Alonso takes pole position in Singapore

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The Independent Online

Fernando Alonso has the opportunity tomorrow to win the Singapore Grand Prix in legitimate circumstances.

Two years ago Alonso won the inaugural race around the Marina Bay street circuit from 15th on the grid at a time when he was driving for Renault.

On that occasion there were critics who raised eyebrows when his team-mate Nelson Piquet Jnr's crash into a wall brought the safety car into play, which was ultimately the main contributory factor to the win.

A year ago that incident took on new meaning as the 'crashgate' scandal was in full swing, culminating in Flavio Briatore losing his job as team principal and the team being handed a two-year suspended ban.

Now with Ferrari, Alonso today won a qualifying shoot-out with Sebastian Vettel by beating the Red Bull star to pole position by 0.067 seconds.

It was Vettel who gently, and somewhat comically, reminded Alonso of his victory in 2008, making a point that tomorrow's showdown is still up in the air.

"It's a long race, nearly two hours, so it's very tough and a lot can happen," said Vettel.

"For sure it helps the further up you are on the grid, but the race can still change a couple of things.

"For instance, Fernando started here two years ago from..."

Turning to Alonso, the Spaniard solemnly replied: "Fifteenth."

With a cheeky smile, Vettel concluded his sentence by saying: "Fifteenth and he won the race."

Vettel admitted to a "pretty messy qualifying" which means he will start second for the second year in succession in Singapore.

The most competitive title fight for almost three decades threw up the most competitive grid as the top five in the championship are the top five who will scream away once the race starts.

Behind Alonso and Vettel is an all-British, all-McLaren affair on the second row as Lewis Hamilton edged out team-mate and reigning champion Jenson Button.

Crucially for the quartet, they are all ahead of championship leader Mark Webber in his Red Bull as the Australian starts fifth.

Ultimately Alonso claimed the 20th pole of his career, moving up to equal 10th in the all-time Formula One list alongside Damon Hill.

And after going 29 races without a pole, Ferrari have made it back to back as Alonso was also at the front of the grid a fortnight ago in Italy.

"We got 100% out of the car, and that was the main target for us," said Alonso, who five years ago today won the first of his two titles.

"Today is not in any way a present to celebrate that occasion, but pole is a good way to start tomorrow's race, to keep fighting for this championship.

"It's been up and down so far. Sometimes we've been in the fight, sometimes not.

"If we want to be in the fight up to Abu Dhabi then we need to be consistent and finish tomorrow's race with strong points.

"Lewis and Mark are ahead in the championship, so the target is to finish in front of them if we can.

"If we cannot finish then we need to finish as close as we can so we don't lose more points."

On a track where Red Bull were expected to dominate, and throughout practice it appeared as if that would be the case, Alonso admitted to surprise at their eventual second and fifth positions.

The team's performance, though, merely underlined to Hamilton that they are beatable, as he had mentioned previously this week.

"Fernando has proved that here in qualifying," said Hamilton.

"Clearly they don't have the two-second lead they had at one stage this year, so that's a positive for us.

"Jenson and I are doing a solid job, the team are doing a solid job, the car feels good and our long-run pace is even better than our qualifying pace, so I feel tomorrow we will have a good race.

"Coming here we never knew where we were going to be, so to see we are so close to pole is a great showing from myself and Jenson.

"We expected the Red Bulls to be further ahead, so it's good to know we are a fighting force."

Behind Webber will be Williams' Rubens Barrichello in a season's high of sixth, followed by Mercedes duo Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher in seventh and ninth.

The German pair sandwich Renault's Robert Kubica in eighth, with Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi completing the top 10.