Lewis Hamilton clinched his 53rd career pole position and his fifth pole at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal, Canada. Nico Rosberg missed out by a mere 0.062 seconds as a lockup on his final run hampered him. Sebastian Vettel put in a massive last gap effort in the dying minutes of the session and ended up just 0.178 seconds behind. The two Red Bull drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen split the two Ferrari drivers. Kimi Raikkonen, Valtteri Bottas, Felipe Massa, Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso completed the top 10 on an overcast day with changeable conditions.
The qualifying session started under dark skies and cool temperatures, with an imminent threat of rain. The three Pirelli tyre compounds for this race are soft, supersoft and ultrasoft compound tyres. There are two DRS zones at this fast street circuit. Kevin Magnussen could not take part as his heavy crash a couple of hours earlier in FP3 had damaged his car badly. Daniil Kvyat and Marcus Ericsson will take three-place grid penalties for transgressions in the previous race.
Q1: The usual suspects are knocked out
The eighteen-minute long first session of qualifying got underway with all the drivers on the track because of the threat of rain. The ultrasoft compound tyre was the tyre of choice for all the teams. With all the drivers vying to put in banker laps before the rain came, Rosberg put in the fastest lap of the weekend with a 1:13.714s lap. The session ended tamely when Rio Haryanto hit the wall in the dying minutes of the session and brought out the yellow flags.
Q1 dropzone : Jolyon Palmer, Pascal Wehrlein, Marcus Ericsson, Felipe Nasr, Rio Haryanto, Kevin Magnussen
Q2: The ‘Wall of Champions’ claims another victim
The fifteen-minute long Q2 session started with Carlos Sainz hitting the famous ‘Wall of Champions’ which brought out the red flag. When the session resumed, the two Mercedes drivers turned it on with Hamilton going to the top of the time sheets with a stunning 1:13.076s lap. Last gap efforts saw Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso sneaking into the top 10 beating their respective teammates.
Q2 dropzone : Sergio Perez, Jenson Button, Daniil Kvyat, Esteban Gutierrez, Romain Grosjean, Carlos Sainz
Q3: Business as usual as Mercedes lockout front row
The final all important twelve-minute shootout started with the Mercedes drivers setting the pace. Hamilton took provisional pole position with a lap time of 1:12.812s. Rosberg was just six-hundredths of a second behind with his first effort. But both drivers did not improve on these times and Vettel provided the final excitement with a great lap that saw him finish a mere 0.178s adrift of pole.
Top 10 after Q3: Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen, Kimi Raikkonen, Valtteri Bottas, Felipe Massa, Nico Hulkenberg, Fernando Alonso
Pointers for the race:
Strategy and Tyres: With rain forecast for the race, the changeable conditions could be the right setting for a thriller of a race. Not only will spells of rain impact on strategy, but the cool and damp conditions are going to be troublesome for the Mercedes drivers. As in Monaco, here again in Montreal, the Silver Arrows are having a tough time switching on the ultrasoft tyres and bringing them upto temperature. With both Red Bull and Ferrari showing good race pace, this could spell trouble for them. It could be another one pitstop race given the low tyre degradation seen so far, unless rain intervenes.
The Start: The all-important start that has been Hamilton’s Achilles heel this season and could be even trickier with the fast starting Ferrari of Vettel right behind the Mercedes drivers. The last thing Mercedes needs is to see their drivers crash into each other at the start.
The midfield: The jostling between the drivers behind the top 6 drivers will be intense with a very closely bunched up field. On a track where overtaking is possible, we could see frantic action up and down the field. With a Safety Car highly probable, another element of uncertainty will be added to the mix.
All in all, there will be very close competition at the sharp end of the grid, as Ferrari and Red Bull seemed to have closed the gap to Mercedes. With a lot of variables thrown in by the changeable conditions, a thrilling race is in prospect.