MONTREAL – Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel produced a stunning final lap to clinch pole position for the Canadian Grand Prix on Saturday.
Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton looked set for a record-extending 86th pole – and a record seventh in Montreal – but Vettel found extra speed in the final sector of qualifying.
After crossing the line, a euphoric Vettel broke out into impromptu singing on his team radio. Moments later Hamilton came over to congratulate him and the German driver was clearly relieved to finally show some of his best ability.
“I’m full of adrenaline,” Vettel said. “The last few weeks have been tough for us. The car felt good. I hope we can carry that into the race.”
It was the 56th pole of Vettel’s career and first since the German GP last July – where he crashed in the rain comfortably leading the race and effectively handed victory and the momentum of the title race to Hamilton.
In warm and sunny conditions, the four-time F1 champion was 0.2 seconds quicker than Hamilton and about 0.7 faster than teammate Charles Leclerc.
It was only Ferrari’s second pole in seven races this season, the other going to Leclerc in Bahrain.
“Congratulations to Seb, he deserves it and hopefully I’ll have a better race from my side tomorrow,” Leclerc said.
Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo was fourth with Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly in fifth and Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas in sixth after a poor performance in the last part of qualifying. The Finnish driver spun and was somewhat fortunate to avoid clipping the barriers.
Ferrari is looking for its first victory of the season after six races and Vettel is well placed, having won from pole here last year.
But the pressure is mounting on him to deliver, since he is without a victory in 14 races dating back to the Belgian GP last August.
Mercedes has won all of the six races this year, with four victories for the five-time F1 champion Hamilton and two for Bottas.
Hamilton, who qualified fourth last year and finished the race in fifth, felt Ferrari did have the edge in qualifying.
“I don’t feel disappointment. We gave it everything. They were faster and in the last sector they were killing us,” Hamilton said. “I’m glad I was able to split the Ferraris (on the grid). We’ve got some great fans here, so hopefully we can put on a great show.”
However, it could be a tough race for Mercedes because the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve – named after the late father of 1997 F1 champion Jacques Villeneuve – has several long straightaways which could advantage Ferrari given its superior straight-line speed.
“We are strong on the long run pace and hopefully tomorrow will be the same and we can have a good run,” said the 21-year-old Leclerc, who joined Ferrari this season and is looking for the first win of his highly promising career.
It proved to be a good day for Vettel, who has faced a lot of criticism this season and in the past two years when he made crucial mistakes and lost both F1 titles to Hamilton.
Earlier Saturday, he was fastest ahead of Leclerc in final practice
Hamilton set the quickest time with about 10 minutes remaining in third practice, but the Mercedes driver was then beaten by Leclerc before Vettel went even quicker.
There was a scare for 20-year-old Canadian driver Lance Stroll in P3 after the back of his Racing Point car burst into flames.
He was unharmed and the team later confirmed it was an engine failure. Stroll was able to take part in qualifying, albeit after switching back to an older and slower engine model previously used.
He then almost hit the wall during the first part of qualifying, known as Q1, and starts the race from a lowly 18th place.
Kevin Magnussen crashed in the same place as Stroll, right at the end of Q2, pushing too hard and slamming into the wall.
The incident brought an end to Q2 just moments before it was supposed to finish and deprived Red Bull’s Max Verstappen of the chance for another lap. It proved costly for the flamboyant Dutch driver, who now starts from 11th on the grid.
Magnussen’s Haas car was lifted off the track by crane, although it was an arduously long process taking around 25 minutes.
The Danish driver had done enough to reach Q3 and so starts from 10th spot.
Montreal’s racing fans, meanwhile, will at least get a chance to see Verstappen’s overtaking prowess first hand.
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