Montreal (AFP) – Sebastian Vettel roared to pole position with a record-breaking lap for Ferrari in Saturday’s dramatic qualifying session for this weekend’s Formula One Canadian Grand Prix.
It is the Italian team’s first time on pole in Montreal since seven-time champion Michael Schumacher managed it in 2001.
“The car was incredible in qualifying and it just kept getting quicker,” said Vettel, whose Ferrari team were using new engines.
“I think I was a bit in trouble after Friday practice, but I guess I woke up the right way today.”
In a tight and intriguing contest between the three leading teams, Vettel clocked a best lap in a record one minute, 10.764 seconds to secure his 54th pole position and outpace nearest rival Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes and Dutchman Max Verstappen.
Championship leader and defending champion Lewis Hamilton was down in fourth for Mercedes — his hopes of a fourth consecutive pole in Canada ended — ahead of Finn Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo, victorious in Monaco two weeks ago, was sixth in the second Red Bull as his team-mate Verstappen, who had been fastest throughout practice, continued to deliver a perfect riposte to his critics.
Having threatened to “head-butt” someone on Thursday after getting irritated by persistent questions about his many crashes this year, Verstappen was satisfied with his qualifying run.
“I am happy with this weekend so far. The car is working well and we’re just missing out on top speed. I think we can do a good job.”
Mercedes, who chose not to introduce their new upgraded power units in Montreal and struggled to extract the best from the ‘hyper-soft’ tyre, saw Hamilton struggle to find the form that has enabled him to dominate in the past.
Hamilton, who leads Vettel by 14 points in the standings, was seeking to equal Schumacher’s record of seven wins in Canada this weekend, but his run of supremacy — three straight wins at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve — looks likely to end on Sunday.
“It’s just been a difficult day,” he said after unexpectedly being out-qualified by team-mate Bottas.
The Finn added: “It’s always annoying when it’s so close and we’re not ahead — but starting on the front row is good for this race.”
On a dry and sunlit day, there was immediate drama when Frenchman Romain Grosjean pulled up in the pit-lane with clouds of smoke billowing from his Haas car’s Ferrari engine.
Once the main teams emerged, Vettel was soon quickest for Ferrari before swapping fastest laps with Raikkonen as the Mercedes men struggled to keep pace.
Vettel ended Q1 on top ahead of the Finn with Hamilton third, but it was tense for McLaren as twice former champion Fernando Alonso squeezed into Q2 at the end in 14th place ahead of team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne.
The Q2 session began with both Ferrari and Mercedes on ‘ultra-soft’ tyres before Red Bull, on ‘hypers’ took top spot through Verstappen.
It was clearly a strategic scrap as the teams were aiming to use the tyres in Q2 that would suit them best to start the race.
Having clocked banker laps, they switched to ‘hyper-softs’ on which Vettel was slowed by heavy traffic as Ricciardo topped Verstappen with a new track record lap of 1:11.434.
Mercedes were first out in Q3 and smashed the records, Bottas topping Hamilton in 1:10.857 before Vettel beat that.