McLaren-Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton brushed aside talk of an unstable team environment, disagreements over a new contract and the challenge from defending world champions Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel to record his third pole position in the last four races.
The 2008 world champion lapped the Marina Bay Street circuit at Singapore in 1:46.362, 0.442s faster than Williams' Pastor Maldonado, who scored a surprise front-row start (only his third of the season). Vettel, who was fastest through all three practice sessions, could only manage a 1:46.905 for third place. Hamilton's team mate, Jenson Button, and championship leader Fernando Alonso of Ferrari line up fourth and fifth, with times of 1:46.939 and 1:47.216 respectively.
Paul di Resta in his Sahara Force India (1:47.241); Vettel's team mate, Mark Webber (1:47.475) and Romain Grosjean in the Lotus-Renault (1:47.788) will start from sixth through eight on the grid, with the Mercedes duo of Michael Schumacher (no time) and Nico Rosberg (no time) rounding out the top ten.
Sebastian Vettel's fine form all through the three practice sessions suggested the German might have reignited his title defence, which has fallen in the face of challenges from Alonso and Hamilton. The Ferrari driver was slowly exerting control over the championship leading up to the mid-season break, winning in Valencia and at Hockenheim (coupled with a second place at Silverstone) and built up a sizeable lead in the points table by the time the teams arrived in Hungary. Once there, however, the McLarens took over - the Woking-based team has scored pole position at every race since then (Hungary, Belgium, Italy and now Singapore) and won every race (Hamilton at the Hungaroring and Monza and Button at Spa).
Unfortunately for Vettel, the Red Bull was once again unpredictable, losing grip at the start of Q3 once the teams switched to the Pirelli supersofts. The problem wasn't just with Vettel's car; Webber complained of a lack of rear-end balance in his car as well and team principal Christian Horner confirmed the problem.
Ferrari, meanwhile, were beaten... comprehensively... and Alonso admitted that. However, the Spaniard, a double world champion, insisted the team would not give up the ghost despite the odds being stacked against them. The Ferrari, like the Red Bull, seemed to struggle with a lack of rear-end grip. Alonso commented on the time difference between the two... which he estimated at approximately one and a half to two seconds.
"It's true the Softs can last longer but it's also true that, with such a significant difference, the Supersofts could also be an interesting option. I expect a lot of pit stops, specifically because of the tyre degradation," the Ferrari driver commented, adding, "The race will be very long, very hard physically and mentally, because you need to always concentrate to the maximum, with no margin for error."
The Lotus-Renault, Mercedes and Sahara Force India teams continue to run strongly but still lack that final bit of consistent pace to challenge the top three teams. Grosjean enjoyed a much better evening out than team mate Kimi Raikkonen, who had to settle for 12th after a best of 1:48.261. The Sahara Force India cars ran in the top ten for much of the practice sessions and di Resta did superbly to place himself sixth, ahead of Webber and Grosjean. His team mate was less fortunate though - Nico Hulkenberg recorded 1:47.975 to start 11th.
The biggest disappointment of the day was Ferrari's Felipe Massa. The Brazilian has struggled for pace, qualifying or race, all through the season and recent mini-revivals notwithstanding, was once again left miles behind his team mate Alonso. Massa managed 1:48.344 and will start 13th after failing to pass Q2.
Two drivers have been given penalties for this weekend. Marussia's Charles Pic will have 20s added to his race time for overtaking while the circuit was under red flags (in the third practice session) and Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa will have a five place grid penalty for unscheduled gearbox change. The starting grid for the race remains unchanged. de la Rosa qualified 24th and last in his HRT-Cosworth.
For the full start grid for the 2012 Singapore Formula 1 Grand Prix, click here.
Weather (all Times are Singapore Local)
The weather on race day is likely to be damp, if not actually wet. There was an unexpected 45-minute thunderstorm on Friday, just before the practice sessions and it has rained all through the weekend so far. Fortunately though, the rainfall has been limited to the mornings and afternoons, which means that by 8 pm, when the race is scheduled to start, the weather should clear up. Heavy showers are forecast for 5 pm though.
Air temperature is likely to remain stable through to the start of the race, at around 29 degrees Celsius, and humidity is set to rise to what will be an uncomfortably hot 85 percent by the time the race starts. The conditions, in fact, should very much resemble those at Malaysia at the start of the season.
This means driver fatigue could come into play and given this is a street circuit where the barriers are right next to the track, expect a few safety car periods. The only positive point here is that unlike Malaysia, it should not (we stress on should not) rain.
Where to Watch Live
Coverage of the race will start at 11.30 am BST on Sky Sports F1 HD and from 12.10 pm BST on BBC One and BBC One HD. Real time text updates will be available via the Live Timing section on the sport's official Web site and live radio commentary, from 1 pm BST will be on BBC Radio 5 live.