Leclerc takes pole in Singapore as Verstappen finishes eighth

Charles Leclerc took pole position on Saturday for the Singapore Grand Prix, but Formula One world championship leader Max Verstappen was left fuming after finishing only 8th fastest in wet conditions.

Leclerc clocked 1min 49.412sec in his Ferrari to top the timesheets by 0.022sec ahead of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton in third.

Verstappen, who can mathematically retain his world title this weekend, looked set to challenge Leclerc’s time on his final flying lap before his Red Bull engineer asked him to abandon it and return to the pits.

The Dutchman had set the fastest first sector, then let fly on an expletive-pippered tirade over team radio after being instructed to abort.

Only the top-10 shootout for pole took place on slick tires on the Marina Bay circuit at night.

Most of the qualifying took place on intermediate tires with the track still too wet to risk, with the concrete walls of the city center always a danger in the event of any loss of control.

“In Q3 we didn’t really know what to do,” said Leclerc, about whether to change to slicks.

“We went soft at the last minute — and it paid off.

“I mean, it was really, really tricky.”

Monaco’s Leclerc can prevent Verstappen from sealing the championship this weekend by finishing higher than eighth in Sunday’s race.

Leclerc now has a large grid advantage over the Dutchman, who will start from the fourth row on a circuit that offers few overtaking opportunities.

Verstappen had celebrated his 25th birthday with a cake in the Red Bull team hospitality on Friday but had nothing to do a day later.

He needs to win the race, score 22 points more than Leclerc and see his team Perez finish fourth or lower to retain his world title with five races to spare.

Mercedes Hamilton’s George Russell failed to get any grip on his intermediate tires and failed to make it into Q3 after being 11th fastest.

“I’m sorry guys, I couldn’t do anything. I was struggling a lot,” said the Englishman over team radio. “What a pity.”

Alex Albon managed to make it to Singapore three weeks after suffering appendicitis at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza and complications from surgery.

The British-born Thai was unable to find any grip or speed in his Williams and was eliminated in the first qualifying session after finishing 19th.

dh/pst

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