Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel was in imperious form on Saturday. He topped the timesheets in the morning, and controlled all three sessions in qualifying. With the World Champions making enforced technical changes to their car, pundits thought Red Bull may have been knocked off their stride but in truth Vettel looked at his most dominant and never seemed like relinquishing his grip on the time sheets.
In the final analysis his qualifying time was three-tenths quicker than second-placed man Lewis Hamilton. The McLaren driver was narrowly ahead of Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber. After his performance in Monaco, Webber didn’t look as comfortable and admitted he was mildly astonished to be as high as he was.
“I’m surprised I’m in fourth – it wasn’t the smoothest session, so I’m actually quite surprised to be there. I wasn’t super happy with the last few runs in terms of confidence in the car and that means you don’t get the most out of yourself, so fourth is OK. It’s a long race and we’re up there.”
'The warmer it is, the better it is for us. So I hope if it’s warmer' – Sebastian Vettel
Vettel was the last man out on circuit in Q1, electing to limit his running. He still had enough confidence to immediately go into P1. Most attention, however, was at the other end of affairs to determine which of the midfield would be eliminated with the backmarkers. Today it was the turn of Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne. Having missed much of FP3 after crashing at the beginning of the session, Vergne was struggling in qualifying. On his last run he had to back off while on a good lap and then made a mistake on his final flyer.
“My little mistake in FP3 cost me a lot,” admitted a rueful JEV after the session. “I didn’t get any running this morning and then this afternoon, I never really got a clean lap, encountering a lot of traffic which is therefore very disappointing. On top of that, my car was quite different today to yesterday, so it was not the easiest thing to adapt to it in just a couple of laps in Q1.”
Vettel again dominated Q2. Daniel Ricciardo went out, qualifying his Toro Rosso 14th which he phlegmatically suggested was “probably about the best we could have done”. The potential big scalp looked like being Jenson Button. He, like Vergne, had missed track time, in Button’s case missing more than half of Friday’s practice when his McLaren had a gearbox problem. As the session drew to a close he was slipping down the order and looked like being eliminated by a flying Pastor Maldonado – but the Venezuelan driver hit the Wall of Champions and was unable to drag his Williams into contention. Button survived eight-thousandths ahead of Kamui Kobayash’s Sauber.
'My little mistake in FP3 cost me a lot' - Jean-Eric Vergne
Q3 was another Vettel masterclass. He was the first man to go under 1m14s, and indeed the only man to perform that feat. When his rivals closed in, he beat his own provisional pole time. It’s his first pole position since the Bahrain Grand Prix back in April, but his second in a row here in Canada. “In qualifying, we just tried to get the maximum out of every run, and we seemed to improve on every run,” he said afterwards. “We even seemed to chip away a little bit from the guys behind, which was a bit of a surprise because I thought going into qualifying that it would be extremely tight. On this track it’s very difficult to make a difference, so I’m very happy.”
Like Webber, Hamilton, despite having made the running on Friday, was surprised to qualify so high. “Yesterday we had very good pace in the cooler conditions but as it got hotter today we really, really struggled. I for one didn’t expect to be so far up,” said the 2007 and 2010 Canadian Grand Prix winner. Alonso was more confident. With his Ferrari looking better by the race, Fernando merely pointed out that this event rarely follows the formbook. “What we think on Saturday afternoon is normally not what happens on a Sunday afternoon,” he said with a knowing smile.
As the crowd filed out from a beautiful, sunny Circuit Gilles Villeneuve the weather forecasters were suggesting more of the same tomorrow rather than the deluge that struck on Friday evening and in the race last year. Vettel believes the clear skies bode well: “It will be difficult for the tyres to survive a certain amount of laps, but I think from yesterday to today, for us it was a bit easier, a step forward.
"Tomorrow is going to be a little bit hotter… it seems so far this year, for us at least, the cooler it is, the more we were in trouble; the warmer it is, the better it is. I hope if it’s warmer tomorrow, we can keep continuing that trend. We have seen that on Sundays a lot of things can happen so we have to be aware of whatever comes up. Of course you have a plan in your head but as we’ve seen many times this year, it can change quickly, so you have to react on the fly.”