SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Charles Leclerc wove his own strand of Singapore magic on Saturday as Ferrari’s rising star roared to pole position for Sunday’s Formula One race through the streets of the city-state.
The bumpy floodlit track, hemmed in by unforgiving barriers and with more corners than anywhere else on the calendar, has over recent years set the stage for some sensational displays of derring-do in qualifying.
Last year Lewis Hamilton stole the spotlight by taking pole position with a lap even the five-times world champion, who holds the record of 87 career pole positions, described as magic.
On Saturday it was Leclerc’s turn to shine.
Hamilton, who will line up alongside the 21-year-old on the front row, was unable to do anything except watch as the Monegasque stormed to his third straight pole and fifth of the season — more than any other driver.
“It was quite a crazy lap,” Leclerc, who let out a whoop of relief on the radio after crossing the line, told reporters at the floodlit Marina Bay track.
“I lost the car quite a few times and I see myself in the wall at least twice or three times in the lap.
“Friday was a very difficult day for me and to come here in qualifying and do the pole position feels absolutely amazing.”
“Pole at the last three?” asked Hamilton, sitting alongside him, with some astonishment as the statistic sank in, and offering a one-word reply when Leclerc nodded.
Leclerc is currently in his first season with Ferrari and only his second in Formula One.
The Monegasque, who has now beaten team mate and four-times champion Sebastian Vettel in qualifying for the seventh straight time, converted his last two poles into back-to-back wins in Belgium and Ferrari’s home race in Italy.
Those tracks played to Ferrari’s speed in a straight line but the Italian team had been expected to struggle around the twisting Singapore layout.
Leclerc’s lap was all the more incredible given that he lost track time, always valuable on a street track, to a gearbox problem during Friday’s opening practice session.
With the Singapore Grand Prix having been won eight times out of 11 by the driver starting at the front, he now has a great chance of chalking up a victory hat-trick on Sunday but he was not getting carried away.
“You enjoy for a very short time qualifying because then you need to focus on the race and at the end there are no points awarded for pole positions,” said Leclerc.
“It’s very good to see that we are on pole on a track like this where we really expected to struggle. But on the other hand, I’m just focusing on the race now.
“I will be very happy if I’m in the same position tomorrow.”
Editing by Alan Baldwin/Clare Fallon