MONTREAL – There are good reasons Sebastian Vettel would really want to win the Canadian Grand Prix.
It would be sweet redemption for a year ago, when he was passed by Jenson Button’s McLaren Mercedes on the final lap of a wild, rain-delayed event to let victory slip away at a race he has yet to win.
And it would quiet those who felt his Red Bull team had an unfair advantage in recent races by having a hole in the floor of their cars to improve aerodynamic performance. A directive from the sport’s governing body FIA has banned the hole starting with the Montreal race.
”It was good fun today, even without the hole,” a playful Vettel said Saturday after winning pole position in qualifying at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. ”There is no real extra motivation.
”It’s not just a hole that makes the difference, (although) reading the papers you get that impression. We never really feared it would have a big impact on the performance of the car. Generally the car works, as a whole. Not the hole in the floor, but the combination of all the parts together.”
Two-time defending Formula One champion Vettel was clearly the strongest in qualifying, posting a quickest lap that was three 10ths of a second faster than second-place Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren Mercedes.
Vettel will start next to Hamilton, the 2007 and 2010 Canadian Grand Prix champion, for the race on Sunday.
Fernando Alonso, the 2006 winner, will be in the second row beside the Red Bull of Mark Webber, who is coming off a win two weeks ago in Monaco. Nico Rosberg’s Petronas Mercedes and Felipe Massa’s Ferrari are in the third row.
Race organizers were concerned about empty seats with some regulars scared off by four months of student protests in the city and threats by some to try to disrupt the race. But the grandstands looked to be full on a warm sunny day.
Vettel has 22 F1 victories since his debut in 2007, but he has never won in Canada. He was achingly close a year ago, when a tiny mistake on the last lap left him in second place. That incident-filled race featured a two-hour rain delay caused by a thunderstorm.
“At that moment, it hurt a bit because the victory was so close,” the 24-year-old said. ”But it was a tough race, easy to make mistakes.
“It’s 2012 now and we had a quite decent 2011. But it would be nice (to win). It’s a nice track and a nice atmosphere. There’s always a lot of people here, so it would be a great race to win, for sure.”
Formula One has been unusually competitive this season, with six different winners in the first six races. Vettel has only one win, in Bahrain in April, while Hamilton has finished third three times but has yet to claim a victory.
The Englishman was fastest in two practice sessions in cool weather Friday, but said the McLaren Mercedes struggled for grip in warmer conditions in qualifying. He didn’t sound optimistic about becoming the seventh different winner of 2012.
”Fortunately, I got myself into a really decent position,” he said. ”Now that it’s hotter it changes things and it’s going to be tough.
”We’ll just have to try to do the best we can and maximize everything we do. We can still have a pretty good race and get some good points from where we are.”
Alonso got his only win this season at Malaysia in March, but the Spaniard leads driver standings with 76 points, three more than the two Red Bulls and 13 ahead of fourth-place Hamilton.
He is upbeat because his team tried out some new parts that worked and the Ferrari looks to be gaining steam as the season progresses. Massa had his best result of the year with a sixth place in Monaco and had his best qualifying with sixth spot in Montreal.
”The car was difficult to drive at the beginning (of the year),” said Alonso. ”Since Barcelona (in May), we did a good job.
”I expect this is the normality and we’ll be like this from now until the rest of the championship.”
But Circuit Gilles Villeneuve has proven an unpredictable place over the years, with it’s slippery surface and long straightaways into tight corners that cause braking errors, wreck engines and break hearts, as Vettel discovered a year ago.
”It’ll be interesting,” he said. ”Making tires last around here can be quite tricky.
”This is a crazy place. It has delivered some crazy races in the past. The safety car is likely, so you have to be aware of all that and take it into account for your strategy. You just try to do the best you can.”
It is Vettel’s second pole position of the season and 32nd of his career.
Completing the top 10 were Romain Grosjean of Lotus, Paul Di Resta of Force India, Michael Schumacher of Petronas Mercedes and defending race champion Button, who has a miserable weekend with gearbox trouble Friday and tire problems in qualifying.
Pastor Maldonado, the Spanish Grand Prix winner, spun out on the last turn and didn’t qualify for the final stage. He was 17th.