Lewis Hamilton’s qualifying pole lap at the 2018 Singapore Grand Prix might be one of the very best in F1 history. Witness driving brilliance.
The argument could be made that there’s no greater measure of pure driver skill than qualifying performance and results.
While a multitude of variables – both in and out of the driver’s control – determine race results, qualifying puts the emphasis on the driver’s maximum capability and skillset. The car is optimized for one lap performance, the track is clear ahead (if timed right), it’s just the driver, car, and track. The ultimate “let’s see what you’ve got” scenario for a driver.
Some circuits are better at testing a driver’s maximum capabilities than others. F1 just passed through Monza, and while it would be foolish to suggest that driver skill doesn’t play a role there, over 75% of the lap is spent at full throttle guiding the car down the circuit’s immensely long straights and sweeping corners. In contrast, the Marina Bay Singapore Street Circuit’s twenty-three corners require significantly more driver input, and there’s less margin for error.
In Singapore only about one-third the lap is under full throttle. Corners arrive in a hurry, “track out” points (corner exit limitations) troublingly out of sight, and there are walls, everywhere. The racing line, car positioning, and transitions from corner to corner are awkward and unconventional. It’s a circuit that demands immense driver focus, surefootedness, anticipation, and skill.
Lewis Hamilton’s 79th (and all-time F1 leading) career pole position at the 2018 Singapore Grand Prix is surely one of his best, and perhaps one of the greatest single laps in F1 history.
To say that Hamilton’s pole lap was unexpected would be accurate. His Mercedes wasn’t the strongest in any of the practice sessions. In final Practice 3 (just prior to Qualifying start), Hamilton was a full half second off Sebastian Vettel in the Ferrari, which in F1 terms is a sizable gap. Mercedes looked to be on the back foot through the first stages of qualifying as well, with Hamilton very clearly having to do far more from behind the wheel to keep it out of the barriers than his rival from Maranello.
But then Lewis delivered an epic individual effort when it mattered in Q3.
In F1 it’s often difficult to establish a pecking order. There are mechanical inequalities throughout the field, and smoke and mirrors is practically a tradition. Ongoing posturing and deception between team rivals is the norm. Even within the teams, potential favoritism is in play, which influences teammate vs. teammate results despite the appearance of mechanical equality. But Lewis’s pole lap in Singapore was a powerful moment of clarity, a triumph of driver over track and rivals. Just pure driving brilliance from one of the best to ever put foot to throttle.
“That lap felt like magic. I don’t really know where it came from but it all came together… Today I managed just for that one lap to get it right…”
– Lewis Hamilton