With the prospect of an upset seemingly on the cards after free practice revealed Mercedes’ struggles to extract single lap pace from its W06 around the Marina Bay Circuit, Vettel took full advantage for Ferrari with a commanding performance that would see him top all three qualifying phases.
Indeed, given Ferrari has not started an F1 race from pole position since the 2012 German Grand Prix, Vettel’s performance was as comprehensive as any achieved by the all-dominant Mercedes since the introduction of the latest regulations in 2014 and harked back to his dominance at times with Red Bull.
Never once headed at any point during the three sessions, Vettel saved his best for last with a scintillating final effort of 1min 43.885secs, putting him a mammoth six tenths clear of second place Daniel Ricciardo, who led a similarly impressive evening for Red Bull as it too got the better of Mercedes.
Indeed, while Ferrari and Red Bull celebrate, Mercedes is left scratching its head, Hamilton and Rosberg not only down in fifth and sixth, but more than a second off a front row it has largely commandeered since the start of 2014. It also marks an abrupt end to Lewis Hamilton’s bid to equal Ayrton Senna’s record of eight straight pole positions, not to mention Mercedes 23-race qualifying streak.
Ricciardo, meanwhile, will get away from his first front row since China 2014 as he joins his former team-mate towards the sharp end, the Australian getting the better of his team-mate Daniil Kvyat, despite being slower than him during free practice.
Kimi Raikkonen and Kvyat subsequently complemented their respective team-mates in third and fourth position to provide more opposition to Mercedes’ bid to reclaim ground come race day.
Having struggled for pace in free practice, Williams came on stronger in qualifying, with Valtteri Bottas heading up the fourth row of the grid, a row he will share with top Toro Rosso driver Max Verstappen, the Dutchman claiming his sixth top ten start of the year.
Bottas’ team-mate Felipe Massa gets underway from ninth place, while Romain Grosjean was another overturn a difficult run up to qualifying by squeezing into Q3 in 10th.
Those left failing to make it past Q2 had Carlos Sainz to blame after the Spaniard kissed the wall on the exit of turn 19, leaving debris on the circuit and forcing the yellow flags out just as many were attempting their final flyers.
Having shown top ten pace in FP3, Sauber found itself dismissed at the first hurdle in qualifying, a late improvement from Jenson Button demoting Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson to 16th and 17th on the grid, ahead of Pastor Maldonado, the under pressure Venezuelan down in 18th position for Lotus.
Behind them, Will Stevens got the better of Manor team-mate Alexander Rossi, the Englishman half-a-second faster in seeing off the threat from the newcomer. Both drivers picked up a five-place grid penalty for gearbox changes prior to the session, but it will not affect their starting positions.