It was rainy, and therefore treacherous, but it takes more than a slick track and flying droplets to slow down reigning F1 champion Sebastian Vettel.
The 25-year-old German captured the pole for Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix by nearly a tenth of a second over Briton Lewis Hamilton, ending Mercedes’ string of five straight poles.
Watch: Vettel on pole in Montreal
It’s the third straight year Vettel has posted the fastest qualifying time – although he has yet to turn that advantage into a victory in Montreal.
“It was very, very tricky, especially because you never knew the conditions the next time out,” Vettel said.
The three-time driving champion admitted surprise that his first run of the third and final qualifying session was the quickest, given his later attempts were run on fresher tires – the teams were forced to use the intermediate tires because of the conditions – Vettel may have posted a quicker time had he not lost traction in the final chicane on his last lap.
“Extremely happy with the results, we’re looking forward to the race . . . no matter the conditions we should be in decent shape,” he said.
Hamilton suffered a similar fate – he was running nearly six tenths faster than Vettel heading into the chicane, but couldn’t get the grip to carry his speed and ended up driving straight through it.
“I don’t know if I would have kept [the lead], but all I needed was one-tenth,” said Hamilton, who was visibly irked after the session, which he called “an unfortunate result”.
Hamilton, who has triumphed on Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in two of the past three years, will start the race on the outside of the front row.
Williams driver Valtteri Bottas, a 23-year-old Finnish rookie who is the protégé of former world champion driver Mika Hakkinen, pulled off the day’s biggest surprise, roaring into third place ahead of Hamilton’s teammate Nico Rosberg, who won the last Grand Prix in Monaco.
Bottas hasn’t qualified higher than 14th in his first season in F1, evidently the rain suits his driving style.
Asked what it means to finish in the top three, Bottas said, “I’ve got to admit: a lot.”
“It will be a nice boost for the team, we really did everything quite right today,” he said, later adding “we didn’t expect to be in the first or second row . . . we were hoping for rain.”
The third row on Sunday will comprise Red Bull’s Mark Webber, who slid off the track as he tried to complete one last flying lap, and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who struggled to master the soggy conditions.
It was a rough day for the Scuderia.
Ferrari’s other driver, Felipe Massa, who has four top-six finishes this season, lost control as he hit the brakes going into turn 3, got sideways, and slammed into the barrier, splintering the left side of his car, which features a new chassis this week.
The Brazilian slammed his fist onto the steering wheel in frustration.
He will start 16th as a result.
McLaren’s Jenson Button, who won the race in 2011, wasn’t able to get a hot lap in after the crash, and will start in 14th.
The drivers rolled out under a light sprinkle to start the session, and it wasn’t long before the damp conditions claimed their first victim.
Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonnen ran off the track in his first lap, Marrusia’s Max Chilton spun going into the hairpin a few minutes later.
Toro Rosso’s David Ricciardo, Force India driver Paul Di Resta, and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso all either missed turns or ended up in the verge.
Marrusia driver Jules Bianchi ran straight over the curbs in the final chicane, Giedo Van der Garde slid his Caterham off the track in turn 9 – Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg spun out in the same corner.
The biggest surprise from the initial round of qualifying laps is that Di Resta, who sits eighth in the driver standings, found himself in the drop zone – he will start Sunday’s race well back on the grid in 17th position.
Lotus’ Romain Grosjean, who is facing a 10-place penalty for crashing into Ricciardo in the Monaco Grand Prix, had a miserable time of it, and could finish no higher than 19th. He will thus start the race 22nd and dead last.