Hamilton shines in Singapore as the Brawn duo both toil

Lewis Hamilton, the world champion, continues his strong end to the season with a third pole position in four races as Jenson Button's championship hopes take a dent.

McLaren Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain negotiates a turn during the third practice session of the Singapore F1 Grand Prix at the Marina Bay street circuit September 26, 2009. REUTERS/Tim Chong (SINGAPORE SPORT MOTOR RACING) *** Local Caption ***  SGP805_MOTOR-RACING_0926_11.JPG
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Lewis Hamilton, the world champion, continued his strong end to the season with a third pole position in four races as Jenson Button's championship hopes took a major dent as he could only qualify 12th on the grid for the Singapore Grand Prix. Button, the world championship leader, struggled with under steer throughout qualifying in his Brawn GP car and he was eliminated in the second part of the session, leaving him with a tall order to score any points on the street circuit in today's 61-lap race.

It could have been worse for the Briton though as teammate Rubens Barrichello will start from 10th place after receiving a five-place grid penalty as a consequence of his team changing the gearbox on his car prior to the qualifying session. The Brazilian was fifth quickest in the final part of the session before crashing on his final lap as he looked for an extra few tenths of a second, but the penalty forces him back to the fifth row.

But despite that, he still starts ahead of Button who he trails by 14 points in the title race. Button had comfortably made it through the first session, but struggled with low tyre pressures in the second session which hurt his pace. He missed out by three tenths of a second on progressing through to the top 10 and with the track difficult to pass on he will struggle to score many, if any, points.

A distraught Button said: "In Q1 [qualifying one] the car felt good, although we had a bit of under steer. "In the second session we tried to help that, we lowered the front tyre pressures a bit, but I hit the floor, locked the brakes and it cost me a lot of time. It's disappointing. That's all there is to say, really." While Hamilton took the plaudits with the 16th pole of his career in his McLaren-Mercedes with a time of one minute 47.891seconds, the real winner of the day was Sebastian Vettel.

The Red Bull driver was denied a final run at top spot by Barrichello's late crash, but the German starts second and will be confident of keeping alive his title dreams. He currently trails the Brawn driver by 26 points. Of his race chances, he said: "At the end of the day, it is great to be back. Qualifying on a street circuit is very important and it's good to be back in front [of the Brawns]. "The car is very good and I'm feeling very comfortable," said Vettel. "We brought some stuff that seems to work. It will be a long race. It's 61 laps so it will be warm in the car but we have all that it takes. I'm looking forward to it."

A delighted Hamilton said of his showing: "The car over the weekend has just got better and better as the evolution of the track has got grippier. "We'll see what happens with the strategies but obviously I'm in the position starting from the front." Nico Rosberg put in his best qualifying performance of the season to take third spot in his Williams-Toyota ahead of the second Red Bull of Mark Webber. The German who has been linked with drives with the Brawn and McLaren teams for the 2010 season, was delighted with his performance.

He said: "It's really enjoyable at the moment and I'm really pleased for the team that we have made another step forward. Perhaps we can even fight for a win very soon." Following the implementation of Barrichello's penalty, Fernando Alonso's Renault moved up to fifth ahead of Timo Glock's Toyota. The BMW Sauber's of Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica make up the fourth row, with Heikki Hovalainen ninth in his McLaren.

The surprise of qualifying was Giancarlo Fisichella's lack of pace in the Ferrari as he could do no better than 18th in his second race with the team since taking over from Luca Badoer as cover for the injured Felipe Massa. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen fared little better as he could only qualify 13th, leaving the Finn with a lot of work to do if he is to get a fourth successive podium finish. gcaygill@thenational.ae

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