Events

Smiles For Ferrari As The Prancing Horse Takes Pole In Montreal

The Canadian Grand Prix practice sessions have not got off to a great start for Mercedes and Red Bull. Lewis Hamilton, in FP2, misjudged an exit on Turn 8, slid on the kerb, and tagged the wall with the right rear sufficiently hard enough to have the team withdraw it from further practice. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen also hit the wall but in a different manner. The young Dutch driver had caught up to team mate Pierre Gasly and in an effort to clear the track for Verstappen, his car’s airborne wake unsettled the front end balance of Verstappen’s car, with the result being a brush of the wall with the right front.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was quickest in the sessions, topping the timecharts in FP2. His 1:12.177 was just enough to shade stablemate Sebastian Vettel by less than a mere tenth. FP1 however had the silver cars fastest, even with a fuel delivery problem for Valtteri Bottas. His quickest time in FP2 was impressive, with a 1:12.311 to his name.

FP3 had Sebastian Vettel take the lead, and crucially, he’d head his team mate Leclerc, and the pair of silvers by a substantial margin. Vettel would take to the track on soft rubber, and these would prove to be the vital ingredient as he broke the 1:11 barrier, the first to do so. A 1:10.843 would be his, 0.139 ahead of Leclerc, 4/10ths ahead of Hamilton, and nearly 7/10ths ahead of Bottas.Max Verstappen in 5th in FP3 was a full second behind.

Renault continued to improve in FP3; Daniel Ricciard may have something to smile about as his car went 7th quickest in the final practice session. He’d sandwich Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly in 6th but lead Lando Norris from McLaren, Sergio Perez from Racing Point, and Daniil Kvyat from Toro Rosso. Romain Grosjean was off-pace, with a broken rear wing found in FP3 to have slowed progress.

It’s qualifying, though, that brought smiles to the Ferrari camp. Finally it’s a pole position for Sebastian Vettel and the German dominated all three sessions, and would again be the first to break into the 1:10s at Montreal. Q1 was 1:11.200, and this was barely enough to shade Leclerc’s 1:11.214. Hamilton knocked on the door and hard, with 1:11.518 before dropping that to 1:11.010 in Q2. That time was faster than Vettel. Ricciardo found pace with 1:11.837 and 1:11.532 in Q1 and Q2. Leclerc would be 3/10ths quicker in Q2 however.

Q3 and Vettel found something extraordinary. Running on old, soft, rubber, he would urge his car to push on and it responded, seeing 1:10.240 and the time was enough to claim his first pole this year. Hamilton’s response was something special too, but not quite enough to continue the procession of poles that Mercedes has seen in 2019. His 1:10.446 would have been incredible just a half hour before but not under the relentless pressure from Vettel.

Leclerc, too, would crack the 1:11s but by a whisker. 1:10.920 sees him directly behind Vettel for the start. Ricciardo delighted everyone in Renault by snaring 4th. “I never thought I’d be so happy for a fourth place in qualifying – it feels like a pole position!” said a delighted Ricciardo afterwards. “It was so cool when they told me over the radio I was fourth. All the Australian can do now is hope his power unit holds together during the race as his 1:11.071 puts him well ahead of his team mate Nico Hulkenberg who qualified 7th. In between are Pierre Gasly and Valterri Bottas, who qualified with a 1:11.101 after spinning on his first lap in Q3 and locking a tire later in the session.

In P8 we see Lando Norris. He went head to head with his team mate Carlos Sainz in Q2, with the Spaniard quicker in Q2 but fell off the bridge in Q3, finished a full two seconds behind Norris. P10 is Haas and Kevin Magnussen. His 1:11.786 beat out a surprisingly off-pace Max Verstappen. It may have been by 0.014 of a second but in F1 a small gap is enough.

The rest of the field are Daniil Kvyat, Antonio Giovinazzi, Alexander Albon, Romain Grosjean, Sergio Perez, Kimi Raikonnen, Lance Stroll, George Russell, and Robert Kubica. Stroll could consider himself lucky to have seen the track for qualifying after his engine erupted into flames in P3 and had traction issues in Q1.

Sainz will not see his qualifying time stick, however. Stewards determined that Albon, on a flyer, had been impeded by Sainz. Sainz had been on hi radio talking to the team and Albon’s pace was such that a warning to clear the path came too late for Sainz, meaning Albon’s lap had to be shut down. The stewards handed him a three place penalty but Sainz may yet gain back a place.

Kevin Magnussen had a solid impact in Q2’s closing moments, hitting both sides of the track after first tagging a wall with the right rear, and with a new chassis being needed after a 54G impact, will start from the pit lane. A despondent Magnussen said: “We were fast, we made it to Q3, and I was improving. I was just trying to push everything, as I knew it was going to be tight. I went on the power a little too early, and everything followed from there. I’m very sorry for the team. They have a big job to do now.”

Vettel’s pole for the Canadian GP takes him to 56 career poles, and his 5th for the track. Hamilton created his own little piece of history too. His front row appearance makes it the 10th time he’s done so at one track, equalling Michael Schumacher’s ten at Suzuka in Japan.

From Mercedes: “I’m not surprised,” said Hamilton of Ferrari’s performance. “I think obviously all weekend they’ve had really great pace and for a large part of it they were six tenths up on the straights. So we fought so hard throughout the weekend to make improvements.”

An obviously delighted Vettel declared: “It feels bloody good in qualifying. I’m full of adrenaline to be honest. The feeling in the car when it just keeps coming and you feel the grip and go for it, that was one of those laps, so really, really nice. I really enjoyed it. Very happy for the team, because the last weeks – well, the last 17 races! – but the last weeks have been very tough for us.”

The Canadian F1 Grand Prix starts at 14:10 local time.

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David Conole

Dave Conole is the former long-term circuit commentator for Sydney Motorsport Park, has worked trackside at the Australian F1 Grand Prix in Melbourne and is self-employed as an automotive content producer.

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