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Nico Rosberg snatches Singapore pole

Rosberg is not prone to hyperbole, but even he acknowledged this was one of the finest laps of his career.

Published: 18th September 2016 09:49 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th September 2016 09:49 AM   |  A+A-

SINGAPORE: One hand behind his back, the other politely acknowledging the crowd, Lewis Hamilton smiled through the pain of one of his most crushing defeats at the hands of Nico Rosberg, the man beaming to his right.

Hamilton was not just beaten to pole position for the Singapore Grand Prix, he was annihilated by his team-mate and title rival, more than seven-tenths of a second adrift at a venue where he usually thrives.

More gallingly, Daniel Ricciardo pushed Hamilton into third on an unrelenting street circuit where it is fiendishly hard to overtake.

Rosberg is not prone to hyperbole, but even he acknowledged this was one of the finest laps of his career. Those who have followed all of his 200 race weekends in F1 could think of none more dazzling, as he shone under Singapore's lights.

Hamilton chose a bad time to falter, struggling to build a rhythm all weekend amid a mix of mechanical troubles and a poor set-up. It was strangely reminiscent of the inaugural race in Baku earlier this year, although at least this time Hamilton will start third on the grid, rather than 10th as he did then.

The three-time champion will need the start of his life - far from his speciality of late - if he is to stop Rosberg taking the lead in the drivers' championship, the gap narrowed to a meagre two points after back-to-back victories for the German. This race is likely to be

decided in the seconds after the five red lights go out, on the start-line of this spectacular floodlit circuit.

You have to wonder if it may now 'advantage Rosberg' as the Mercedes duo battle for the crown for the third year in a row.

Sebastian Vettel might have challenged for Ferrari had he not been driving the red equivalent of Del Boy Trotter's three-wheeler at the start of the session.

The German told his engineers he thought the anti-roll bar was broken. They kept him out. On the track four minutes from the end, he complained: "That's just stupid. We are wasting time."

His prancing horse stumbled around the circuit hopelessly off the pace, meaning he will start the race in 22nd place, dead last.

The Red Bull of Max Verstappen never seemed in contention. The 18-year-old was constantly unhappy and had to settle for fourth. Kimi Raikkonen, in the other Ferrari, was a distant fifth.

By the time of the shoot-out for pole position, no one was in Rosberg's league.

After equalling the great Juan Manuel Fangio's tally of 29 poles, he said: "I am definitely happy with that one. It was one of my top three laps ever. I really had to give it everything and pull it out of the bag."

Ricciardo grinned intensely in the post-qualifying press conference, but then again, the Australian always does. The 27-year-old starts today's race on a harder tyre compound than the Mercedes duo, which could prove an advantage.

Hamilton did not seem confident of challenging for a much-needed victory. He missed half the second practice session on Friday, depriving him of the chance to do much running on high fuel, and ahead of qualifying, a front suspension problem caused him to lock the brakes heavily at turn seven.

"It's just not been my weekend so far," the 31-year-old reflected.

"Nico showed the true potential of the car.

"I might luck in. That's probably unlikely. The time I lost in practice was more valuable than I thought." Further back, Hamilton's old team, McLaren, did not live up to the pre-race billing. Fernando Alonso laboured through into the final part of qualifying, eventually taking ninth, while Jenson Button had a brush with the barriers in the second segment,

taking himself out of the running.

He will start 13th. Jolyon Palmer, the third and final Englishman on the grid, qualified 19th.

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