The rain was always looming during qualifying today for the Canadian Grand Prix. It was everything but useful to really consider the possibility of they type of conditions we enjoyed in Free practice two. That being said, we couldn’t have asked for a more thrilling trio of qualifying sessions today.
It was just a matter of time before everyone on the Supersofts at the beginning of Q3 realized the error of their ways. One lap on the slick track was enough to convince everyone that this would be no normal qualifying. Q1 was just a melee as the track became increasingly dry. The time tumbled and certain drivers not expected to struggle did just that. Romain Grosjean and Paul di Resta were the two big names to get the chop at the end of Q1, the former not suffering a huge penalty with his 10-place grid drop tomorrow. This basically sums up the action in Q1, mostly a precursor to the thrill session that was Q2.
The rain intensified further as the first cars made their way out of the pits. The next 15 minutes would be extremely crucial as more cars were competitive because of the changeable conditions. Drivers like Valtteri Bottas and the Toro Rosso and Sauber duos found themselves swapping places at the sharp end of the grid, thus making life even more difficult for the top teams. This is exactly what made qualifying so exciting, though. The rain brought the return of the type of competition we saw in 2012, were more than 10 cars were competitive to the smallest of margins to each other. 2013 hasn’t quite offered up these types of conditions yet and it was nice to get a taste of it this afternoon.
Valtteri Bottas in particular made headlines for going third fastest in the last half of the session, surprising the likes of Red Bull, Mercedes, Ferrari and especially his teammate.
With two minutes to go, Felipe Massa found himself facing the wrong direction nestled comfortably in a crash barrier. This, strangely, brought out the red flag. It didn’t look like Felipe was particularly in the way of other drivers but the stewards felt the red flag was necessary.
This left everyone with time to catch their breath and change tires back at the pits. It also meant, though, that the last run to the flag would be hectic to say the least. All 16 drivers, besides Felipe, lined up at the end of the pit lane to make a last attempt to qualify. Esteban Gutierrez led the way when the lights went green. He was followed by Kimi Raikkonen and his teammate Nico Hulkenberg. Behind them, however, was an indiscernable train of cars, all fighting for the same bit of road. It was a miracle no one crashed, much less improve their time. A few managed to do so, including Kimi, the Toro Rosso duo and Lewis Hamilton. The latter went up to second on the grid, just missing out on displacing provincial pole sitter Sebastian Vettel. At the back of the pack, Jenson Button and Mark Webber missed out on making a final timed lap, their luck running out as they failed to cross the line before the checkered flag dropped.
It was Sebastian Vettel, though, who remained at the top of the time sheets for the remainder of the session.
If this sounded like Q3, you’re not the only one who felt that way. It wasn’t hard to get caught up in the drama of it all, with Bottas surprising everyone by ending the session in the top 5. We still had one session left to go, though, and pole position was yet to be determined.
The session started just as, if not more, wet than Q2. Everyone but Bottas went out immediately to get a time in. It was business as usual up front, with Sebastian Vettel blowing the field away that was two seconds faster than Kimi Raikkonen at his first attempt. This set the tone for the majority of the session as many tried without success to topple the German from top spot.
Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas had the closest answer to Sebastian’s dominance with the second and third fastest laps respectively, but the fact remained: Sebastian was the one to beat in Canada. He took his third pole in a row in Montreal in commanding fashion, and also successfully ended Mercedes’ run of pole positions in 2013. Lewis Hamilton, for a moment, looked like he could snatch pole from the German. He was three tenths up on the fastest time going into the final sector, but a mistake at the final chicane ruined any chance he had of taking pole.
The man who stole the show was Valtteri Bottas. His often lethargic Williams was perfectly at home in the changeable conditions today and the Finn, showing his immense talent once again, drove to perfection. If anything was proven today, besides the fact that the Red Bull was the car to beat today, it is that the Williams is not deserving of Bottas’s brilliant talent. One hopes the car can improve enough this season to be worthy of the Finn’s skill.
The race tomorrow is set to be not only dry, but warm. This is spoken in relative terms, of course, as the bar for heat is very low this weekend. If the track remains dry all race, it will be interesting to see who will handle the green track the best. Will Sebastian get his first win in Canada? Will Lewis take his 4th? Will Kimi and Fernando be able to salvage a podium from today’s qualifying mess? Perhaps most importantly, though, will Bottas be able to stay competitive enough to take Williams’ first points of the year?
Of note in the aftermath of qualifying is that Kimi Raikkonen, Daniel Ricciardo, Jean Eric Vergne, Pastor Maldonado and Sergio Perez are all under investigation by the stewards for exiting the pits after the Q2 red flag in the wrong order. They are most likely to receive reprimands rather than penalties.
Canadian Grand Prix grid:
VET, HAM, BOT, ROS, WEB, ALO, VER, SUT, RAI, RIC, HUL, PER, MAL, BUT, GUT, MAS, DIR, PIC, GRO, BIA, CHI, VDG
We are set for one thrill of a race tomorrow. You won’t want to miss it.