Sebastian Vettel sent a serious signal of intent to his 2012 Formula One world championship rivals yesterday with a blisteringly fast lap to secure pole position for this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix.
The reigning World Champion hustled his Red Bull round the Montreal circuit almost three tenths of a second faster than any other driver, and two places ahead of team-mate Mark Webber who won in Monaco a fortnight ago.
‘It puts us in a great place, but nevertheless tomorrow is more important.’ said Vettel after qualifying. ‘We put ourselves in a good position, eight metres ahead of Lewis and then we go from there.’
Lewis Hamilton was a picture of total commitment during the qualifying hour as he wrestled with his Mclaren car in a bid to record his fourth pole position at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, named in honour of the 1970’s Ferrari legend who was killed in practice for the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix. Hamilton ran dangerously close to the outside wall at the very last corner of his fastest lap, but was still pleased with his performance and remains hopeful of claiming the race victory from P2. ‘I was very happy with my lap – I squeezed every last ounce out of the car and didn’t expect to be so far up the grid. In fact, I struggled a little in Q1 and Q2, and I wasn’t sure about my ultimate pace at first, but, fortunately, in the end, I pulled it all together for Q3.’
Team mate Jenson Button has once again experienced a difficult weekend so far, with mechanical failures on Friday reducing his race preparation to a handful of laps on Saturday morning. The 2009 World Champion just sneaked into the top ten shootout and opted to adopt a totally different approach to his race strategy in a bid to reverse his poor qualifying session, being the only driver to start on the harder compound Pirelli tyre. ‘Today wasn’t great, you’d have to say, and 10th isn’t the best place to start, but it looks like being even hotter tomorrow – probably the hottest race of the year so far – so it may well throw up a few surprises for everyone. I still think we can still have a good race, even from the fifth row.’
Fernando Alonso and Ferrari continued their resurgent 2012 campaign with the Spanish double World Champion lining
up 3rd, fractions of a second behind Hamilton’s time. Alonso appeared incredibly laid back in the post-qualifying media scrum, perhaps indicative of a man who knows full well he is at the top of his game. ‘I am happy with the way things have gone so far this weekend, especially because the car has proved to be competitive, even on a track which certainly does not suit its characteristics,’ he grinned. ‘Third on the starting grid is a good position from which to attack in the race, especially as pole is not so important here as elsewhere.’ He was so relaxed he even found time to crack a joke or two! ‘Italy-Spain in the European football?’ he said referring to the ongoing European Football Championship in Poland-Ukraine. ‘We haven’t spoken about it yet with the team but, if we win, then maybe I might find there are not too many people on hand to change my tyres at the pit stop!’
His team mate Felipe Massa continued his mini-revival of his fortunes with a solid 6th on the grid, highlighting the upturn in form found by the likeable Brazilian last time out at Monaco. ‘I am pleased with the progress made this weekend: starting from sixth is a positive result.’ he said. ‘All things considered, I remain confident, because the whole team is moving forward which is very important for the rest of the season.’
Mercedes failed to deliver on the promise and hype shown before the race by delivering 5th and 9th on the grid with Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher respectively. Team Principal Ross Brawn reflected on a trying weekend for the German outfit. ‘This was certainly not a session where we achieved our full potential, but Nico did a strong job to recover from the running time he lost this morning, and we know that, even from fifth and ninth positions, we will still have plenty of opportunities to make progress through the field tomorrow.’
Optimism was something in short supply at Lotus as the team slipped further back down the gird relative to recent races. Although Romain Grosjean mounted a last minute do-or-die lap that netted him 7th on the starting grid, Kimi Raikkonen was hampered by differential problems and could progress no further than 12th. ‘I have no doubt that we’ll resolve Kimi’s issue for tomorrow. We can see the symptoms clearly on the data and we recognised it very early on.’ commented Alan Permane, Lotus’ trackside operations officer. ‘We informed Kimi that there was a problem during qualifying. It wasn’t something we could easily remedy during the session but I’m very confident that we’ll find the problem overnight and fix it.’
Force India continued their impressive upswing toward the front of the grid as Scot Paul Di Resta outqualified Michael Schumacher and Jenson Button to place his car 8th in the starting lineup. ‘In all the sessions so far we’ve shown how competitive the car is, especially during long runs, and I think we can be confident of scoring some good points tomorrow. It will be a long race and we just have to wait and see what happens with the weather and who has the best understanding of the tyres.’ Paul certainly has the tactical nous to make his race work for him.
Williams on the other hand continued to slide into the midfield only a month after their emphatic victory at the Spanish Grand Prix. Bruno Senna destroyed his car in an accident on Friday and was lucky to even manage 16th in qualifying, while team-mate Pastor Maldonado continued to wrack up the repair bills for Frank Williams small squad by crashing at the final corner of what looked like a very fast lap in Q2. The Venezuelan was faster than even Vettel in the first two sectors but lost control exiting the chicane at the end of the circuit and smashed his rear suspension against the fabled ‘Wall of Champions’. Consequently he starts the race from 17th.
At the back of the grid Caterham showed continued improvement with both Heikki Kovalainen and Vitaly Petrov qualifying ahead of the Toro Rosso of Jean Eric Vergne. HRT’s Pedro De la Rosa continued to impress in the slowest car on the grid by placing himself ahead of the two Marussia cars of Timo Glock and Charles Pic.
So Vettel is back on pole, and the last time he started there he won the race. Ominous signs indeed for the rest of the field.