- Associated Press - Saturday, September 24, 2011

SINGAPORE (AP) - World championship leader Sebastian Vettel took the pole position Saturday for the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix.

The Red Bull driver clinched his 11th pole of the season _ becoming the sixth man in F1 history to achieve that feat _ by setting a time more than three-tenths of a second faster than his teammate Mark Webber.

The German can claim the championship this weekend if he gets 13 more points than Alonso and eight more than Webber and Button.

The McLaren pair Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton were third and fourth fastest around the Marina Bay circuit ahead of the Ferrari pair of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa.

Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg of Mercedes qualified seventh and eight, respectively, for Sunday’s street circuit race. Force India’s Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta will start ninth and 10th.

Vettel joined Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell, Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen who topped qualifying 11 times in a season. He’s closing in on Mansell’s record of 14 set in 1992.

“Nigel’s record is exceptional,” Vettel said. “Nigel had an incredible year.

“We are not doing a bad job this year but it would be wrong to start thinking about these things (records). We don’t score points in qualifying so we are thinking about the race tomorrow.”

It was Vettel’s 26th career pole, putting him equal seventh on the all-time list, level with Hakkinen.

Red Bull has taken every pole position this season, and Webber was again second to Vettel.

“Overall I am satisfied,” Webber said. “Both cars up front is a great result for us.”

Button was slightly surprised to qualify in third, after the difficulties he had Friday when his practice session ended early after failing to negotiate a turn.

“We made quite a lot of changes overnight and some improvements,” Button said. “I am happy to be in third, its a good position.”

While Button did two flying laps in the final period of qualifying, teammate Hamilton did only one because of fuel delivery problems that prevented him getting out of the garage in time to do another lap.

“We were trying to fill the car up and there was no fuel going in,” Hamilton said. “Time was running out and we just couldn’t get going. This is racing, there have been lots of mistakes from me and lots of mistakes from the team, this kind of thing happens. But I feel positive because my lap was pretty good.”

The Singapore race is one where strategy, mistake-free driving and tire preservation play as big a role as speed. With the bumpy and abrasive track hemmed in by concrete barriers, most accidents prompt a safety car period.

Tire provider Pirelli was forecasting a three-stop strategy. But some may gamble on a two-stopper, using safety car periods to ease tire wear, and relying on the difficulty of passing maneuvers to keep faster cars at bay.

“Getting the podium is doable,” Alonso said. “It’s a long race. The mechanics will be very demanding and strategy will play a big part.”

Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi crashed out of the second part of qualifying, but emerged unhurt. He launched the nose of his car in the air by going over the curbs at the Turn 10 chicane and crashed into a concrete barrier.

Vitaly Petrov qualified in a season-worst position of 18th, with the Renault having struggled all weekend in the high-downforce settings required for the twisty street circuit.


Associated Press writer Alex Kennedy in Singapore contributed to this report.



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