With off-track attention on the Mercedes-Benz inter-team rivalry, radio message bans and blown engines, it must have been a relief for the drivers to apply their concentration to piloting their machinery around the floodlit challenge that is the Marina Bay Street Circuit.
Overnight rain had washed the track clean, so qualifying promised to be a game of nerves, with teams waiting for the track to ‘rubber in’ and offer increased level of grip. With outright speed secondary to precision and concentration, Singapore promised the possibility of a challenge to Mercedes’ qualifying dominance so far. The performance differential between the soft and supersoft compounds raised the possibility of teams sacrificing a set of the faster tyre to guarantee their quali progress.
With Ericsson’s Caterham still in the garage having its ERS unit replaced, it was Rosberg who came unstuck first on track, outbraking himself into Turn 8 and taking to the escape road to avoid flat-spotting his tyres. Grosjean reported brake power failure and team mate Maldonado found himself off the track at Turn 7. It was the Ferrari pair who put in the surprise performance, with Raikkonen edging his team mate at the top of the Q1 time sheet.
It was the Ferrari pair again who immediately brought the fight to Mercedes, with both drivers setting the early Q2 pace. Hamilton’s response was to shave a couple of thousandths off Alonso’s time to retake the top spot. It was a cagey session, with the need to save tyres for Q3 balanced against an evolving track informing teams’ decisions whether or not to sit on the times they had banked or use tyre resources to ensure their progress to the last session. Mclaren’s Jenson Button missed progressing to Q3 by two thousandths of a second.
All gloves were off for Q3, the early runs favouring everyone but Mercedes. After two relatively lacklustre sessions, it was Williams who stepped up, with Massa registering the fastest lap in the early part of the session. With everyone out for final flying laps, Raikkonen reported a loss of power and was told to stop the car by the team. It was a scramble for times, with Ricciardo the first the break Massa’s time. It was the last chance saloon as the cars streamed over the line with times tumbling. Business as usual in the end, with Hamilton taking pole from his team mate by seven thousandths of a second. Red Bull locked out the second row.