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Hamilton beats Rosberg to Singapore pole by slender margin, Ricciardo to start third

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SINGAPORE — The margin was closer than ever, and their rivals a tougher challenge, yet the outcome was the same as usual Saturday as Mercedes locked out the front row for the Singapore Grand Prix, with Lewis Hamilton edging Nico Rosberg by a mere seven thousandths of a second.

Hamilton claimed his sixth pole of the season with a time of 1 minute, 45.681 seconds in the qualifying session, and those few yards of advantage between first and second on the grid could prove crucial in Sunday's night race on a tight and twisty Marina Bay circuit with few passing opportunities.

Rosberg leads Hamilton by 22 points in the overall title race — 238 vs. 216.

Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo, who is the only genuine threat to the Mercedes pair for the Formula One championship, qualified third — less than two tenths of a second off Hamilton. Ricciardo was ahead of his teammate and three-time defending Singapore champion Sebastian Vettel.

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso will start from fifth on the grid, and later tweeted that he was "very, very happy" while Williams driver Felipe Massa will start from sixth.

Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari had engine trouble on the final flying lap and he had to park the car out on the circuit, but still qualified seventh, ahead of Valtteri Bottas of Williams.

The top eight cars were separated by just half a second — a remarkably small margin on what is one of the longest laps on the F1 calendar.

"It's the most incredible feeling on the last lap, with all the pressure, when the smallest mistake could lose you a lot," Hamilton said. "After the first sequence of corners, I was already two tenths down, but I said to myself 'Let's keep going and see what happens.'

PHOTO: Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain steers his car to qualify for pole position for the Singapore Grand Prix on the Marina Bay City Circuit in Singapore, Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain steers his car to qualify for pole position for the Singapore Grand Prix on the Marina Bay City Circuit in Singapore, Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

"That was one of the most exciting qualifying sessions I have had for a long time, where there are a lot of people in the mix and you have to be spot on."

When told over his radio that he had lost out to Hamilton by just seven thousandths, Rosberg shouted in frustration at missing pole in Singapore by less than a tenth of a second for the second year running. But he had a smile on his face later when lamenting the small margin.

"If I think back over the lap, seven thousandths is nothing," Rosberg said. "A little bit here or there and I could have done it."

The Mercedes team calculated after the session that seven thousandths was equivalent to 33.5 centimeters — roughly one foot — at the end of the lap had they started side by side.

Ricciardo was enthused by how little separated him from the Mercedes cars, which have shared 12 of the 13 previous poles between them this season, usually by much more comfortable margins.

"It's definitely encouraging," Ricciardo said. "We ended up a lot closer than we thought we would. There are a lot of cars within half a second or a second, so it will be a fun race."

McLaren's Kevin Magnussen qualified ninth and Toro Rosso's Daniil Kvyat rounded out the top 10.

Lotus driver Sebastian Grosjean qualified down in 15th, and the struggles of the team this season appeared to overwhelm him as he radioed back to his team: "I cannot believe it! Bloody engine!" When a team member began to explain the issue, the Frenchman shot back: "I don't care. It's too much."

Among the tail-enders, Marussia's Jules Bianchi caught the eye by qualifying a full second faster than his teammate and the two Caterham cars.

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PHOTO: Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain steers his car to qualify for pole position for the Singapore Grand Prix on the Marina Bay City Circuit in Singapore, Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
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