Charles Leclerc clinched a ninth pole position of the season in Singapore, with Max Verstappen struggling in the wet conditions.

Intermediate tyres were used across the grid in the first two rounds of qualifying, with the deck only being shuffled in Q3 as eight of the 10 runners made the jump to slicks – though there were initial difficulties to find pace.

Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso were the first to hit their stride while others tiptoed around the wet sections of the track, with each claiming provisional pole twice before a resurgence from others on the grid.

Leclerc, who held pole the last time F1 visited Singapore in 2019, punched home a blistering lap to initially open a lead of a second and a half before others responded, Sergio Perez joining him on the front row as Hamilton lines up third – just five hundredths of a second away from his first pole of the 2022 season.

It was an entirely different story for a furious Verstappen, who will start eighth on the grid after being forced to abandon his final lap, unleashing his anger over the team radio.

Verstappen could seal the championship under the lights in Singapore if results go his way, though it now seems even more unlikely given his lowly start.

Leclerc admitted the conditions made for a tricky challenge for the drivers, with his call to move away from the intermediate compound coming just before the start of the final session

"It's been a very tricky qualifying, Q1 and Q2 with the intermediates, then in Q3 we didn't really know what to do," he said. "We went for the soft at the very last minute, and it paid off.

"It was really tricky, I made a mistake in my last lap, so I thought we wouldn't get through, but it was just enough, so I'm really happy."

Perez, starting second, will have a big role to play in Verstappen's charge up the grid and intends to immediately put Leclerc under pressure.

"It's an opportunity tomorrow to attack Charles from the start and go for the win," he said.

"It's disappointing to miss out on pole by two hundredths, but at the end of the day, it's a great result."

Hamilton was also disappointed to narrowly miss out on pole, saying: "I was pushing so hard, it was so close. These guys are always so quick, but I just thought that maybe with a perfect lap we could be pushing for first place.

"We just didn't have the grip in the last lap, but I'm grateful to be on the second row. I'm grateful for the team to keep pushing, and we'll keep our head down. Hopefully tomorrow is a better day."

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 1:49:412
2. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +0.022
3. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +0.054
4. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +0.171
5. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) +0.554
6. Lando Norris (McLaren) +1.172
7. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) +1.799
8. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +1.983
9. Kevin Magnussen (Haas) +2.161
10. Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) +2.571

Red Bull chief Christian Horner has described claims of the team breaking Formula One's $145million (£114m) budget cap as "speculation", though Ferrari and Mercedes state the situation is an "open secret".

Two teams have reportedly breached F1's spending regulations, one of which is by a "significant amount", and Red Bull have swiftly been attributed with guilt – although there is no proof.

Horner told BBC Sport that it was "purely speculation" and added to Sky Sports he was "not aware" of any breach.

"We are certainly not aware of any [breaches]. The accounts were all submitted way back in March, so it's been a long process with the FIA going through, and we are in that process as we speak," he said.

The FIA will issue certificates of compliance on October 5, or announce any breaches, but both Mercedes and Ferrari suggested there was an understanding on the grid that two teams are at risk of punishment.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff claimed one such party was "fundamentally massively over". 

"There's a team in minor breach, which is more procedural, and another team that is fundamentally massively over and that is still being looked at," he said. "That's an open secret in the paddock."

And there was a similar view from Ferrari, with racing director Laurent Mekies saying: "It's now no secret that two teams broke the 2021 budget cap regulations, one by a significant amount, the other less so."

The situation creates a significant headache for the FIA, with the 2021 season already shrouded in controversy after Max Verstappen pipped Lewis Hamilton to the title in the final race in Abu Dhabi, with race director Michael Masi failing to implement the rules correctly after a late safety car.

Emergence of further controversy will not be welcomed, and questions will be asked as to why the results are so delayed, with F1 now in the back end of the 2022 season and Verstappen waltzing to a second title in a row.

Punishments for budget cap breaches can be severe, with potential points deductions for minor violations, while the heaviest punishment for a larger breach includes banning a team or driver.

A breach last year would also have a knock-on effect into the current campaign as the cap includes development of the car for the following season.

Fernando Alonso will make a record 351st start when he competes in Sunday's Singapore Grand Prix – and his first Formula One boss believes there are many more to come.

Gian Carlo Minardi was managing director of the Minardi team when a young Alonso made his F1 debut in 2001, on the road to becoming a double world champion.

Those titles came in 2005 and 2006 at Renault, whom Alonso joined after only one year with Minardi, and he has missed only two seasons since, sitting out 2019 and 2020 when scratching an itch to compete in other motorsport events.

This weekend he will beat a record previously held by Kimi Raikkonen, who contested 350 grands prix, with Alonso competing for Alpine ahead of an end-of-season switch to Aston Martin.

Minardi told Stats Perform he is confident the 41-year-old Alonso will remain a strong presence on the grid for years to come.

"I recently met him in Monza, and he was very excited," Minardi said. "I would say he doesn't look 41 from an athletic point of view, so I guess he is very fit and keen to prove who he is, and with his new contract he will beat other records not easily reachable for other drivers."

Alonso can also beat the record of the most F1 races finished this weekend, another mark he shares with Raikkonen on 278.

Minardi recalled first getting to know Alonso in 1999, with F1 tests for the youngster soon following in Jerez, where his performance levels were "jaw-dropping".

According to Minardi, Alonso had the ability to win "more than five world titles" and ranks as "one of the drivers who made the difference in the last two generations".

Ahead of another move, as the drive with Aston Martin awaits, Minardi said: "Let's hope that this change – because one of Fernando's weaknesses is that he has always been unlucky when changing the team – is beneficial to him and Aston Martin can equip him with what Aston Martin had at their debut.

"Today, without a reason and despite their Mercedes engine, they struggle to get the results they did some years ago.

"So I wish him the best to watch him entertain us. That is what I told him... I still have fun watching you drive, so keep it up."

George Russell has described Alex Albon's decision to return for the Singapore Grand Prix as "audacious", praising the Williams driver's determination to feature in what he feels is Formula One's "toughest race".

Albon spent a night in intensive care earlier in September after suffering respiratory failure following treatment for appendicitis.

The 26-year-old was then replaced by Nyck de Vries for the Italian Grand Prix, but is set to return to the grid this weekend.

The Singapore race is the longest of the F1 season, while the humid conditions at the Marina Bay Street Circuit are expected to test drivers' stamina. 

Russell – whose move to Mercedes paved the way for Albon to assume his seat with Williams – has been impressed by his recovery, saying: "It's definitely audacious to come back for the toughest race of the season having only just recovered.

"But it just goes to show the sort of grit and determination he has. I was in contact with his family on the Saturday night because it was looking very scary at one point.

"But it's pretty impressive to see how he recovered so quickly. The human body is a scary thing.

"It just goes to show one minute everything is fine, and the next minute everything can change almost totally out of your control. It will be interesting to see how he gets on this weekend."

Asked about the difficult conditions drivers will face this weekend, Russell added: "It doesn't matter how much training you do, you will never be able to replicate what you go through on track.

"I have been training with at least three layers of clothes on every single gym session, every time I go out on the bike.

"It's pretty uncomfortable. It's quite impressive how difficult the body handles heat, even in the sauna for half an hour. That's what we will be experiencing in the car. And then there is the physical element and cognitive side of things."

Max Verstappen suggested he would have liked to see Ferrari take the Formula One title fight to the wire ahead of his first opportunity to seal consecutive championships.

Verstappen could retain the drivers' championship at Sunday's Singapore Grand Prix, although it appears an unlikely prospect as he requires both Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc to post poor finishes.

Nevertheless, it appears to be a matter of time before Verstappen clinches his second crown, with Ferrari's issues with reliability and strategy costing Leclerc the chance to compete.

Verstappen holds a 119-point lead over Leclerc at the top of the standings after winning each of the last five races, and the Dutchman says he would have relished a closer battle.

"I mean, [there are] two sides. Yes, in one way, I would have liked them to still be in the fight," he said on Thursday. 

"But from my side, of course it's also nice to win it in a more calm way. 

"I think what is good to see is that they are very competitive this year compared to the last few years, and I think that's what F1 needed."

Meanwhile, Verstappen is not getting carried away by the prospect of wrapping up the title in Singapore, and has revealed he would prefer to seal the deal at next week's Japanese Grand Prix.

"It's a bit unrealistic for it to happen. So I don't really think about it," Verstappen added. "It's quite a long shot. I just want to enjoy the weekend, and of course, try to win it.

"I think Japan is nicer. I'm really excited to go back there, It's been a while. It's an amazing track and for me, anyway, it has quite special memories.

"The first time I drove an F1 car was there in FP1, and I will always remember that. And besides that, it is kind of a home GP with [Red Bull engine provider] Honda.

"I think [it will be] my first proper opportunity to win the title. So yeah, of course, I'm looking forward to Singapore right now. But I'm also very excited for next weekend."

Daniel Ricciardo has described the prospect of taking a Formula One reserve role in 2023 as "realistic" ahead of his McLaren exit.

Ricciardo has been linked with vacant seats at several teams since McLaren announced an early termination of his contract in August, with spots at Alpine, Williams and Haas up for grabs.

The Australian has struggled for consistency this year, and sits 14th in the drivers' championship standings after finishing just four of his 16 races in the top 10.

Ricciardo has also been linked with reserve roles at F1 heavyweights Red Bull and Mercedes, and recently said his desire to "get back to winning" will be a key consideration when he makes a decision on his future.

Speaking ahead of Sunday's Singapore Grand Prix, Ricciardo said his preference remained a permanent spot on the grid, but refused to rule out taking a back-up role.  

"Let's say my head space is in the same space," he said on Thursday. "I'm still keen to be part of F1 and of course, plan A would be to be on the grid.

"So nothing's changed but I don't want to just jump at the first kind of seat available. 

"I know the landscape probably changes as well at the end of next year, with contracts and whatever, so I don't want to say I'm remaining patient, but remaining open."

Asked about the prospect of taking a reserve role, Ricciardo added: "It's certainly something that's realistic, yeah.

"That's the two realistic options. It's not to be anywhere else. I love other disciplines of motorsport but I don't see myself there. 

"I feel as well if I jump into something like that, it closes the door on F1. It kind of feels like I've checked out, and I haven't. So I'm solely focused on F1.

"My team is talking with, I want to say, pretty much everyone, or they're having conversations, so we're just trying to put it all together and figure out what makes the most sense.

"So it's not that they're not calling or they're not interested, I'm not coming from a place of overconfidence, but we're just doing our due diligence and figuring out what's best.

"I'm trying to see beyond next year. Of course, I want to be racing but I also don't want to just look at the next 12 months and not look at the next 24.

"I guess I don't want to just race to race, I want to race with a true belief or understanding that I could be back on the podium, ultimately."

Lewis Hamilton has declared he "feels for the fans" after Max Verstappen's dominance of the F1 championship battle this season.

The Red Bull ace tops the standings by a whopping 116 points heading into Sunday's race at Singapore, where he can clinch the crown if a series of permutations are met.

It is unlikely that Singapore will be the race where Verstappen wins the title, with a more likely scenario seeing him crowned champion the following week in Japan.

Either way, a second title in a row for Verstappen is inevitable and Hamilton has declared it is "never great" when the battle is concluded prematurely.

"I definitely feel for the fans because for everyone and even for us, last year, going right down to the wire, that was intense for everybody. So, it's never great when the season finishes early," he said at a news conference on Thursday.

"Even when I've experienced having it finish early in places like Mexico. For you as the one individual, it's great but for the actual sport it's not spectacular.

"I'm really grateful to have had 2008 right down to the last 17 seconds, and obviously last year, pretty much the same thing. Let's hope for the future, it's a bit better."

Williams have confirmed that Alex Albon will be back behind the wheel at this week's Singapore Grand Prix after recovering from appendicitis.

Albon spent a night in intensive care earlier this month after suffering respiratory failure due to post-operative anaesthetic complications, forcing him to miss the Italian Grand Prix.

The 26-year-old was replaced by Formula One debutant Nyck de Vries, who finished ninth at Monza.

Albon is now targeting a return to action in Singapore, but he is aware of just how tough it will be to ease himself back in on one of the calendar's most demanding tracks.

"Firstly, I'd just like to thank everyone for all their messages and support over the Italian Grand Prix weekend," he said in a statement released on Wednesday.

"My preparation has been a little different than normal but I'm feeling good and I've done everything possible to get ready for one of the most physical races on the calendar.

"I am not underestimating how big of a challenge this is going to be, but I am looking forward to hitting the track on Friday and getting back driving.

"It's a great street circuit and the closest race to home for me in Thailand, so I'm really excited to be here and to see the fans that have turned out."

Albon is 19th in the drivers' championship with four points after 16 races.

De Vries is on two points from one race, while fellow Williams driver Nicholas Latifi – who is leaving at the end of the campaign – is without a point.

Lewis Hamilton is adamant it will not be the "end of the world" if Mercedes fail to a win a race during the 2022 Formula One season.

A sequence of eight-consecutive constructors' championship titles looks set to come to an end this year, with Mercedes sitting 139 points behind Red Bull.

Hamilton is also on course for an unprecedented experience in F1, having never gone a season without a race victory during his time on the grid.

Mercedes' fall from grace has been one of the major stories in the 2022 season, but Hamilton has played down the significance of not topping the podium in the campaign.

"I do not look at it as a dry spell. I feel this year has been a year of growth," he said ahead of Sunday's race in Singapore.

"It has been a good experience for all. There are six races [left] so there's six opportunities and we will try to get a win, but if we do not do well, I do not think it is the end of the world."

Mercedes' focus for the remainder of the season is to assure their second-place finish in the constructors' championship ahead of Ferrari, with six races left before the end of the season.

"We just need to understand the car," Hamilton added. "Our goal is a second placing. Hopefully, in the next six races, we will do well."

Max Verstappen's coronation as Formula One world champion is imminent and could be marked as early as Singapore.

On the back of five victories in a row, Verstappen has opened a whopping 116-point gap at the top of the standings with six races remaining in 2022.

Verstappen will be crowned as champion if he wins under the lights in Singapore alongside clinching the fastest lap but would need Ferrari's Charles Leclerc to finish eighth or lower and team-mate Sergio Perez to finish fourth or lower.

Given the sequence of requirements for Verstappen to win on Sunday, the following week's race in Japan stands as the most likely to see the Red Bull ace secure his title, but individual records are also up for grabs.

A victory would also mark Verstappen's 12th of the season, putting him behind only Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel (both 13) for the most wins in a single season.

Qualifying will likely be vital to any hopes of another Verstappen win, with 66.7 per cent of race winners in Singapore starting from pole - Vettel being the last to win in 2019 when not starting from the front.

Mathematically, three drivers are still able to usurp Verstappen from his throne, George Russell also within distance alongside Leclerc and Perez, but the dominance of Red Bull this season makes any late turnover nigh-on impossible.

Hamilton's history

With six races remaining in 2022, Lewis Hamilton is without a victory this season and it could see the British driver fail to win a race in a campaign for the first time.

Mercedes have strong history in Singapore, however, securing more wins at the circuit than any other team (four), though Red Bull and Ferrari (both three) could equal that tally this weekend.

Spare seats

Alfa Romeo's new deal for Zhou Guanyu leaves three remaining seats on the grid for 2023, with Williams, Haas and Alpine yet to fill their quota for next year.

Pierre Gasly and Daniel Ricciardo are the two on the grid that could be on the move, with Ricciardo set to leave McLaren and Gasly heavily linked with Alpine, which would result in a seat up for grabs at AlphaTauri.

Formula One will increase the number of sprint qualifying races from three to six for the 2023 season.

The shortened format, introduced to F1 in 2021, sees teams and drivers take part in traditional qualification sessions on Friday, before an additional 100km race on Saturday sets the grid for Sunday's grand prix.

This year's calendar saw sprints at Imola and the Red Bull Ring, with the final event to take place at Interlagos.

From next year however, half-a-dozen race weekends will pull double duty following a rubber-stamped proposal.

"I am pleased that we can confirm six sprints from 2023 onwards," F1 president and CEO Stefano Domenicali said in a statement.

"The feedback from the fans, teams, promoters and partners has been very positive, and we all want to ensure its success in the future."

World champion Max Verstappen qualified top and won both sprint races earlier this season, though he only converted the feat at Imola into a race win, with Charles Leclerc victorious in Austria.

The F1 season continues this weekend in Singapore.

Zhou Guanyu has kept his Alfa Romeo seat for the 2023 Formula One season.

The 23-year-old made history when he became the first full-time Formula One driver from China this season and scored a point on his debut in Bahrain.

Zhou has gone on to pick up a further five points in his maiden campaign and he will remain Valtteri Bottas' team-mate next year.

"I am looking forward to continuing working with Zhou," Alfa Romeo boss Fred Vasseur said on Tuesday.

"From day one with the team, at the Abu Dhabi test last year, he has impressed me with his approach to work and this is always a very positive trait. We knew he was quick, but the way he adapted to Formula One in such a short time has been one of the best surprises of our season.

"He is a very nice guy, everyone in the team likes both his personality and attitude. He has had the humility to ask questions and learn, from the engineers as well as Valtteri, and the intelligence to apply all the information he got to improve race after race.

"He will have this experience to draw on next season, and I am sure he will make another step forward as we continue to grow our team."

Zhou expressed his gratitude for the faith Alfa Romeo have put in him.

He said: "I am happy and grateful to Alfa Romeo F1 Team for the opportunity to be part of the team for another season.

"Making it to Formula One was a dream come true and the feeling of competing for the first time in a race will live with me forever: the team has been incredibly supportive, welcoming me from day one and helping me adapt to the most complex series in motorsport.

"There is more that I want to achieve in this sport and with the team, and the hard work we have put together since the start of the year is just the first step towards where we want to be next season.

"There is still a lot to learn, a lot to develop but I am confident in our work: I am looking forward to the next chapter of our story together."

The FIA has confirmed that IndyCar driver Colton Herta will not be granted an F1 Super Licence.

The 22-year-old American, the youngest ever driver to win an IndyCar Series race, had been eyed by Red Bull to join their development process and potentially earn a drive with AlphaTauri next season.

However, Herta was eight points short of the 40-point total necessary to qualify for a Super Licence and Red Bull had lobbied for an exemption, arguing the FIA undervalued the experience of racing in IndyCar.

Red Bull's request had irritated rival teams, including Ferrari and Mercedes, but the FIA have brought an end to the matter by confirming an exemption would not be granted.

"The FIA confirms that an enquiry was made via the appropriate channels that led to the FIA confirming that the driver Colton Herta does not have the required number of points to be granted an FIA Super Licence," the statement read.

"The FIA continuously reviews its regulations and procedures, including with respect to Super Licence eligibility, with the main factors being considered with respect to this topic being safety, experience and performance in the context of the pathway."

Herta has long been touted for a future in F1 as the motorsport looks to capitalise on a growing popularity in the United States, building upon the success of Netflix's Drive To Survive series.

Miami has been added to the F1 calendar alongside Austin and Las Vegas, and joins the schedule next year as the third race in the USA, while North America also sees races in Canada and Mexico.

Williams have confirmed they will part company with Nicholas Latifi at the end of the 2022 Formula One campaign.

Latifi was widely expected to leave Williams upon the expiration of his contract this year, with the team reportedly considering a full-time seat for Nyck de Vries, who recently deputised for them at Monza.

The Canadian failed to pick up any points during his first campaign with Williams in 2020, first doing so with a seventh-placed finish at last year's Hungarian Grand Prix.

Lafiti, whose crash at last year's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix led to a highly contentious finish to Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen's title fight, has failed to finish higher than 12th in any race this term.

Williams chief executive and team principal Jost Capito said: "On behalf of the whole team, I would like to say an enormous thank you to Nicholas for his three years of hard work with Williams. 

"He is a great team player who has a great attitude towards his colleagues and work and is well liked and respected throughout the business. 

"Our time together is now coming to an end, but I know he will put full effort in to maximise what we can do together for the remainder of this season. We wish him all the very best of luck for his future, both in and out of the cockpit."

Latifi, meanwhile, said he had enjoyed his spell with the team despite their lack of success, adding: "I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone at Williams Racing – all the people back at the factory and those I work with trackside – for the last three years. 

"My initial F1 debut was postponed due to the pandemic but we eventually got going in Austria and, although we have not achieved the results together we hoped we would, it's still been a fantastic journey. 

"Getting those first points in Hungary last year was a moment I'll never forget, and I will move onto the next chapter of my career with special memories of my time with this dedicated team."

Williams confirmed last month that Alex Albon had signed a multi-year agreement to continue representing the team, and Friday's statement said their full 2023 line-up would be announced "in due course".

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has urged Alpine to sign Daniel Ricciardo to fill their vacant seat for the 2023 Formula One season.

The Australian driver will leave McLaren at the end of the current campaign, with Alpine looking for a partner for Esteban Ocon following Fernando Alonso's decision to move to Aston Martin.

Alpine had intended to promote Oscar Piastri but lost the 21-year-old to McLaren, with F1's Contract Recognition Board ruling in favour of the latter after arguments about Piastri's contracts with both teams emerged.

Ricciardo, who raced for Alpine while they were under the guise of Renault, has been touted for a return and Horner believes he is the perfect fit for the French team.

"They know him from a couple of seasons ago and they were great together," he told the Beyond The Grid podcast.

"During his last season, they were scoring podiums, and I think he's the type of guy that I think you could rebuild him.

"It's obviously been not a great experience for him, for whatever reason, and you've just got to think back to some of the drives that he did for us.

"Some of the wins that he had, the podium, some of the stunning overtakes that he was capable of. That's still in there, I'm sure. He just needs a bit of a reset."

Ricciardo has stated he is ready to accept not being on the grid in 2023 if the right opportunity does not arrive, as he is not willing to take a seat "for the sake of it".

"I've certainly accepted if I'm not to be on the grid next year, I'm OK with that," Ricciardo said.

"I've accepted that I'm not going to do everything, or my team's not going to do everything, just to put me on the grid if it's not right or it doesn't make sense.

"This has been challenging, and if I am on the grid I want to know that it's a place that I can enjoy it and feel like I can thrive, like an environment I feel like I can thrive in. Like I said, I don't want to just jump in a car for the sake of it."

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