Max Verstappen was set to take his fifth pole position of the 2022 Formula 1 season in drying conditions at qualifying for the Singapore Grand Prix until two big mistakes handed top spot to Charles Leclerc.
Verstappen will start eighth after aborting, not only his last lap, but his penultimate Q3 effort too – both were good enough for pole position.
He’s won from seventh, 10th and 14th at three of the last four events but the Marina Bay circuit is one of the toughest to overtake on and Red Bull don’t appear to have an advantage over their rivals this weekend.
Verstappen lost pole position twice
Due to the drying track, all of the drivers in Q3, apart from Yuki Tsunoda, decided to run the same set of soft tyres from start to finish.
There were still plenty of damp parts and getting tyre temperature is vital to lap time so they needed to keep going around to get, and maintain, heat in the tyres.
It was much better to do this rather than pit for a new set of softs which would require a few laps to get temperature into those tyres.
Leclerc set a 1:49.412 with two minutes to go, which turned out to be the pole position time.
On Verstappen‘s penultimate lap, he was seven tenths of a second up on Leclerc‘s time after the second sector.
Going through Turns 18 and 19 through, the little tunnel, Verstappen was told by his team to abort the lap. Why? So he could be the last driver across the line to get the best track conditions.
It was a brilliant idea and would have worked, if he had enough fuel on board, so the team told him to abort his final run with two corners remaining.
On that lap, Verstappen was nine tenths of a second ahead of Leclerc after the middle sector so he had two laps that were comfortably good enough for pole position.
The reason Red Bull called Verstappen in was they risked not having one litre of fuel in the car which is needed to take a fuel sample.
Had there been less than a litre in the car, Verstappen would have been disqualified which is what happened to Lewis Hamilton after qualifying for the 2012 Spanish GP and Sebastian Vettel at the 2021 Hungarian GP.
Red Bull have operationally been excellent this season, but they made two big mistakes on Saturday which have likely cost Verstappen the win already.
Not acceptable says Verstappen
Verstappen was livid on the radio, swearing repetitively at his team as he questioned the decision to pit on his final run in the heat of the moment.
Twenty minutes later, he had calmed down and explained what happened from his side of the car.
“They told me to abort so I said ‘OK’ then on the final lap they told me to box so I realised what happened and we ran out of fuel,” Verstappen told Sky Sports. “Just incredibly frustrating. It shouldn’t happen.
“When you underfuel it or you don’t plan to do that sixth lap, you should at least track that throughout the session that you are not going to make it.
“We should have seen that way earlier so not happy at all at the moment. I know it’s a team effort and I can make mistakes and the team can make mistakes but it’s never acceptable.
“Of course you learn from it, but this is really bad. It shouldn’t happen.”
Can Verstappen win the Singapore GP
It’s going to be very difficult for Verstappen to take the win without some chaos and fortune from a safety car or two.
Ferrari have had the car to beat in the dry so far too, so Leclerc is the big favourite to end Red Bull driver’s run of five wins in a row.
Verstappen is downbeat about his chances, rightly so, given how track position is king at Singapore as we saw in 2018 and 2019 when there was very little overtaking.
“It’s a bit like Monaco it’s super hard to pass,” said Verstappen. “You can maybe do a little bit with strategy but at the moment I’m not really in the mood to think about the race tomorrow..
“Once I jump in the car I will give it my best but at the moment I’m just super frustrated with what happened.”
How Verstappen can become 2022 F1 world champion
Should something special happen and Verstappen wins, he could win the title if one of the following happens.
Verstappen will be champion if he wins with the fastest lap, thus taking an extra point and:
- Leclerc finishes ninth or lower
- Perez finishes fifth or lower
Verstappen will be champion if he wins but does NOT take the fastest lap and:
- Leclerc finishes 10th lower
- Perez finishes fourth or lower, or fifth or lower if he sets the fastest lap