SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg took pole position for his 200th Formula One race after a stunning qualifying lap around Singapore’s Marina Bay street circuit on Saturday.
The German’s best lap of one minute 42.584 seconds left him perfectly placed to retake the championship lead from British team mate Lewis Hamilton under the floodlights on Sunday.
Rosberg hailed the lap as one of the best of his career and, by securing his 29th pole position at a circuit that offers minimal overtaking opportunities, the 31-year-old will be hopeful of securing his eighth victory of the season.
“I am definitely happy with that one. It was one of my top three laps ever,” said Rosberg, who sits two points behind Hamilton with seven rounds remaining.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo split the Mercedes pair to claim second spot in 1:43.115, the Australian edging out triple world champion Hamilton, a two-times winner in Singapore who will start in third place.
“It wasn’t clear in qualifying how we would stack up against Red Bull, so I really had to give it everything and pull it out of the bag, which is cool,” Rosberg added of his pole-setting lap.
Ricciardo is still searching for his first win of the season after he was denied victory by a botched pit stop in Monaco, and with Singapore providing the most similar circuit to Monte Carlo, the Australian can hope to go one better on Sunday.
“I am pleased enough,” he said. “The aim was to be in on the front row, we knew it would be tough to get in front of the Mercedes but it was nice to be in front of one of them.”
Dutch teenager Max Verstappen, who had a surprise encounter with a monitor lizard in practice, will start alongside Hamilton after setting the fourth fastest time for Red Bull.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen rounded out the top five.
Last year’s winner Sebastian Vettel will start from the back of the grid, the German complaining over the radio of an anti-rollbar issue in the first qualifying session with his Ferrari team unable to repair the car in time to set a fast lap.
Vettel felt he was kept out on the track too long by his team, shouting “That was stupid. We’re losing time” over the radio as he entered the pitlane after lapping slowest of the 22 drivers.
“We decided to try and pit to fix the car but there wasn’t time,” said Vettel, who has won four of the last five races in Singapore. “I‘m very disappointed.”
Behind Raikkonen, the Toro Rosso pair of Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat were followed by Nico Hulkenberg (Force India), Fernando Alonso (McLaren) and Valtteri Bottas (Williams) to complete the top 10 on the starting grid.
Force India’s Sergio Perez had originally finished in 10th place but the Mexican picked up an eight-place grid penalty for failing to slow down when yellow flags were being waved towards the end of the second qualifying session.
Editing by Alan Baldwin