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Qualifying analysis - Mercedes powerless to keep rivals at bay

19 Sep 2015

If Friday’s running hinted that Mercedes’ dominance could come under threat, Saturday’s running confirmed it. In the hot and humid conditions of Marina Bay, the Silver Arrows simply didn’t have the pace to compete with Ferrari and a rejuvenated Red Bull. After one of the most exciting - not to mention surprising - days of the season so far, we take a team-by-team look at the formbook...

Sebastian Vettel, 1m 43.885s, P1
Kimi Raikkonen, 1m 44.667s, P3

Vettel was simply in a class of his own as he hit the SF15-T’s sweet spot and made the most of it for a perfect final run in Q3. That gave him his first pole since Brazil 2013, and Ferrari their first since Germany 2012. All things being equal, Vettel now has every chance to add to his tally of three Singapore victories. Raikkonen was less effusive but seemed to be generally happy with what he described as a “quite good” result for the team. That’s first and third place, and the first pole of the current hybrid power unit formula not to be set with a Mercedes engine…

Red Bull
Daniel Ricciardo, 1m 44.428s, P2
Daniil Kvyat, 1m 44.745s, P4

Red Bull’s pre-race hopes of a strong performance were fully justified as Ricciardo milked his RB11 for all it was worth. Both cars were still a bit skippy over some of the worst bumps, but Kvyat was also very strong and was in contention all day. It was a great fillip for the team – and for Renault – after their oft-troubled season. And if either driver can beat Vettel off the line, they might just be able to pull off the big surprise.

Lewis Hamilton, 1m 45.300s, P5
Nico Rosberg, 1m 45.415s, P6

Some thought that Mercedes were sandbagging on Friday, but by Saturday morning it was clear that the team that has for so long dominated had not cured its set-up shortcomings. These centred around an inability to switch the tyres on to operate effectively either on single-lap or long-distance runs, which many put down to changes in the minimum tyre pressure of 18 psi front and 17 psi mandated for this race by Pirelli. Ferrari and Red Bull are both geared up for a challenge from the Silver Arrows in the race, but the team say they don’t expect better than fifth or sixth unless those rivals run into trouble. Extraordinary…

Valtteri Bottas, 1m 45.676s, P7
Felipe Massa, 1m 46.077s, P9

Seventh and ninth places were a disappointment for Williams, but like Mercedes they never really got their FW37s hooked up. Bottas thought he got the best out of his, but Massa admitted to making a mistake in Q3 which hurt his grid place. The team were also fined 2000 Euros for unsafely releasing Bottas into Ricciardo’s path in Q3, though the penalty was mitigated by the fact that the Australian did not have to take avoiding action.

Toro Rosso
Max Verstappen, 1m 45.798s, P8
Carlos Sainz Jnr, 1m 46.894s, P14

Verstappen was very happy with his lap and to place his upgraded Toro Rosso ahead of rivals from Lotus and Force India, especially after his team had cured the understeer that had slowed him in FP3. Sainz spoiled his chance of making Q3 when he clobbered the wall in Turn 19, crabbing his STR10 back to the pits and also ruining the chances of the Force India and McLaren drivers as the yellow flags came out.

Romain Grosjean, 1m 46.413s, P10
Pastor Maldonado, 1m 47.323s, P18

Grosjean admitted that he was surprised to make it through so easily to Q3, and thus put himself in play to score some crucial points. But it was a completely different ball game for Maldonado who said he lacked grip because he was unable to get his tyres working properly. The end result for the Venezuelan? An early exit in Q1.

Force India
Nico Hulkenberg, 1m 46.305s, P11
Sergio Perez, 1m 46.385s, P13

While Hulkenberg still complained that his VJM08’s balance wasn’t quite what he was chasing, Perez said that the Sainz yellow flag at the end of Q2 ruined what was up to then looking like his best lap. This hasn’t been an easy weekend for the Silverstone-based team after two solid races in Spa and Monza, but points are still a definite possibility.

Fernando Alonso, 1m 46.328s, P12
Jenson Button, 1m 47.019s, P15

Alonso has had a car he can really hustle this weekend and he has been in typically fine form. Button, meanwhile, said his machine understeered more than the MP4-30’s range of front wing adjustment could cure. Both suffered from the Sainz yellow flags in Turn 19, so although this was one of their most competitive outings of the season, both said they were ultimately a tad disappointed. But both are wise enough to know that there could be opportunities to move forward on race day.

Felipe Nasr, 1m 46.965s, P16
Marcus Ericsson, 1m 47.088s, P17

There was an air of disappointment at the Swiss team that the heavy aero upgrade introduced for this race did not produce positive results first time out. The team said their new package needs further investigation and development, and that means that points may ultimately be out of their reach.

Will Stevens, 1m 51.021s, P19
Alexander Rossi, 1m 51.523s, P20

Stevens was relieved to make up for the time he lost in FP2 and to pull a big Q1 lap out of the bag to move ahead of fast new team mate Rossi. The American meanwhile was disappointed not to outqualify his more experienced partner in his very first qualifying session, but admitted that he didn’t get enough out of his own final lap.