June 19, 2024

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Carlos Sainz took pole position for Ferrari on Saturday for the Singapore Grand Prix, but championship leader Max Verstappen will start from the back half of the grid after a “shocking” qualifying session Verstappen was eliminated in Q2 after finishing 11th fastest in an “undriveable” Red Bull and then escaped penalties that could have demoted him to last place. Verstappen faced stewards late on Saturday after being accused of impeding cars in the pit lane and twice more on the track as he tried to create a gap for his qualifying laps.

The stewards cleared the driver of one offence and issued reprimands each for the other two, meaning Verstappen retains his place on the sixth row. “I knew it would always be tough to put it on pole. But this I didn’t expect,” Verstappen told reporters after both Red Bulls were eliminated in Q2 for the first time since the Russian Grand Prix in 2018.

“Throughout the weekend we have been struggling. We tried a few more things on the car for qualifying and that tipped it over where it became undriveable again,” he added.

Sainz’s lap of 1min 30.984sec pipped the Mercedes of George Russell by 0.072sec and the second Ferrari of Charles Leclerc who was third, 0.007sec further back.

Sainz will start from pole for the second consecutive grand prix after also being fastest in Italy two weeks ago. “A bit like Monza really, we hit the ground running in FP1. I felt very confident all through the sessions and put it together in Q3,” said Sainz, who also topped the time sheets in Saturday’s third free practice session.

“I just focused on not doing any mistakes on that lap. Keeping it clean in Singapore normally pays off.”

Verstappen has won the last 10 races in a row and has a 145-point lead over Sergio Perez, who fared even worse as he spun on his final lap and could not improve on 13th. The Dutchman has never triumphed under the lights in Singapore and faces an almost impossible task to end the drought at the street circuit after a torrid weekend well off the pace.

“It’s just a shocking experience,” he said.

Russell will start from the front row for the first time since the Australian Grand Prix at the beginning of April.

Stroll survives huge crash

The Englishman was the last non-Red Bull driver to win a grand prix, in Brazil last year. “Really happy with this weekend as a whole,” said Russell. “I felt really confident in the car, the team did a great job with the strategy.

“We have an extra set of medium tyres tomorrow which nobody around us has. So to get to Q3 and be on the front row with a strategic advantage tomorrow is an exciting place to be.”

Perez won in Singapore last year from the front row but will make his 250th grand prix start in Sunday’s night race from the back half of the grid.

Verstappen has won 12 of the 14 races this season with Perez the only other driver to take the chequered flag but now the team’s prospects of a perfect season are under severe threat on a circuit where overtaking is near impossible.

The McLaren of Lando Norris will join Leclerc on the second row of the grid for Sunday’s night race “Everything was super close, Mercedes were really strong today too,” said Leclerc.

“Unfortunately I missed it just a little bit to gain a few positions. Carlos did a great job. We did not expect to be this competitive on a track like this. This is a good sign for the future.”

Lewis Hamilton and Kevin Magnussen were fifth and sixth respectively and will occupy the third row followed by Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon, Nico Hulkenberg and Liam Lawson.

Earlier, Q1 was brought to a premature halt by a red flag after Lance Stroll spectacularly crashed his Aston Martin entering the pit straight at the end of a hot lap.

A huge impact into the wall sent his car spinning across the track with wheels and bodywork flying. The Canadian was later given the all-clear by doctors after walking away unscathed.

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