Vettel gave Ferrari their first pole position for three years in the most exciting qualifying session since 2013 here on Saturday.

Ferrari and Red Bull dominated the buildup to Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix asLewis Hamilton failed in his attempt to equal Ayrton Senna’s record of eight successive poles. Hamilton, whose worst qualifying result of the season prior to this weekend had been his second place in Spain in May, had to settle for fifth on the grid, one place ahead of his team-mate Nico Rosberg. Before this he had won 11 poles in 12 outings.

Vettel, three times a winner here, finished an almost unbelievable one and a half seconds ahead of Hamilton, and raised his finger in familiar fashion. The German was followed by the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo, with his Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen third. Then came Daniil Kvyat in the second Red Bull. It was the first time Ferrari had won pole since Fernando Alonso at the German Grand Prix in the summer of 2012.

Throughout the day there perplexed expressions – in and outside the Mercedes motorhome – concerning their lack of pace.

Had they turned their engines down to achieve more reliability in the wake of Rosberg’s blowout in Monza? Were they struggling to get their tyre temperatures to the right level? The most alarming fact was the size of the gap between themselves and the leaders.

Jenson Button just managed to squeeze into Q2 with a late run, but fell at the next hurdle, alongside his McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso.