SINGAPORE (AP) — Max Verstappen looked on course for pole position at the Singapore Grand Prix on Saturday when his Red Bull team aborted his lap with just seconds left in qualifying and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc took pole instead.
“Why? Why? Why?” Verstappen asked when told to box, before unleashing an expletive. “What is this about?”
He was well clear of Leclerc at the time splits but it could have been a good call from Red Bull if it turns out he was about to go under fuel limit regulations, one possible explanation for the decision. Drivers can be disqualified if they don’t have enough fuel left in the tank.
Leclerc clinched a season-leading ninth pole and finished .022 ahead of Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez and .054 clear of Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton.
Verstappen starts eighth, dealing a blow to his chances of wrapping up the title on Sunday on a street track difficult for overtaking.
“I thought we wouldn’t get pole but it paid off and I’m really happy,” Leclerc said. “It was really, really special, every qualifying in street tracks are super on the limit.”
Verstappen leads Leclerc by 116 points and will clinch his second straight title only if he scores 22 points more than Leclerc, his most realistic challenger.
Verstappen must win to secure the title Sunday, along with two other scenarios involving Leclerc. If Verstappen wins, Leclerc can finish no higher than ninth; if Verstappen wins and earns a bonus point for fastest lap, Leclerc can finish no higher than eighth.
The race buildup has seen bickering between teams over an alleged 2021 budget cap breach by Red Bull, which drew an angry response from Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.
Also, Hamilton was summoned to appear before the stewards for a potential jewelry breach shortly after third practice had ended at the Marina Bay Circuit.
The seven-time F1 champion was being investigated for an alleged infringement of Appendix L, Chapter III of the FIA’s International Sporting Code, which includes a prohibition on the wearing of jewelry. The summons appeared related to Hamilton’s nose stud, which he had previously removed when the FIA’s jewelry ban was applied.
Two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso starts behind Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and from fifth place in his record 350th F1 race on Sunday, which will be one more than 2007 F1 champion Kimi Raikkonen.
McLaren’s Lando Norris was sixth and AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly qualified seventh ahead of Verstappen, Kevin Magnussen (Haas) and Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) in 10th.
Williams driver Alex Albon, racing just three weeks after being hospitalized with appendicitis and then suffering respiratory failure, qualified 19th.
He went out of Q1 with Valtteri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon—who have a combined 19 F1 wins. Bottas starts from 16th spot with Ricciardo 17th and Ocon 18th.
Earlier Saturday, Leclerc led a rain-hit third and final practice ahead of Verstappen. Half the session was lost as marshals swept water off the 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) track, which mostly dried out for qualifying.
Midway through Q2, some drivers changed to the quicker slick tires while other stayed on intermediaries. Mercedes driver George Russell starts 11th after being knocked out of Q2 with four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin).
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