Sebastian Vettel gave himself the best chance of becoming the first driver to win a second race in 2012, by taking pole by 3/10ths of a second from Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso.
If he could do it, it would be the first win for Red Bull in Canada, which has been something of a bogey circuit for the team. Vettel made a mistake on the last lap in 2011, losing the win to Jenson Button.
It was Vettel’s second pole in a row in Canada and the 32nd of his career in just 88 Grands Prix. It was Vettel’s second pole of 2012 after Bahrain – a race he won from pole position.
“We had a fantastic weekend so far,” said Vettel. “We’ve learned quite a bit from the last few weekends, where we didn’t get as much as we should have from the car. It’s not just a hole in the floor that makes a difference. We never feared a big impact (from the forced changes to the car).”
Qualifying for the Canadian Grand Prix is usually close but Vettel’s margin was larger than expected. Whereas Vettel and Hamilton improved on their final runs Alonso didn’t improve. He set the fastest time in all three qualifying sessions. Hamilton said that the higher temperatures on Saturday compared to Friday had affected his pace, as he found it tough to get the tyres up to temperature and he was surprised in the circumstances to be on the front row.
In Q1, Jean Eric Vergne failed to make the cut for the third time this season. He had an off in the morning session which cost him valuable track time. The Caterhams ended up ahead of him, with Kovalainen getting ahead of team mate Petrov.
Of the front runners, both McLaren drivers and Raikkonen used up a set of option tyres to get through Q1, finding around half a second advantage from it over the soft.
At the start of Q2, the two Ferraris went out on softs initially, the only cars to do so.
Critically, both Ferraris, the Mercedes and Red Bull cars all got through into Q3 using only one set of the super soft tyres. Button had used all three sets of his – he flat spotted one set and lost them – and was vulnerable to a last minute attack from Maldonado, but the Venezuelan hit the wall in the final corner and that allowed Button to go through in the top ten.
Raikkonen and the two Saubers failed to make the cut. Raikkonen said that he had a hydraulic problems which affected the performance of his differential.
Hamilton had only one new set of supersofts to take into Q3.
After the first runs, Vettel was fastest from Alonso and Hamilton. Vettel found 3/10ths on his second run, crucially Alonso was 2/1000ths slower than his first run; the final sector letting him down.
Meanwhile Massa had his best qualifying performance of the season in sixth place in the upgraded Ferrari.
Button set his Q3 time on soft tyres and will start the race on those tyres from 10th place, a different strategy from the other front runners and one that gives him the possibility of one stop if he thinks it’s possible. An early safety car would help him a lot in the race.
Nico Rosberg was fifth, the fastest Mercedes – his car had a fuel connector problem in the morning session, which stopped him out on track as soon as he went out. He lost the session. This follows Schumacher’s fuel pressure problem which curtailed his Monaco Grand Prix, showing that Mercedes still has one or two reliability concerns in that area.
Meanwhile Vettel had set the fastest time in FP3, despite Red Bull being forced to make a second modification to its car in a week, again a matter of disputed holes – this time the FIA requested a change to holes in the wheel hubs as they were felt to have an influence on aerodynamics, energising the air flow to the front wing rather than performing a simple cooling function.
The strategies for tomorrow’s race will be very interesting and track temperature will play a part as will the high possibility of a safety car. Strategies with fewer stops can bring you out ahead at the final stops, but with overtaking being so easy at Montreal with long straights and DRS zone, making the right call at the first stop will be critical.
CANADIAN GRAND PRIX, Qualifying
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m13.784s
2. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1m14.087s + 0.303
3. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m14.151s + 0.367
4. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m14.346s + 0.562
5. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m14.411s + 0.627
6. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m14.465s + 0.681
7. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m14.645s + 0.861
8. Paul di Resta Force India 1m14.705s + 0.921
9. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m14.812s + 1.028
10. Jenson Button McLaren 1m15.182s + 1.398
11. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m14.688s + 0.501
12. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m14.734s + 0.547
13. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m14.748s + 0.561
14. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m15.078s + 0.891
15. Sergio Perez Sauber 1m15.156s + 0.969
16. Bruno Senna Williams 1m15.170s + 0.983
17. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m15.231s + 1.044
18. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1m16.263s + 1.602
19. Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1m16.482s + 1.821
20. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m16.602s + 1.941
21. Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1m17.492s + 2.831
22. Timo Glock Marussia 1m17.901s + 3.240
23. Charles Pic Marussia 1m18.255s + 3.594
24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1m18.330s + 3.669