SINGAPORE — Charles Leclerc clinched the all-important pole position at the Formula 1 Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix qualifying on Saturday (1 October), setting the scene to deny rival Max Verstappen of winning the overall title on Sunday.
The Ferrari driver clocked 1min 49.412sec amid tricky conditions due to torrential rain earlier in the evening to pip Red Bull Racing's Sergio Perez (1:49.434) to pole, giving himself a considerable edge over the rest of the field in winning Sunday's race along the narrow and winding Marina Bay street circuit.
"It has been a very, very tricky qualifying. We went for softs at the very last minute. I did a mistake on my last lap so I didn't think I'd get pole," he said.
Four-time Singapore Grand Prix winner Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes earned his first top-three start of the season with 1:49.466.
Verstappen (1:51.395) has to start from eighth on the grid on Sunday, after his Red Bull team inexplicably called him into the pits while he was chasing Leclerc's race time, much to his anger as he screamed profanities into his team radio.
It eventually transpired that Red Bull were concerned the Dutchman's car would not have enough fuel to provide the mandatory sample, which would have resulted in him starting at the back of the grid.
This is the second time Leclerc has taken pole position in Singapore. He had also qualified fastest in the 2019 edition, but finished second to then-teammate Sebastian Vettel.
Slim chance of Verstappen clinching overall title
With a massive 116-point advantage at the top of the standings, Verstappen could clinch his second consecutive driver's championship in Singapore - six races before the end of the F1 season - if he scores 22 points more than second-placed Leclerc.
That can happen if the Dutchman wins the Singapore race and Leclerc finishes no higher than ninth. If Verstappen earns a bonus point for fastest lap, his Ferrari rival must finish higher than eighth place to deny the overall title in Singapore.
While such scenarios are mathematically possible, Verstappen feels that it is "unrealistic" for him to expect to retain the overall title at Marina Bay, with next week's Japanese Grand Prix offering a far more viable chance.
"It's quite a long shot (in Singapore), and I just want to enjoy the weekend and of course try to win it," he told reporters on Thursday. "I need a lot of luck for it to happen here so I don't really count on it."
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