Lewis Hamilton quite literally blew the opposition away in Montreal after dominating each of the three qualifying knock-out sessions and sealing pole position with a scintillating lap in the dying seconds of the shoot-out.
The British ace was forced to pull out all the stops in response to a charging Robert Kubica who despatched him from the top spot with only minutes to go. But a blistering assault on the Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve in the closing stages of Q3 saw Hamilton vault to the top of the time sheets and claim his eighth career pole, his second at Montreal.
Hamilton’s eventual pole time of 1m 17.886 was a staggering six tenths of a second faster than the BMW driver and almost an entire second quicker than Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen who struggled with the fragmenting track surface.
“To achieve pole position here in Canada at the same place where I took my first Formula 1 pole just one year ago is really awesome,” exulted Hamilton afterwards. “Our car feels good and we’re really on top of our game – even though the track started breaking up in places.”
The Stevenage ace was untouchable in the third and final sector; he attacked the kerbs in the final chicane with impunity and left Kubica and Raikkonen, both of whom had shown flashes of brilliance in the opening sectors, well and truly in his wake.
“It’s unbelievable how much time I lost at turn 10, lap after lap,” bemoaned Raikkonen pointing to the fragmenting track. “The track was already beginning to break up in Q1 and I had no drive: it was like driving on ice and I never managed to find the right line at this point. It’s a real shame because the car was going very well and I could have fought for pole position.”
The best Raikkonen could manage was a 1m 18.498, two tenths of a second slower than Robert Kubica, who pulled out a sensational lap in the closing stages of the run-off to eclipse Hamilton’s already impressive P1 time, luring the McLaren driver out of the pits to cover himself.
“I’m very happy with second,” enthused Kubica despite being pipped by Hamilton. “Certainly it will be a tough race tomorrow on this track. Unfortunately I shall not be starting on the clean side. McLaren particularly looks very strong and I shall also have pressure from the Ferrari, but we have to see who is on which strategy.”
Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg were the big surprises of the session, the former vaulting up on to the front row with six minutes remaining before dropping to fourth at the close, ahead of an impressive Nico Rosberg who hustled his Williams to within a tenth of a second of the Spaniard.
Felipe Massa ruined his flying lap with an over-cautious charge into the braking zone at the hairpin which cost him time and left him in sixth place.
“This is definitely not the result we were expecting and it’s a real shame, as we had everything in place to do well,” reflected Massa. “The car was very quick, both yesterday and this morning and, but for the (track) problem which occurred at turn 10, I could definitely have fought for a place at the front.”
Heikki Kovalainen meanwhile was severely compromised by traffic and he eventually wound up in sixth place behind Massa.
“We worked hard to improve the car all weekend so my grid position is mainly due to the fact that I couldn’t find a clear lap in the final session,” explained the 26-year-old. “The traffic meant I couldn’t get into a proper rhythm so I’m a bit annoyed with myself. But what can I do? I just have to drive a better race tomorrow.”
Nick Heidfeld in the sister BMW Sauber was another driver struggling to match the pace of his younger team-mate. Although his eighth place marked an improvement on Monaco where he failed to make it into the Q3, the German was left languishing over a second off the pace of his team-mate Robert Kubica.
“It was obviously better than two weeks ago,” reflected Heidfeld. “In Q2 I was just one tenth of a second behind Robert, but I’m not happy with my lap times in Q3.”
“It is a start, but I still have a lot of work to do. Normally the track conditions get better and better during qualifying, but here they became worse. We had an awful lot of marbles on the track. This has always been an issue here, but normally this has been in the race and not in Qualifying.”
Rubens Barrichello was undoubtedly one of the stars of the session after he wrestled his Honda into Q3 for the first time this season and wound up ninth overall. Things were made all the more sweeter for the Brazilian by the absence of Mark Webber in the final shoot-out.
The Red Bull driver had sealed his place in the elite run-off with a superb fourth place in Q2, but he was unable to take part in proceedings after he lost control of his RB4 at Turn 7 where the track surface had begun to break-up. The Aussie driver will nonetheless start tenth ahead of team-mate David Coulthard in thirteenth.
It was a disappointing day for Jarno Trulli, the Italian veteran failing to make it into the run-off for the first time this season and getting out-qualified by team-mate Timo Glock – who starts twelfth – also for the first time this year.
“Qualifying was exceptionally difficult today because the track conditions were a disaster,” explained Trulli afterwards. “The surface was breaking up and getting worse with every lap. I don’t know what was going on but I did my best lap at the beginning and then I couldn’t repeat it any more.”
“I spun on my quickest lap at the start of Q2, otherwise maybe I could have been in the top ten. But after that the track just got worse. Today was all about getting a clear, lucky lap. I don’t know how the race will go but the track surface is a huge concern.”
The Toyota driver, who memorably cantered off into the armco after his pit-stop last year, had several spins, once in the opening knock-out session and again in Q2 before ending up fourteenth fastest overall.
Kazuki Nakajima was unable to replicate the pace of his team-mate despite going well in the opening session; the Japanese driver will start fifteenth ahead of Nelson Piquet who also struggled to live up to the gauntlet laid down by team-mate Alonso.
Jenson Button, who only a few years ago celebrated his maiden pole position at the Montreal circuit, wound up at the rear of the grid after a gearbox problem developed on his first flying lap demoting him to nineteenth.
Sebastian Vettel was another non-starter, his crash in the morning warm up damaging his Toro Rosso beyond repair in time for qualifying.
“This morning I made a mistake, losing the rear end of the car and unfortunately here the walls are very close, without much run-off area,” explained Vettel. “The impact was not that bad but bad enough to damage the monocoque in a way that it could not be repaired in the two hours we had available before qualifying.”
“This year of course the rules ban spare cars, so we had to rebuild the damaged one which meant no qualifying for me today.”
Sebastien Bourdais in the sister Toro Rosso didn’t have a much better afternoon after failing to pull together a lap quick enough for Q2 and struggling with the track conditions.
“The track is falling apart and the conditions are really difficult,” said Bourdais. “Because of the wind, there was also a lot of debris and leaves, which made the track very slippery, plus the asphalt has got marbles on the racing line because it s breaking up.”
“After the morning, I could not afford to make any mistakes and run the risk of not taking up a start place for the race and in these conditions it was just unreal. For me this is one of the worst days of my career so farâ€
The Frenchman lines up ahead of the Force India pairing of Adrian Sutil and Giancarlo who both benefited as a result of the problems hampering Vettel and Button.
“We were almost there, but just not enough today,” rued Sutil, the star of Monte-Carlo a fortnight ago. “I think the lap time was alright compared to the others, just sadly not enough to get us into Q2 this time.”
“The grip this afternoon was definitely worse than the morning,” addded Fisichella. “It wasn’t too bad in practice and we found a good set up and compromise with the aero and we were quite competitive.”
“This afternoon I just lost a lot of grip and didn’t have confidence in the circuit. It was practically undriveable and really disappointing that we could not have finished higher up. We will see what happens tomorrow, particularly if it rains.”