Sebastian Vettel was hoping to finally convert a spot at the front of the Canadian Grand Prix grid into a place on the top of the podium.
The Formula One points leader earned his third straight pole position at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, posting the fastest lap in an abbreviated qualifying session on Saturday. In two previous starts from the front of the grid, Vettel’s Red Bull has finished second and fourth.
It was the third pole position of the year for Vettel and he was looking for his third victory of the year yesterday, when the weekend’s on-and-off rain was expected to have passed.
“It was very, very tricky, especially because you never knew what the conditions were the next time you were out,” said Vettel, who won in Malaysia and Bahrain, and finished second in Monaco last month to take a 21-point lead over Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen. “I don’t know if there’s anybody who can give a precise forecast for every corner. We’ll see how the weather behaves tomorrow [Sunday]. I think it could be an interesting race with mixed conditions.”
Lewis Hamilton, who is fourth in the points race, was also on the front row with Vettel for a second straight year.
“Pole was definitely there,” said Hamilton, who was 0.087 seconds slower than Vettel. “So it’s a bit unfortunate, but that’s the way it goes.”
Intermittent rain that picked up just as the second session began dampened the course and slowed the cars for the last two qualifying periods. The second session was red-flagged when Felipe Massa turned sideways and skidded into the wall at turn three.
The Brazilian banged his hands on the steering wheel, before climbing out of the Ferrari. The session resumed with 1 minute, 59 seconds left, and Vettel mistimed his return to the track and was unable to get in another lap at top speed.
“I was very happy the first lap was good enough,” Vettel said. “It was very tight with Lewis.”
The forecast for yesterday was for showers in the morning that were expected to pass by the time the race began in the afternoon.
That could be good news for Vettel, who had bad luck with the rain in Montreal in 2011.
Coming to Montreal with five victories in the year’s first six races, he started on pole and led almost the entire race, before a slight skid on the final trip down the back straight allowed Jenson Button to pass him and take the checkered flag. Still, Vettel went on to win his first championship.
Under sunny skies last year, Vettel was fourth after scraping a tire against the wall on the 68th lap of the 70-lap race.
Rookie Valtteri Bottas was third in qualifying and made the second row for the first time in his career.
“It’s way more up in the grid than we really could ever imagine. We didn’t expect to be in the first or second row,” Bottas said. “In the dry, the car doesn’t belong ... Some rain would help us.”
Monaco winner Nico Rosberg, who had been on pole for the previous three races this year, was fourth, followed by Vettel’s teammate Mark Webber. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who was third in the points race, started sixth.
Vettel posted a top lap of 1 minute, 22.318 seconds in the first qualifying session, but rain slowed everyone in the second — especially Vettel, but his time of 1:25.425 in the third session put him on pole for the third year in a row.
“We’re extremely happy with the result,” Vettel said. “No matter the conditions, we should be in decent shape.”