Sebastian Vettel claimed his third pole position in a row in Montreal ahead of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, as Valtteri Bottas sprang a major surprise by qualifying third for Williams in a damp and difficult session at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve.
After easing through the first two segments of the hour-long session, Vettel was first out in Q3 when the green light went on at the end of pit lane. And at the end of the 10-minute shoot-out the defending champion was still at the head of the field, his first flying lap of a two-tour final run being good enough to deny Hamilton.
The Mercedes driver might have stolen P1 at the last, as he was inside Vettel’s benchmark as he entered the circuit’s final sector. The drizzle that had fallen on and off since the start of the session was strengthening however, and as the Briton arrowed towards the final chicane he made a mistake and had to swerve off track. For Vettel it was a relief.
“We decided to have two runs and we thought the second run would be quicker because we had a new set of tyres left, but it started to drizzle, in the last sector in particular, in the last chicane,” he said. “I went straight on one lap and then the second lap I had a mistake somewhere else, so it turned out that the conditions were best for the first run. Very happy the first lap was good enough. It was very tight with Lewis.”
Hamilton was naturally disappointed with his final lap. “I was doing a pretty good lap, I think I was six or seven tenths up, but even so I went wide,” he said. “I don’t know whether I would have kept it but all I needed to keep was a tenth or so, a bit unfortunate – but I’m still happy to be here for the team.”
As was Bottas, for whom third is a best-ever grid position. The rookie driver also handed Williams its best starting slot since Pastor Maldonado qualified third at last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
“It means a lot,” said the 23-year-old Finn. “It’s way more up in the grid than what we really could ever imagine. It’s been so difficult, the first six races for us and it will be a nice boost for the team. We really got everything quite right today.”
In the run-up to Q1 a light drizzle began to fall across a cold and damp Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and after exploratory laps on the slick supersoft tyre the whole field reverted to intermediates to cope with the greasy track.
Despite the complex conditions the result was largely predictable, at least at the very bottom of the order. Caterham’s Giedo van der Garde and Charles Pic were ousted as were the Marussia’s of Bianchi and Chilton. There were surprises, though, in the shape of Romain Grosjean failing to progress from 19th place and Paul Di Resta exiting the session in 17th spot. Grosjean, who has to take a 10-place grid penalty for colliding with Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo in Monaco, will start from the back of the grid.
There was a late shock in Q2 too, when Ferrari’s Felipe Massa lost control at Turn 3 and crashed into the barriers, bringing out the red flags. When the session resumed with just two minutes left on the clock, the question was whether anyone could get temperature into their tyres to improve on a final run.
The answer was no. The major casualties were both McLarens, with Sergio Pérez qualifying 12th and Jenson Button 14th. The news was better for Toro Rosso, who saw both its drivers into Q3 for the first time since the Indian Grand Prix of 2011.
“Today’s qualifying was one of those sessions where it either all falls into place for you – or it doesn’t,” said Button of his failure. “And we were just out of luck this afternoon. We encountered yellow flags, a red flag; and, when the session restarted, I crossed the line about half a second too late to start my final flying lap.
“We weren’t as competitive as we thought we’d be, and 14th obviously isn’t the place where I want to start, but the good news is that you can overtake around here. A race in mixed conditions tomorrow would be good for us.”
With Vettel, Hamilton and Bottas annexing the front three spots on the grid for tomorrow’s race, fourth place went to Nico Rosberg in the second Mercedes. Mark Webber was fifth, the Red Bull Racing driver finishing three-tenths of a second ahead of sixth-placed Fernando Alonso.
After making it into Q3 for the second race in a row, Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne made the most of the opportunity with the result that the Frenchman recorded his best-ever qualifying position of seventh.
“It was not an easy session and at one point I thought I wouldn’t even make it out of Q1,” said Vergne. “But we managed to improve a couple of things on the car and that helped. Generally, I feel comfortable in the wet, but that wasn’t the case today. The car wasn’t exceptional, but we got the most out of it I think. It was tough driving out there, but in the end it worked as is clear from the fact I got seventh place on the grid.
“It’s my best ever F1 qualifying, but I’m not going to be jumping for joy over a seventh place, as there are no points given out on Saturday,” he added. “We still have the main part of the job to do tomorrow, when I will be trying to at the very least maintain this position and even do better.”
Vergne will be joined on row four of the grid by Force India’s Adrian Sutil. Kimi Raikkonen was ninth for Lotus and the top ten was rounded out by Daniel Ricciardo in the second Toro Rosso.
2013 Canadian Grand Prix qualifying times
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing 1:25.425
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:25.512
3 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:25.897
4 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:26.008
5 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing 1:26.208
6 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:26.504
7 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:26.543
8 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:27.348
9 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus 1:27.432
10 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:27.946
11 Nico Hülkenberg Sauber 1:29.435
12 Sergio Pérez McLaren 1:29.761
13 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:29.917
14 Jenson Button McLaren 1:30.068
15 Esteban Gutiérrez Sauber 1:30.315
16 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:30.354
17 Paul di Resta Force India 1:24.908
18 Charles Pic Caterham 1:25.626
19 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:25.716
20 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:26.508
21 Max Chilton Marussia 1:27.062
22 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:27.110