Fernando Alonso seals Singapore pole

9/25/2010 - Formula 1

SINGAPORE -- Ferrari's Fernando Alonso captured his second straight Formula One pole Saturday, leading the top five drivers in the championship standings onto the front of the grid for the Singapore Grand Prix.

Alonso, who won the inaugural Singapore GP in 2008, beat out Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel. The German dominated the practice sessions, but brushed the wall on his last lap in qualifying around the Marina Bay circuit.

The McLaren pair of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button will fill the second row for Sunday's race, ahead of fifth-placed Mark Webber, the overall leader with 187 points.

Hamilton is next with 182 and is followed by Alonso (166), Button (165) and Vettel (163). With the five championship contenders bunched up at the front, the race is shaping up as a critical test in the title fight.

Alonso, who won the previous grand prix in Italy, is making a late championship charge, having looked out of contention at the midway point of the season. The Spaniard expected to be second best in Singapore.

"We arrived here knowing Red Bull was very strong here, and to now be in pole position is good for us, good news," Alonso said. "Red Bull second and the other fifth -- this is a surprise for us.

"We know there are some circuits where it's important to have pole position, and this is one."

Vettel said second place in Singapore was not as bad a result as it would have been in previous years, as track work has lessened the difference between the rubbered and dirty sides of the circuit.

"We should have been on pole today by a little bit, so we didn't achieve our optimum," Vettel said.

"We have a very quick car tomorrow, so we will be in a good position."

The German has won only one of the past 11 races and needs a strong result Sunday to boost his fading title chances.

Hamilton -- who won in Singapore last year -- was expecting a better performance in the race than his showing in qualifying and was encouraged by starting ahead of Webber.

"I can't complain, I am on the clean side of the road and we have had the best starts recently," Hamilton said. "Our long run pace is even better than qualifying pace, so we're in a good position for tomorrow's race."

Williams' Rubens Barrichello put in his best qualifying performance of the season to finish sixth fastest, ahead of Mercedes' Nico Rosberg and Renault's Robert Kubica.

Mercedes' Michael Schumacher made it into the final 10 for the first time since the British GP and will start ninth for his first race in Singapore. Kamui Kobayashi reached the third session of qualifying for the first time since Turkey, and will start 10th.

Ferrari will provide the bookends for the grid, with Felipe Massa to start from last after his car had an electronics-related gearbox problem before he could set a time in the first qualifying session.

Webber's narrow championship lead was looking shaky, given he will start behind all of his title rivals, and behind the top two rows for the first time since Canada. The Australian was offering no excuses for his mediocre showing.

"I'm having trouble getting the rhythm around here," Webber said. "I did my best, bloody hell, but I wasn't quick enough, simple as that."

Button will be relying on his famed tire management, saying "strategy will be important, being conservative and looking after your tires."

"It's going to be pretty fun with the five contenders for the championship all out in front," Button said. "The first lap of the race is going to be mayhem -- hopefully we'll all keep our heads."