t have much data for the race but I’m sure we can win.”
It is back-to-back pole positions in Singapore for Leclerc, who will be hoping for better fortune than the last race around Marina Bay in 2019 from his 18th career pole.
F1’s most successful driver Lewis Hamilton had also threatened to take pole but his final lap was half-a-tenth off the Ferrari, leaving the four-time winner in Singapore third on the grid.
For Verstappen, all is not lost as the Red Bull driver has won from 7th, 10th and 14th in the last five races although it is unknown how the new 2022 cars will fare on the twisty Singapore streets.
Why did Verstappen have to pit?
While Verstappen was furious to have been force to abort his final lap, it was a sensible move from the Red Bull pit wall.
After Qualifying and the Race, every car is compelled to provide a one-litre sample of fuel to the FIA to ensure compliance.
Should the sample not be forthcoming, the car in question can be disqualified from the session completely, meaning had Verstappen completed the lap and gone fastest, he may have been sent to the back of the grid.
This has happened before. At the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix, Hamilton set the fastest lap in Qualifying but stopped on track.
Following the session, the Stewards cancelled all of the Briton’s laps and the 2008 world champion lined up 24th and last on the Sunday, which promoted Williams and Pastor Maldonado to pole with the Venezuelan going on to take his only career win.
Verstappen’s recent incredible run of victories has featured three wins from starts outside the top six.
In Belgium, following a grid drop for extra power unit elements, Verstappen breezed through the field from 14th to win with ease.
In similar circumstances to Spa, the 25-year-old won from seventh in Italy, while the Dutchman was victorious from 10th on the grid in Hungary, despite Ferrari starting that race from second and third and leading for a significant period.
Winning Sunday’s Grand Prix is possible with the form both Verstappen and the Red Bull team have been in, the difficulty in overtaking, as well as potential Safety Car’s, make Leclerc’s job at the front a bit more straightforward.
Leclerc out to avoid 2019 repeat
Leclerc’s pole replicates his performance from the 2019 session, the last time F1 visited Singapore, which was his first season with Ferrari.
On that occasion, Leclerc led from pole, with then team mate Sebastian Vettel back in third.
However, Ferrari boxed the quadruple world champion first and managed to undercut both Hamilton, who ran second, and Leclerc who had controlled the opening phase.
A frustrated Monegasque made his dissatisfaction known to the team as Vettel led home a Ferrari one-two, which was also the German’s final Ferrari win.
A repeat within Ferrari is unlikely, with Sainz fourth and realistically out of the title fight, even if not mathematically.
The main threat to the Monegasque, who has three wins in 2022, will come from Perez and Hamilton, Mercedes’ car generally stronger over a race-distance.