Sebastian Vettel was able to master the difficult conditions at an overcast and wet Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, taking pole position for the Canadian Grand Prix, beating Lewis Hamilton by a tenth of a second.
But the undoubted star of qualifying was 23 year old Finn Valtteri Bottas.
Bottas was among the front runners throughout all three parts of qualifying, but saved his best for last with a stunning performance in Q3 to leave some big names trailing in his wake.
Meanwhile McLaren, which has owned this Montreal circuit for the past three seasons, had a poor session with Sergio Perez only 12th and Jenson Button 14th after the Englishman mistimed his final run, before the chequered flag fell, by a few seconds.
Following on from some changeable practice sessions throughout the weekend, qualifying offered difficult conditions and although the rain eased at numerous points during the session, it also restarted at times and meant that intermediate tyres were the order of the day thoroughout.
Vettel was on form from the outset and as the session went on the Red Bull became stronger, always looking to be the main contender for pole position. And after an early run in the final shoot out putting him in provisional pole the second set of runs were to be ruined by one final burst of rain at the hairpin and final corner.
That meant that despite many improvements in the first two sectors, there were no overall improvements in lap times in the final three minutes and the top three held their places.
With Red Bull having stronger race pace than Mercedes this weekend Vettel will be hoping to maintain the lead from the start and drive away as Hamilton and Bottas hold up Nico Rosberg, Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso – who complete the top six.
It is Vettel’s 39th career pole position and his third of 2013, meaning that only Vettel and the Mercedes pairing are yet to clinch the top spot in qualifying. And with the German sitting on a comfortable lead in the drivers’ championship, the picture looks rosy for him as we approach one of the more unpredictable races of the season.
“It was very tricky today, especially as you never knew what the conditions were going to be like the next time you went out,” said Vettel. “It was intermediate tyres throughout, but it was extremely difficult to adapt as the conditions were constantly changing.
“I’m looking forward to the race tomorrow. I think we had strong pace yesterday, so no matter what the conditions we should be in decent shape.”
Although long range forecasts for race day have predicted warm, sunny conditions, during Saturday that was revised with many teams now suggesting conditions could be similar to qualifying.
The Mercedes pairing of Hamilton and Rosberg and the sister Red Bull of Webber were the only other real challengers for pole during the session, but hitting the track at the right moment was paramount as was having a new set of intermediate tyres to use at the decisive moment.
Hamilton ended a sequence of three races qualifying behind Rosberg. He will start in second place for the third consecutive race, giving him his fourth front-row start in the past five races.
Bottas and Williams got it all lined up perfectly for much of the session; making sure that the Finn in only his seventh F1 weekend would not find himself sat in the pits as the rest of the field improved. The result gives him the best qualifying position of his brief Formula One career and hands Williams their first top ten start of the season.
Alonso was unable to match the pace that he showed yesterday and could have difficulty cutting the points gap between Vettel and himself tomorrow. Alonso and Ferrari had been hoping for a dry qualifying session due to their kindness to the tyres and the ability to not have them overheat too quickly. This was also true for Lotus and Kimi Raikkonen who struggled to generate tyre temperature in the Lotus and wound up in ninth place. Team mate Romain Grosjean fared even worse. Already carrying a 10 place grid penalty for his accident with Daniel Ricciardo in Monaco, the Frenchman was eliminated in Q1, along with Paul di Resta.
The teams headed out for Q1 initially on super softs in the hope of completing some rare dry laps around the circuit. But with rain falling the track necessitated the use of the intermediate tyre and the whole field were promptly back out.
With the track improving it was set to be a session based on the latest possible lap. And many pursued this route as they tried to make late movements up the field, including Di Resta and Grosjean. The loss of time occurred through a number of factors. Firstly the rain was very sporadic and turned itself on and off like a light switch, however the cars limited the amount of water on the track and the drier parts of the track began to chew up the intermediate tyre.
Secondly, and a paradox to above, the more wet parts of the track that offered minimal grip became more wet and hampered any progression in lap times. Di Resta and Grosjean consequently could not improve and found themselves out of qualifying at the earliest stage. Grosjean has to take a ten-place grid penalty following his crash with Daniel Ricciardo in Monaco and will therefore start from last should there be no penalties from now.
The rain continued until the second phase of qualifying and the cars were immediately seven seconds off their previous pace. This time the track showed little improvement and finding space on the track between the intermittent showers was key.
With two minutes remaining of the session Felipe Massa crashed under-braking at Turn three and brought out the red flag for the third time in two race weekends.
Following the red flag stoppage there was a battle for track position as the scrap for the final top ten shoot out began and with each driver looking to find space in which to complete their final flying lap some were unable to cross the line before the chequered flag was dropped.
The main casualty of this was Jenson Button, who saw the lights change to red as he was just metres away from the finish line. He was therefore unable to improve on his fourteenth position and finds himself in the dangerous midfield heading in to Montreal’s tight first pair of corners.
CANADIAN GRAND PRIX, Montreal, Qualifying
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m25.425s
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m25.512s + 0.087s
3. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m25.897s + 0.472s
4. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m26.008s + 0.583s
5. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m26.208s + 0.783s
6. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m26.504s + 1.079s
7. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m26.543s + 1.118s
8. Adrian Sutil Force India 1m27.348s + 1.923s
9. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m27.432s + 2.007s
10. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m27.946s + 2.521s
11. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1m29.435s + 1.786s
12. Sergio Perez McLaren 1m29.761s + 2.112s
13. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m29.917s + 2.268s
14. Jenson Button McLaren 1m30.068s + 2.419s
15. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m30.315s + 2.666s
16. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m30.354s + 2.705s
17. Paul di Resta Force India 1m24.908s + 2.590
18. Charles Pic Caterham 1m25.626s + 3.308
19. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m25.716s + 3.398
20. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m26.508s + 4.190
21. Max Chilton Marussia 1m27.062s + 4.744
22. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1m27.110s + 4.792