New rules, same result, which is why Red Bull can afford to laugh about it.
Since Mark Webber won the Monaco Grand Prix two weeks ago, his Renault-powered machine has been deemed to be in violation of the Formula One governing body’s technical standards - the problem was holes in the floor at the back of the vehicle that improve aerodynamic efficiency.
So the team’s race engineers adjusted the design, and presto, Webber’s teammate Sebastian Vettel dusted the rest of the field by a full quarter-second in qualifying at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, winning the pole for Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix.
“It was good fun today, even without the hole I enjoyed qualifying a lot,” Vettel joked after the qualifying session, which will see the 24-year-old start at the front of the field for the 32nd time in his young career.
Webber qualified fourth and will start from the second row.
Much has been made about the Red Bull design modification - Webber said this week the inference he won using an illegal car “really pisses me off, to be honest” - but Vettel said it mostly comes down to a question of interpretation.
He has a point: the car was deemed legal by the FIA technical committee after the race in Monaco, but F1 officials clarified the rule to make the holes illegal this week.
“Maybe next week it's legal again, we have the parts in the garage,” Vettel smiled.
Vettel also won the pole in Montreal a year ago, but faltered in the last lap of a rain-filled affair, losing to McLaren’s Jenson Button.
He said the set-back was difficult to stomach at the time, but brushed aside the suggestion that he is out for redemption.
“It’s 2012 now, and I think we had a pretty decent 2011,” he said slyly in reference to his first world driving title last year.
With track conditions expected to be warmer on Sunday and with all the front-runners starting the race with super-soft Pirellis, the race promises to be eventful.
“It’s going to be interesting, making the tires last around here is tricky,” Vettel said.
McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, who will start on the front row beside Vettel, was candid about his struggles with the tires as the weather warmed from the practice sessions Friday.
‘As it got hotter today we really, really struggled . . . I for one didn’t expect to be so far up,” said Hamilton, who came within a hair’s breadth of slamming into the Wall of Champions as he exited the final corner of his quickest qualifying lap. “Of course I want to win, but these guys are phenomenally quick at the moment.”
The last was a reference to both Vettel and the revamped Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Felipa Massa.
Alonso qualified third and Massa sixth (Webber was fourth and Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg fifth).
After an indifferent beginning to the season, the Ferraris have started making up ground - this weekend they’ve been fitted with several new engine and chassis parts.
“It’s been a smooth weekend for us,” said Alonso, “the new parts work as expected.”
The pole-sitter has taken the checkered flag in each of the last four F1 races, but Alonso said it’s a mug’s game to try and predict an outcome on Ile Ste. Helene.
“What we think on Saturday afternoon is very different from what happens on Sunday,” said Alonso, who admitted he’d love to win for iconic Scuderia Gilles Villeneuve on the scene of his first career victory and 30 years after his untimely death in a qualifying session for Belgian Grand Prix.
To do that he’ll have to get by Vettel and Hamilton - assuming the McLaren’s tires hold up.
But no one’s taking anything for granted.
“This place is a crazy place, it has delivered some crazy races in the past,” Vettel said.
The qualifying sessions went off without disruption and before a large crowd - perhaps initial fears of empty seats because of the unrest created by large-scale student protests will turn out to be baseless.
Security around the circuit was tighter than in past years, there was a heavy police presence in the city’s subway - including officers on every car of the line that takes spectators to the track.
Officials did report two arrests just oustide the Ile Ste. Helene race circuit early Saturday afternoon.
A pair of youths were detained after pyrotechnic devices were discovered in their backpacks.