Lewis Hamilton took McLaren’s first pole position of the season in Montreal, beating the Red Bulls of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel into second and third places.
Rather than delete his fastest time, which would have dropped him to fourth place, he was fined $10,000 by the stewards, one of whom is Emerson Fittipaldi. This sets an unfortunate precedent, which some teams might seek to exploit in Spa and even Suzuka later this year. There a lap of fuel is worth a tenth and a half; some teams might well feel is worth spending ten grand to avoid carrying that.
In any case, the Canadian race is set up to be fascinating as the McLaren and the Red Bulls are on completely different tyre strategies, so it will be a question of the two teams doing the race differently and at the end we will find out which one of them has got it right.
Kamui Kobayashi had a disappointing qualifying session in the Sauber and was eliminated along with the new teams’ cars. He had plenty of chances to improve but couldn’t take them. Lotus had a strong session, with Heikki Kovalainen setting a time just two tenths of a second slower than Kobayashi. Meanwhile at Virgin, Timo Glock increased his run to eight races out of eight that he has outqualified his team mate this season.
Button was half a second slower than Hamilton in Q1, while Vettel had three tenths of a second in hand over Webber.
In Q2 Michael Schumacher dropped out, in 13th place, behind the two Williams cars. He was half a second slower than Nico Rosberg, making it a heavy defeat and the first time that Schumacher has been outqualified by his team mate in Montreal. It was Schumacher’s worst qualifying of the season and made worse by the fact that Rosberg missed most of the Saturday morning practice with a clutch problem. But Rosberg only managed 10th. Both Force Indias made it through to Q3, with Liuzzi ahead Sutil and even ahead of Ferrari’s Felipe Massa.
Hamilton had used hard tyres to be the fastest car in both Q1 and Q2, but he went out on soft tyres for the first time at the start of Q3 and put in a spectacular lap, 1m 15.5.
Red Bull took another strategy, using the soft tyre early on and using the hard tyre only in the final Q3 session. Webber came out ahead of Vettel again, albeit by just 5/100ths of a second. Vettel made several mistakes, including cutting the chicane, but the advantage of the tyre choice was that he had plenty of chances. He got a clean lap in the end.
Red Bull’s tactic – and Renault’s Robert Kubica also adopted it – was based on thinking about the race. They want to start on the hard tyre, while Hamilton will be starting on the soft. On the face of it this is a good plan and one chosen because the car wasn’t significantly faster on the soft than the hard. But the problem with it is that it obliges you to make two stops in the race, as it’s pretty marginal to think you can do 50 laps on the hard on full tanks and then 20 on the soft at the end.
The degradation rate on the soft tyre for Red Bull is 0.54 seconds per lap, which is huge by normal standards but is better than the opposition. So by the time the track has rubbered in they should be able to do a reasonable length final stint.
Red Bull might try to do one stop and may pull it off if there is a lengthy safety car, but my hunch is that they will stop twice.
A word for Tonio Liuzzi, from Force India who did a sensational job to qualify in 6th place, the best of the season so far. Both Force India cars were competitive all weekend and Adrian Sutil is 9th ahead of Rosberg. There were rumours of Liuzzi fighting to keep his seat, but this will have put any such thoughts off for some time to come, I would imagine.
CANADIAN GRAND PRIX – Qualifying
1. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:15.889 1:15.528 1:15.105
2. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1:16.423 1:15.692 1:15.373
3. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1:16.129 1:15.556 1:15.420
4. Alonso Ferrari 1:16.171 1:15.597 1:15.435
5. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:16.371 1:15.742 1:15.520
6. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1:17.086 1:16.171 1:15.648
7. Massa Ferrari 1:16.673 1:16.314 1:15.688
8. Kubica Renault 1:16.370 1:15.682 1:15.715
9. Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:16.495 1:16.295 1:15.881
10. Rosberg Mercedes 1:16.350 1:16.001 1:16.071
11. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1:16.880 1:16.434
12. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1:16.770 1:16.438
13. Schumacher Mercedes 1:16.598 1:16.492
14. Petrov Renault 1:16.569 1:16.844
15. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:17.356 1:16.928
16. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:17.027 1:17.029
17. de la Rosa Sauber-Ferrari 1:17.611 1:17.384
18. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:18.019
19. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 1:18.237
20. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 1:18.698
21. Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1:18.941
22. Senna HRT-Cosworth 1:19.484
23. di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 1:19.675
24. Chandhok HRT-Cosworth 1:27.757