Singapore: Lewis Hamilton will start from pole position in today's Singapore GP after seizing the top spot from Mercedes teammate and title rival Nico Rosberg by the narrowest of margins in the dying stages of a closely-fought qualifying session.
Hamilton lapped the floodlit Marina Bay street-circuit in one minute 45.681 seconds, edging out Rosberg by a margin of just seven-thousandths of a second.
The lap secured Hamilton's sixth pole of the season and 37th of his career overall and puts him on the frontfoot going into today's race as he bids to chase down a 22-point deficit to his championship-leading teammate with just six races to go.
"That is the most exciting qualifying session I have had for a long time," Hamilton said after qualifying. "You have to be spot on and I was almost there," the Briton, who took pole despite a small mistake that saw him lock up on his final flying lap, said.
Behind the two Mercedes, Daniel Ricciardo led Red Bull's charge in third, ahead of teammate and triple Singapore winner Sebastian Vettel, with a lap that was just a tenth-and-a-half off Hamilton's benchmark.
The reigning world champions are hoping to challenge the dominant Mercedes team this weekend around a circuit that, given its tight and twisty nature, is expected to play to the strengths of their car And following qualifying Ricciardo, the only man other than the Mercedes drivers to stand on the top step of the podium this season, was optimistic he could race the Silver Arrows in today's race.
"It's definitely encouraging," the ever-smiling Aussie, who is currently third in the championship after having won three races so far this season, told reporters after qualifying. "Coming into the weekend I thought if we could be within two or three tenths it should give us a more optimistic chance in the race to stay with them, so, yeah, I think we ended up a bit closer than we thought we would, particularly after yesterday."
"So I think it was a good day," he added. Ferrari's Fernando Alonso took fifth ahead of former teammate Felipe Massa in the Williams.
His replacement Kimi Raikkonen was seventh but the Finn was sidelined by a loss of power from his Ferrari engine which left the former world champion unable to complete his final run in the closing stages of qualifying.
Compatriot Valtteri Bottas was eighth in the second Williams ahead of McLaren rookie Kevin Magnussen and Toro Rosso's Daniil Kvyat who rounded out the top ten. Yesterday's result was Mercedes' seventh one-two of the season in qualifying but it was far from the dominant display the German marque has grown accustomed to putting on.
The two Ferraris, Red Bulls and Williams cars all appeared to be in contention for pole and the top nine cars that set a representative time were covered by less than six-tenths of a second.
Heading into the final runs of the hour-long session it was Massa who held provisional pole with Hamilton and Rosberg only sixth and seventh, respectively.
"I guess no one was really expecting to see so much difference and how close everyone was," Hamilton said. "The others have taken a step, it is a real, real surprise."
I'm sure the team are surprised, I'm sure we are just as surprised to see Ferrari competing on a lap, which is great to see, also with Williams, also with Red Bull," he added. "For racing it is great."