By Hannah Taylor, F1 Correspondent
Vettel snags pole, Alonso on front row
For the sixth time in seven Formula One 2011 race weekends, once again Sebastian Vettel has been the master of qualifying, ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix this Sunday. The German managed to overcome his crash in Friday practice, and prevent the two prancing horses chasing him down today. On his way to securing another pole position to his record, Vettel set a blistering lap time on the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve of 1:13.014secs.
All in all, I’m very happy.
Although the Ferrari duo failed to catch the charging Red Bull, both drivers had an in team competition of their own in the final stages of Q3. In the end it was Fernando Alonso who triumphed, over his Brazilian team mate Felipe Massa. The two drivers were not too far behind Vettel, but qualified in second and third place respectively.
Mark Webber in the sister Red Bull, trailed the Ferraris to secure fourth place on the Ile Notre-Dame circuit in Montreal. Meanwhile, Mclaren’s Lewis Hamilton will line up in fifth position on the grid. His team mate, Jenson Button, will start the race a little further behind in seventh place.
Even though the session had barely started, Vettel was quick on the mark to set the pace. The reigning World Champion was on form as he set the fastest lap time of 1:14.703secs.
“All in all, I’m very happy. It’s obviously a big step we’ve made today, but the big task comes tomorrow. The conditions are likely to change and I’m sure we’ll see some rain – the question is when and how much. We’ll see, but P1 is the best position to start from,” commented a satisfied Vettel.
His closest rivals, Alonso and Massa, left the McLaren boys, Hamilton and Button trailing. Suddenly out of the blue Alonso’s car came to life, and he leapt ahead of Vettel to take first place and top the timesheets. The Spaniard recorded an impressive lap time of 1:13.822secs.
Alonso explained the progress the team has made, and how he this with his quick pace in qualifying. “It’s been a long time – since Singapore 2010 in fact – that I was last on the front row and I am pleased that Felipe is also right up close to me on the starting grid. It means the whole team has worked well, at the track and back home on trying to improve our car performance. It was important to show we can be competitive and we managed it,” the Spaniard described.
Massa indicated his confidence level by saying, “It’s been a great weekend so far: we have always been competitive and finally we will be able to start from a good grid position. Tomorrow, the weather could be different and therefore we must be ready to tackle any eventuality. I have been happy with the way the car is handling right from yesterday and I am very confident for the race.”
As well as keeping the current pole king on his toes, Alonso’s lap time meant that Hispania Racing’s Narain Karthikeyan and Virgin Racing’s Jerome D’Ambrosio were outside the 107% ruling. Under the FIA ruling for 2011, if a driver fails to qualify within the fastest time set in Q1, they then they may not be able to race. In extreme circumstances the FIA made a decision that a driver can take part. It has not yet been reported, as to whether D’Ambrosio will race tomorrow. Meanwhile, Karthikeyan had a lucky escape from this situation, as he managed to get within the 107%. As a result of this, the Indian driver will begin from 23rd place on the grid.
Unfortunately, Vitantonio Liuzzi in the sister Hispania car spun in the closing stages of Q1. The Italian managed to turn things around though when it mattered, and he out qualified Timo Glock in the second Virgin car. Liuzzi will start in 21st position, ahead of the German driver.
Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari was able to secure 18th position for the starting grid despite the fact that he had a couple of moments where his tyres locked up. Sadly the Spaniard failed to get through to Q2 like his team mate, Sebastian Buemi, who will line up in 15th position. However, Alguersuari did get in front of the Team Lotus driver, Jarno Trulli. The Italian has his own personal achievement to be proud of though. Trulli managed to out qualify his Finnish team mate, Heikki Kovalainen for the first time this season. Kovalainen will start the race just alongside Trulli in 20th place.
With seven drivers out of the picture as Q2 got underway, there was a lot of focus on the front-runners setting the pace, but also eyes were on the midfield battling to get into Q3.
Following Sauber driver Sergio Perez’s nasty crash in Monaco two weeks ago, the Mexican was hoping to get back to racing this weekend. However, it was his personal decision after Friday practice, that he did not feel well enough to take part. This meant that Sauber were on the look out for someone to step in as a temporary fixture. The Swiss team called upon the help of a familiar face in the sport, Mclaren’s test driver and former Sauber driver, Pedro de la Rosa. The Spaniard accompanies Mercedes driver, Michael Schumacher, this weekend as both drivers who are over 40 years old will take on the young ones. De la Rosa brushed the wall during his qualifying lap in Q1, but got through to Q2 and will start from 17th place.
Elsewhere in the midfield, Rubens Barrichello seemed to be struggling for pace in Q2. The Williams driver did not have the best result of the day, as he qualified down in 16th place. His situation did not improve with his rookie team mate’s good form. Pastor Maldonado got himself into 12th place, and will line up alongside fellow fresher to the sport this season, Paul Di Resta. The Scotsman managed to go one place better, and will line up just behind the top ten runners. Di Resta will be pleased to know that his good performance in qualifying, also led him to get a couple of places ahead of Force India team mate, Adrian Sutil. The German will begin the race from 14th position.
Even though Kamui Kobayashi made it through to Q2, unlike his stand in team mate, De la Rosa, both drivers had times when they were nearly going off road. The Japanese driver is well known for being fearless and demonstrating some feisty manoeuvres. In qualifying today, Kobayashi was true to form in the second Sauber. Like De la Rosa, he also ran wide and later on was sliding into a wall, but narrowly missed contact with it by a whisker. Despite Kobayashi’s wacky ways, he got himself into 13th place ahead of the race.
When qualifying reached the most crucial moment, Vettel was nevertheless driving like a champion, and those closest just proved how untouchable he is at present. Initially those hoping to get on his tail made an early effort and took to the track early on in Q3. The Mercedes duo emerged shortly after to set their times. Both drivers did well to secure a place in the top ten, but the more youthful of the two, Nico Rosberg pipped his fellow countryman, Schumacher to the higher grid slot. The German drove well and landed himself a sixth place grid slot. While veteran and seven time World Champion, Schumacher, will begin from eighth position.
Of the five-team pairings who all made it into the top ten, Renault seemed to keep themselves to themselves. Nick Heidfeld, who continues to drive in Robert Kubica’s seat, beat his Russian team mate to the better grid slot. The German secured ninth place, leaving Vitaly Petrov with the final top ten position.
When it mattered the most in today’s qualifying, Vettel maintained his impressive run that he has secured so far this season. The real test for the 2010 World Champion and the rest of the field will come in the race tomorrow. Vettel did not let anything or anyone stop him, in his quest to notch up another pole position to his name. However, the uncertainty of the weather conditions, use of the new gadgets on the cars, and pit stop strategies will all be obstacles in his way. It is certain that his closest championship rivals, at present, will put up a good fight as they aim to reduce his current lead in the Drivers’ Standings.