Lewis Hamilton broke the dominance of Red Bull in this season’s qualifying sessions by seizing pole position in Canada – but it took a car so light with fuel that he had to push it towards the pits afterwards.
Strong throughout qualifying, Hamilton entered the closing minutes of the pole shoot-out looking like the only viable alternative to another Mark Webber master-class as the Australian played dare with the unforgiving walls of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
Their team-mates Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button seemed to be struggling, while the closest challenges seemed to be coming from Fernando Alonso for Ferrari and Vitantonio Liuzzi for Force India – neither of whom had the pace to realistically think about pole.
But Hamilton, using the softer option tyres that are faster but deteriorate far more quickly than the primes used by the Red Bull drivers, set a lap of 1min 15.105sec to outpace Webber by more than a quarter of a second.
Immediately afterwards, he was told on radio by his team to park out on track as, if he tried to drive back to the pits, he would not have enough fuel left for post-qualifying FIA checks. This led to the unusual sight of the former F1 champion pushing his car, leaning in to steer like a stranded motorist.
The team was later fined $10,000 for taking too long to return to the pits. A statement from the FIA said: “The team instructed the driver to stop on the circuit causing him to exceed the maximum time as defined in Document 15 – Race Directors’ Note to Teams of 11 June 2010.”
“We’ve accepted it, we’ll pay it and we’ll move on,” said team boss Martin Whitmarsh.
When Hamilton finally returned to the pits, it was to find that Vettel and Button had both found decent late laps and climbed to third and fifth, relegating Alonso (fourth) and Liuzzi (sixth).
But the question hanging over tomorrow’s race is how long his tyres will hold up for compared with the more durable ones that his rivals will start on. Safety cars are a feature of races in Canada, and Hamilton will be hoping for one in the first dozen laps – even if, in the post-qualifying press conference, he denied there was any sort of issue about his tyre choice.
He said: “Both tyres were very, very close. I chose to go with the option tyres, we know the option tyre doesn’t last as long as the prime, but the variation should not be as bad as today when there was a dirty circuit.
“Of course, if a safety car comes around it could help, but we will see how long they last and do the best job we can.
“You never know what the strategies are tomorrow and it will be interesting to see how they pan out tomorrow with all the safety cars. I feel we are in the best position we can possibly be.”
Webber, by contrast, believes the tyre issue has given the advantage to the Red Bulls: “We think it is something that will be beneficial to us. With the odd safety car here and there, there are many ways this race can unfold. We stuck to our guns, Seb and I are in the top three again.
“We thought we could still do a pretty good job in qualifying on the harder tyre – we knew still had a crack at the front row. McLaren is on the option tyre, it is a long race tomorrow and we are planning to do the best job we can.”
Further back in the field, the steady improvement of Michael Schumacher went into dramatic reverse as he failed to reach the third qualifying session and will start in 13th: “We simply did not have the balance or grip and overall we had a lot of problems with braking and handling. The car was just not performing as we expected.”
With Nico Rosberg only taking 10th place, it was clear that the Mercedes cars were not competitive. “We tried both the prime and option tyres but finding the performance seemed to get away from us,” said Ross Brawn.
If Mercedes were down, Force India was up, with Adrian Sutil in ninth and Liuzzi posting what was described by commentators as a “career-saving” performance.
Team owner Vijay Mallya said: “I am delighted with this result and so happy to see Tonio back to his best again. Canada has a reputation as an unpredictable race so we have now got to refocus on converting this performance into a strong points haul which, I believe, should be very achievable.”
Canadian Grand Prix grid positions
Times shown for each driver are from the latest session in which he competed.
- Lewis Hamilton, McLaren: 1:15.105 (Q3)
- Mark Webber, Red Bull: 1:15.373 (Q3)
- Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull: 1:15.420 (Q3)
- Fernando Alonso, Ferrari: 1:15.435 (Q3)
- Jenson Button, McLaren: 1:15.520 (Q3)
- Vitantonio Liuzzi, Force India: 1:15.648 (Q3)
- Felipe Massa, Ferrari: 1:15.688 (Q3)
- Robert Kubica, Renault: 1:15.715 (Q3)
- Adrian Sutil, Force India: 1:15.881 (Q3)
- Nico Rosberg, Mercedes GP: 1:16.071 (Q3)
- Rubens Barrichello, Williams: 1:16.434 (Q2)
- Nico Hulkenberg, Williams: 1:16.438 (Q2)
- Michael Schumacher, Mercedes GP: 1:16.492 (Q2)
- Vitaly Petrov, Renault: 1:16.844 (Q2)
- Sebastien Buemi, Toro Rosso: 1:16.928 (Q2)
- Jamie Alguersuari, Toro Rosso: 1:17.029 (Q2)
- Pedro de la Rosa, BMW Sauber: 1:17.384 (Q2)
- Kamui Kobayashi, BMW Sauber: 1:18.019 (Q1)
- Heikki Kovalainen, Lotus: 1:18.237 (Q1)
- Jarno Trulli, Lotus: 1:18.698 (Q1)
- Timo Glock, Virgin: 1:18.941 (Q1)
- Bruno Senna, Hispania: 1:19.484 (Q1)
- Lucas di Grassi, Virgin: 1:19.675 (Q1)
- Karun Chandhok, Hispania: 1:27.757 (Q1)