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Leclerc takes pole in Singapore as Verstappen fumes in eighth

Charles Leclerc took pole position on Saturday for the Singapore Grand Prix, but Formula One world championship leader Max Verstappen was left fuming after finishing only eighth fastest in damp conditions.

Leclerc clocked 1min 49.412sec in his Ferrari to top the timesheets 0.022sec ahead of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez with the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton third.

Verstappen, who can mathematically retain his world title this weekend, had looked set to challenge Leclerc’s time on his final flying lap before being told to abandon and return to the pits by his Red Bull engineer.

The Dutchman had set the fastest first sector, then let fly an expletive-peppered tirade over team radio after being instructed to abort.

Only the top-10 shootout for pole took place on slick tyres on the night Marina Bay circuit.

Most of qualifying took place on intermediate tyres with the track still too damp to risk slicks, with the unforgiving concrete walls of the city centre track an ever-present danger for any loss of control.

“In Q3 we didn’t really know what to do,” said Leclerc, about whether to switch to slicks.

“We went for the soft at the very last minute—and it paid off.

“I mean, it was really, really tricky.”

Monaco’s Leclerc can prevent Verstappen from sealing the championship this weekend by finishing higher than eighth in Sunday’s race.

Leclerc now has a commanding grid advantage over the Dutchman, who will start from the fourth row on a circuit that offers few overtaking opportunities.

Verstappen had celebrated his 25th birthday with a cake in the Red Bull team hospitality on Friday but had nothing to cheer a day later.

He needs to win the race, score 22 points more than Leclerc and see teammate Perez finish fourth or lower to retain his world title with five races to spare.

Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate George Russell failed to find any grip on his intermediate tyres and failed to make it into Q3 after being only 11th fastest. 

“Sorry guys, I couldn’t do anything. I really struggled,” said the Englishman over team radio. “What a shame.”

Alex Albon did well just to make it to Singapore three weeks after suffering from appendicitis at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza and then having complications from surgery.

However the British-born Thai could not find any grip or pace in his Williams and was eliminated in the first qualifying session after finishing 19th.

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