Sebastian Vettel qualified on pole position for the Canadian Grand Prix to break a 17-year top spot start jinx for Ferrari at the venue and setting himself up as the man to beat in round seven of the 2018 Formula 1 World Championship on Sunday.
The session began in bright sunshine and in front of an enthusiastic capacity crowd and it was clear that any driver in the top three teams was capable of snatching pole and this was the case until the final runs in Q3.
It was akin to a game of poker, which probably began in FP3 earlier in the morning, with no team really knowing what the other had in their arsenal until the very end.
Finally, it was Vettel who had the ammo to get the job done. He had kept his powder dry until when it mattered in Q3, with everything maxed out on the Ferrari, he blasted around Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in a record time of 1:10.764 which was good enough for his 54th career pole.
Michael Schumacher was the last Ferrari driver to start from pole in Montreal when he did so back in 2001.
Vettel said afterwards, “I got the job done. Yesterday we were a bit in trouble. I wasn’t really happy with the car, we had some problems and I couldn’t get the rhythm.”
“Today we switched on. The car was incredible, it just kept getting quicker. In my final lap I had a small mistake otherwise I think there was a little bit more. But it was fantastic. Thanks to the team for fixing the car yesterday after I hit the wall,” added the German.
Vettel’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen showed handy pace too but on his final run he got on the grass and compromised his lap time, he will start from fifth.
Valtteri Bottas got the better of his teammate Lewis Hamilton, the reigning F1 World Champion struggling to find the sweet spot while the Finn kept it together to claim second place on the grid. Hamilton’s best effort was good for fourth.
Bottas said, “It was close to Ferrari and it’s always annoying when you are so close. Starting from the front row is good for this race and happy to go for tomorrow.”
Splitting the Silver Arrows was the Red Bull of Max Verstappen, the Dutchman digging deep and delivering a big lap to claim third on the grid, the Dutchman stunted by a lack of ‘party mode’ which cost him and his teammate Daniel Ricciardo about half a second in Q3. The Australian was sixth.
Verstappen summed up, “I’m very happy with this weekend so far. The car has been working really well and we know in Qualifying we are missing top speed. To be third is great for us and I think in the race we can do a really good job.”
“I think we have the pace to take the fight to Ferrari and Mercedes. Starting on the softer tyre is a benefit as it’s quite slippery on track and in the race I think we’ll be competitive,” added Verstappen.
Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg was best of the rest behind the big three, 1.2 seconds shy of the top time but good enough for seventh. He was two tenths faster than teammate Carlos Sainz in ninth.
Force India driver Esteban Ocon split the yellow cars on the timing screens with the eighth-best time while teammate Sergio Perez rounded out the top ten.
As the session began Romain Grosjean’s Haas billowed smoke before it came to halt at the end of the pitlane, the Frenchman’s session ending there and then. Teammate Kevin Magnussen went on to qualify 11th.
Like Renault and Ferrari, Honda had their updated power units in Montreal which were bolted to the back of the Toro Rosso pair of Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly.
On the day, underpressure Hartley rose to the occasion to set the 12th best time while Gasly, in 16th, failed to make it beyond Q1.
Neither McLaren made it beyond Q2, nevertheless, Fernando Alonso out-qualified his teammate Stoffel Vandoorne for a remarkable 12th time in a row. The Spaniard was 14th and the Belgian 15th when the chequered flag waved.
Further down the order, both Williams drivers were knocked out in Q1 with Montreal native Lance Stroll 17th and rookie Sergey Sirotkin 18th, the pair almost two seconds adrift of the pace-setters
Marcus Ericsson was an early casualty when his Sauber slapped the wall during his second flyer in Q1.
Ferrari set the pace in the opening Q1 session with Vettel going quickest. The German swapped times with team-mate Räikkönen before he settled into P1 with a lap of 1:11.710.
Hamilton slotted into third despite a nervous moment at, with the Briton finishing just over a tenth of a second behind Vettel. His teammate Bottas finished the session fifth ahead of Verstappen and Ricciardo.
At the bottom of the order, only four drivers from the session would drop out after Haas’ Romain Grosjean exited the session right at the start. The Frenchman left his team’s garage soon after the green light had gone on to signal the start of Q1.
But as he applied some power in pit lane, a huge plume of smoke erupted from the rear of his car and he was immediately told to stop his car. He would play no further part in the session.
Ericsson hit trouble as well early on, with the Swede smacking the wall on the exit of Turn 9 and damaging the car. He thus sank to the bottom of the order as the session developed.
Ahead of the final runs Alonso slipped into the drop zone in P16 but the McLaren driver found more pace in his final run and jumped to P14 ahead of teammate Vandoorne.
That meant that Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly was eliminated in P16 ahead of Williams’ Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin, with Ericsson in P19. Gasly’s prospects had been hurt by having to revert to an older spec Honda engine ahead of the session after a problem was detected on his upgrade power unit in FP3.
At the start of Q2 both Mercedes and Ferrari opted to run with ultrasoft tyres at the start and Valtteri Bottas set the initial pace with a time of 1:11.514.
The put him ahead of Vettel and Räikkönen. Hamilton sat behind after locking up on his lap. Verstappen though took hypersofts and set the quickest time of the first runs with a lap of 1:11.472.
In the second runs the Mercedes and Ferraris went back out on hypersofts. Vettel, though, abandoned his lap, but not due to wanting to settle on ultrasofts.
The German felt he was severely hampered by drivers on slower laps and so steered back to the garage. In the end all the Ferrari and Mercedes settled on their ultrasoft times.
Ricciardo, who had been off the pace of his team-mate throughout practice, suddenly seemed to find a sweet spot with his RB14 and on his second run he jumped ahead of Verstappen to claim top spot with a lap of 1:11.434. Verstappen settled on his opening time and took P2.
Eliminated at this stage were Magnussen who finished in P11 ahead of Hartley, Leclerc and the McLarens of Alonso and Vandoorne.
In the first runs of Q3 Hamilton was first onto the timesheet with a time of 1:11.227, but team-mate BOT blasted past that with a good lap of 1:10.857. Räikkönen then slotted into P2 with a lap of 1:11.095.
Vettel, though, went even quicker and he took provision pole with a time of 1:10.776. Verstappen then jumped ahead of Hamilton to sit fourth at the end of the first runs, just 0.001s behind Räikkönen.
And there was no halting the German in the final runs. Räikkönen was the first to crack, running wide in the first sector and ruining his chances.
Hamilton then made a mistake at the hairpin to exclude himself from the battle for pole. And when Bottas failed to improve Vettel’s 54th pole position was secure.
Verstappen might have had a say in it after setting the quickest first sector time of the session on his final run. But the Red Bull driver lost time in the following two sector and ended the third ahead of Hamilton, Räikkönen and Ricciardo.