SINGAPORE (AFP) – Sebastian Vettel stormed to his fifth pole position of the season at the Singapore Grand Prix Saturday as the brilliant young German stepped closer to his fourth world title in a row.
Red Bull's German pilot timed a scorching 1min 42.841sec around the spot-lit Marina Bay street circuit to take first place on the grid ahead of Mercedes' Nico Rosberg.
Lotus driver Romain Grosjean will start third, ahead of Vettel's Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber, Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes and Ferrari's Felipe Massa.
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, second in the overall standings behind Vettel, could only manage seventh fastest ahead of McLaren's Jenson Button, Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Gutierrez.
But the evening belonged, once again, to Vettel, who set the two fastest times and will now be favourite to claim his third win in a row in Singapore and his fourth out of the last five races.
Vettel's final time was so quick that he could afford to return to the garage early and watch the others -- but he was a relieved man when team-mate Webber just fell short.
"It's a great feeling because it could go wrong, but I'm very happy with the result," said Vettel.
Hamilton topped the standings in a swiftly shifting first qualifying period, ahead of Button, Alonso, Sergio Perez and Rosberg.
Ferrari's Felipe Massa escaped the drop with a late lap which pushed him from 18th to 13th. Paul Di Resta and Pastor Maldonado, and both Caterhams and both Marussias, missed out.
Rosberg was leading Q2 from his team-mate Hamilton with a super-fast 1:43.892 -- until Vettel started his flying lap.
The young German, bouncing over kerbs and speeding just inches (centimetres) from the track walls, obliterated Rosberg's time by nearly a second as he screamed round in 1:42.905.
Vettel, Webber, Rosberg and Hamilton led the cars into the Q3 shoot-out, with Nico Hulkenberg, Ferrari-bound Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren's Perez outside the top 10.
It was no surprise that Vettel stayed fastest, but he did it in astounding style, lowering his previous time and earning enough breathing space to garage early.
However, there were some nervy moments when Webber threatened his time -- and a relieved Vettel punched the air as he watched his Australian team-mate finish in a slower time.
The 26-year-old has a 53-point lead in the standings and victory on Sunday will put him closer to matching Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio by winning four championships in a row.
"It's one of the toughest races we face all year, I would say the toughest physically and mentally. It's so long and there's so many corners, there's hardly any room for mistakes," he said.
"Pole is the best position to start from, I'm very happy with that as it's tricky to pass on this track. But because it's such a long race I think there's plenty of opportunities for all of us."