SINGAPORE, Sept 22, 2012 (AFP) - McLaren's Lewis Hamilton claimed his fifth pole position of the season in Singapore Grand Prix qualifying Saturday to strengthen his bid for a second world title.
The Briton settled a thrilling session with a lightning lap of 1min 46.362sec early in Q3 which proved uncatchable by the other drivers. The 2008 champion was nearly half-a-second quicker than Pastor Maldonado of Williams.
Red Bull's defending world champion Sebastian Vettel will be on the second row of the grid for Sunday's race alongside Jenson Button, Hamilton's McLaren team-mate.
Championship leader Fernando Alonso settled for fifth, Force India's Paul di Resta was sixth, Mark Webber was seventh and Romain Grosjean of Lotus, back from a one-race ban over a crash in Belgium, survived some hairy moments to claim eighth.
Mercedes' Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg opted to preserve their tyres for the race and spent most of Q3 in the garage, settling for ninth and 10th places respectively.
Hamilton trails Alonso by 37 points heading into the last seven races, but Saturday's performance underlines form that has won him two of the last three grands prix -- despite intense speculation over his future.
"It's an incredibly tough circuit for tyre degradation," said the Briton, who has been linked with a move to Mercedes.
"I think everyone's going to struggle with that. We just want to get away well at the start (on Sunday) and continue with the strategy we've planned."
Grosjean was quickest in Q1 ahead of di Resta, former world champion Kimi Raikkonen, Vettel and Hamilton, who seemed untroubled by a bumpy run over the chicane curbs.
Bruno Senna also escaped serious damage when he clipped a barrier after running wide to overtake a slower car. But the Williams driver lasted just a few minutes of Q2 before a similar mistake loosened a rear wheel and put him out.
Grosjean had a close call when he knocked a barrier early in Q2, but re-emerged to continue the session after a check by his pit mechanics.
Seven-time world champion Schumacher escaped elimination in his last lap of the session to time ninth quickest. Hamilton led Q2 ahead of Vettel, Webber, Grosjean and Alonso, with Raikkonen surprisingly missing Q3.
In the top-10 shoot-out, Hamilton came out flying to take the early lead and his time was never challenged. Grosjean flirted with another bump and Hamilton also veered dangerously close to the barriers in the closing seconds.
"That means I'm using all the road," Hamilton said. "I didn't mean to and I didn't feel it -- hopefully it hasn't caused any damage."
Marussia's French driver Charles Pic was handed a 20-second penalty for overtaking under a red flag during Saturday's free practice. And officials were investigating an impeding incident involving Webber and Marussia's Timo Glock.
Separately, officials also announced a five-year extension guaranteeing the race until 2017, after lengthy contract negotiations.
The results for the 2012 Singapore GP Qualifying Session:
|3||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull||1:48.240||1:46.791||1:46.905||14|
|6||Paul di Resta||Force India||1:48.028||1:47.667||1:47.241||18|
|7||Mark Webber||Red Bull||1:48.717||1:47.513||1:47.475||17|
|11||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India||1:49.547||1:47.975||12|
|15||Daniel Ricciardo||Toro Rosso||1:49.023||1:48.774||13|
|16||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso||1:49.564||1:48.849||14|
|24||Pedro de la Rosa||HRT||1:53.355||7|