How Hamilton’s “magical” qualifying lap came together

Lewis Hamilton’s pole lap for the 2018 Singapore Grand Prix was “one of the best – if not the best lap I’ve ever done”, by his own account. 

Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff agreed.

He described Hamilton’s 1:36.015s lap as “one of the most incredible qualifying laps I have witnessed.” 

The four-time World Champion ended Q3 in Marina Bay three tenths clear of second-placed Max Verstappen. Hamilton also snagged a brand new track record. 

Hamilton said the lap was “magical”.

But, what made the difference in Singapore? How did a car that has historically struggled on twisty street circuits – because of its long wheelbase – finish half-a-second clear of the agile Ferrari?

The benefit of consistency

Q3 sessions generally have their most important moments in the dying seconds, when the clock runs out of time. But, in Singapore on Saturday, Lewis Hamilton had the job done with the first round of laps. 

In fact, the top three in qualifying – Hamilton, Verstappen, and Vettel – all completed their quickest laps in the first half of the session.  

Lewis Hamilton on-track during qualifying for the Singapore Grand Prix, where he would go onto take pole position (Image courtesy of Daimler AG). 

When Hamilton crossed the line to set his 1:36.015s lap, he had the quickest sectors across the board. No wonder Mercedes Technical Director James Allison described the lap as “breath-taking”.

But, in the final qualifying runs in the dying moments of Q3, Hamilton’s sector times were challenged. He, himself, failed to improve and abandoned his lap. However, Vettel would set the quickest first sector time and Verstappen set the quickest second sector time. 

But, they were let down by consistency, as neither Vettel nor Verstappen improved their lap times following the purple sectors. If Verstappen had managed to string together his three quickest sectors, he would’ve set a time of 1:36.182s. Which, for the record, still wouldn’t have beaten Hamilton.

This demonstrates an ability that was crucial to Hamilton’s success: consistency across the lap.

An Alfa Romeo Sauber statement recorded the track temperature during qualifying between 33-34°C, with an air temperature of  30°C. The extreme heat causes tyres, especially the qualifying-specific hypersoft, to overheat heavily. 

The fact that both Vettel and Verstappen set a purple/fast sector, but then failed to capitalize in the other two suggests their cars couldn’t hold a consistent tyre temperature throughout the lap. As soon as they pushed hard, the car lost grip. 

Vettel’s post-qualifying comments suggested this theory. “I think we didn’t take the best out of the car,” he said, “I think Lewis had a very good lap but he was not impossible to beat.”

The final purple sector

Consistency may have been a big factor for Hamilton, with quick times across all three sectors, but his car shined particularly in the final sector. 

Even after his hypersoft tyres had been punished through the first and second sectors, Hamilton still went 0.125s quicker than anyone else at the end of his lap. 

Lewis Hamilton (right) celebrates his Singapore Grand Prix pole position with Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff (Image courtesy of Daimler AG). 

Onboard replays clearly show Hamilton dominating this part of the lap. The run through sector three is typical of a classic street circuit, with mostly ninety-degree corners one-after-the-other. 

But, the front end of Hamilton’s Mercedes was planted. As he asked the car to turn into the apex, it responded courageously. Hamilton always appeared confident in its ability, which allowed him to carry maximum speed through the corner and therefore extracts the best performance. 

“This track is all about confidence,” he commented at the end of the session, “confidence in your braking points and the stability of the car.”

The dialled-in front-end was well-complemented by a rear that was also planted and secure. Hamilton’s car changed direction swiftly and with no hesitation.

Watch the lap that gave Lewis Hamilton pole

Oversteer was nowhere to be seen. “I didn’t have any wheel spin or any of that,” Hamilton said. 

And then, all of this was topped off by a car that could handle kerbs supremely. Hamilton’s car climbed over top of them without losing momentum. The effect was seen mainly at Turn 17 and Turn 20, the entry to the sector’s two chicanes. 

Why it matters so much

The significance of such a lap cannot be overlooked. Hamilton’s current championship lead sits at 30 points, more than a race win ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.

Taking pole has left Hamilton in prime position to extend that lead on Sunday.

Currently, Vettel can still wrestle back the championship lead if he wins the last seven races of the season, irrespective of where Hamilton finishes.

But, if Hamilton wins the Singapore Grand Prix, and Vettel only manages second, the Briton’s championship lead would extend to 37 points.

Sebastian Vettel (pictured) is currently 30 points behind Lewis Hamilton in the 2018 Drivers World Championship (Image courtesy of Ferrari Media). 

Right now, the margin is arguably pushing what’s achievable for Vettel, and a Hamilton win in Singapore would almost ultimately secure the championship for him. 

Singapore has, in times gone by, been a happy proving ground for Ferrari and Vettel. It’s tight and twisty nature suits the agile, small Ferrari. On paper, it’s one of their strongest circuits. 

If Hamilton can gain the full 25 points on Sunday, at a circuit that should be Ferrari’s strongest, it sends a clear message that Mercedes is in the prime position. 

And, at the start of the week a Mercedes win in Singapore seemed unlikely. But after Saturday, Hamilton has given himself the greatest position possible to achieve the goal of a race victory. 

But, even as Toto Wolff said himself, “we need to put aside the happiness from today because we haven’t scored any points yet this weekend.

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Steven Walton is an 18-year-old Journalism Student at the Ara Institute of Canterbury. He previously attended St Andrew's College in Christchurch, where he excelled at History and Classical Studies. Steven is the Editor-in-Chief at Green Flag F1 and spends most of his days living, breathing, and immersing in the Formula 1 world.

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