Sebastian Vettel remains wary of the threat posed by Lewis Hamilton despite upsetting the odds to claim pole position for Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix.
A Mercedes car has started from the front of the pack at every race since Felipe Massa’s Williams occupied top spot in Austria last June.
And heading into this weekend it was expected that the Silver Arrows would match the record of 24 consecutive poles set by Williams more than two decades ago.
But under the lights, the complete dominance which Mercedes and their rivals have become accustomed to for the best part of two seasons bizarrely vanished into the night.
Instead it was Vettel, a three-time winner here, who claimed Ferrari’s first pole since Hockenheim 1,155 days previously. Astonishingly it was also their first in dry conditions in five years.
Vettel’s brilliant best lap of one minute and 43.885 seconds was more than half a second faster than the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo and 1.5 seconds faster than Hamilton, who starts only fifth.
The four-times champion celebrated wildly as he crossed the line, punching the air before screaming over the team radio: “Yes, guys. Whooooo-hooooo! Fantastic job.”
But Vettel, who will lead the field off for the first time in almost two years on Sunday, does not believe Formula One’s only night race at this most picturesque of venues will be a foregone conclusion.
“It is a surprise as I thought they were sandbagging,” said Vettel after both Hamilton and team-mate Nico Rosberg, who qualified sixth, appeared to be off the pace in practice.
“They have a strong package this year, they have a very good car, sorry a very good power unit, and it puts them very high up and difficult to beat, so they must have some issues. Not feeling comfortable at all is the only explanation.
“I would not rule them out for tomorrow. It is not the easiest circuit to overtake on but if you have the pace eventually you come through, so I expect them to be strong.”
Hamilton is hoping to secure his 41st career victory from 161 starts – the same number achieved by Ayrton Senna – but the Briton, who will not start on the front row for the first time in 19 races, faces an uphill task to emulate his boyhood hero.
Ricciardo will instead start alongside his former Red Bull team-mate when the lights go out on Sunday. Kimi Raikkonen qualified third for Ferrari with the Red Bull of Daniil Kvyat in fourth. Rosberg, 53 points adrift of Hamilton in the championship race, is sixth.
“It is a bit of a coincidence it is Seb and I but it should be a good race tomorrow,” said Ricciardo. “Qualifying was exciting and to have no Mercedes up here is a surprise to everyone.
“I thought they were playing a few card games yesterday but it seems they are not particularly comfortable this weekend, so it is good to capitalise on that.”
McLaren had high hopes going into Saturday’s qualifying session but the British team failed to get either car into the top-10 shootout. Fernando Alonso, who must wonder why he ever left Ferrari, is 12th on the grid with Jenson Button only 15th.
Outside the top six, Valtteri Bottas was seventh for Williams, Max Verstappen eighth in his Toro Rosso, Williams driver Felipe Massa ninth and the Lotus of Romain Grosjean completed the top 10.