By John O’Brien
SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Sebastian Vettel was left to rue another frustrating day in his pursuit of championship leader Lewis Hamilton after the German could only manage third place in qualifying for the Singapore Grand Prix on Saturday.
Vettel, who had looked dominant in practice, has struggled to stamp his authority on the title race in a Ferrari regarded as superior to all of his rivals. The German arrived in Singapore 30 points behind Hamilton, with only seven races left to overhaul the Mercedes driver.
Ferrari and Vettel are a perfect fit for the Marina Bay street circuit, the German having won under the floodlights a record four times, yet Hamilton produced a stunning pole lap of 1:36.015 to tighten his grip on the title race.
“Obviously the gap if you look at it is a surprise but I don’t think it reflects the true performance. So for us it didn’t go as smooth as it should have been,” Vettel told reporters after finishing 0.613 seconds behind the Briton.
“It was not an ideal session for us, you can figure out what I mean but I think we should have done better. I think we had the ingredients and we didn’t put it together,” added Vettel, who will start behind Hamilton and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
“It is not a disaster so I am not completely upset but for sure we wanted to get pole. I think it was definitely there for our grasp and the way qualifying happened, it wasn’t any more.
“That’s disappointing for now but tomorrow we turn the page and go racing.”
Vettel conceded Ferrari had made tactical errors in qualifying but argued that although Hamilton’s pole lap was significantly faster than his, the Briton was not untouchable.
“I think obviously the gap is quite big. Lewis had a really good lap, so congrats to him for the lap.
“I don’t think he was unbeatable but for us today, the way we composed qualifying, I think it was difficult to get a rhythm. I think other people did a better job. That’s including Lewis’ lap as an individual but also them as a team.
“It’s not what we wanted today to get third.”
Sunday’s race will be difficult to win from the second row but Vettel said he would do all he could to eat into Hamilton’s championship lead.
“I think it’s very close. Obviously you see across all sessions that everybody’s been up top,” he added.
“We can’t expect miracles tomorrow because nobody has the pace to lap the others but overall I think it’s good to have pace then we see what we can do and how much we can fight.”
(Editing by John O’Brien; Editing by Tony Lawrence)