Narain Karthikeyan 'flew' in qualifying for the Singapore Grand Prix. AP Photo
McLaren's Lewis Hamilton continued his surge in the second half of the season by nailing down pole position for the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix with a stirring drive around the Marina Bay Street Circuit on Saturday.
The Briton has won two of the last three races to close within 37 points of championship leader Fernando Alonso with seven rounds remaining, and will be confident of converting McLaren's fourth consecutive pole into a fourth successive team victory.
Hamilton won this race in 2009 and became the first man to secure pole here twice with a lap of 1 minute 46.362 seconds, almost half a second ahead of Williams' Pastor Maldonado, who drove brilliantly to claim a front row spot.
"The guys have done a fantastic job all week and to come here with some small things that have improved from the last race," Hamilton told reporters after securing a 24th pole of his career.
"It is an incredibly tough circuit for tyre degradation... especially as it is hot and humid here," the 2008 world champion added.
"I think everyone is going to struggle with that, so we just have to try and get away cleanly at the start and try to stick to the strategy we have planned and be prepared if it doesn't work."
World champion Sebastian Vettel had dominated the three practice sessions prior to qualifying but his Red Bull could only finish third in 1:46.905, narrowly ahead of Hamilton's McLaren team mate Jenson Button.
"I am a little disappointed and I don't know why we couldn't do the step up but I think third is a good position to start from," Vettel said.
Singapore GP signs contract extension
Formula One cars will continue to swerve around the skyscrapers of Singapore for the next five years after the government agreed on Saturday to help cover the S$150 million ($122.61 million) cost of hosting the unique night race.
There had been some doubt about the future of the event, the only night race on the calendar, as media reports said the government was keen to drive down the cost of staging a race drivers describe as one of the toughest in F1.
Some locals have also moaned that the race imposes too much on their daily life and the closing of much of the bustling central business district during F1 week is unpopular with some.
With Singapore due to open its much vaunted sports and entertainment hub in 2014 close to the current Marina Bay Street Circuit, there have been suggestions to move the 23-turn route outside of the central business district to appease residents.
Follow the Indian
You have to wonder what exactly Narain Karthikeyan was doing that his HRT F1 teammate Pedro De La Rosa wasn’t during the summer break before the Belgian Grand Prix.
De La Rosa is an experienced driver who not only has an F1 podium finish and a fastest lap to his name, but is widely regarded as one of the best test and development drivers in the business. It’s one of the reasons why HRT F1 hired him for 2012 in order to give the fledgling team a boost.
Karthikeyan has, however, been comprehensively shading him in both race conditions and qualifying in the two races since the end of the summer break (Belgium and Italy).
He outqualified De La Rosa in Italy by a slim margin and was almost a second faster than him around the tight and twisty streets of Singapore by almost a second. Whatever he’s doing is clearly working.