Finally, Sebastian Vettel is back on pole position. It’s been almost a whole year since Vettel lined up at the front of a Formula One grid but he will do so for Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix after coming out on top in a thrilling duel with championship leader Lewis Hamilton.
Vettel and Ferrari have fallen short of expectations so far this year, with Mercedes able to turn in six victories from the first six wins. In taking pole, Vettel has ensured it lived up to its billing of favourites on a circuit which was tipped to suit the Italian team’s raw power advantage. Our round-up of the good, the bad and the ugly must therefore start with the four-time world champion.
Vettel sets up a thrilling Sunday: For a short while in Q3, it looked like Hamilton was going to spoil things a little bit as he sat in provisional pole after the first attempts in the top-ten shootout.
Ferrari have been quick all weekend through the long backstraight which makes up most of the final sector but Hamilton appeared to have pulled out one of his special Saturday afternoon performances to take top spot during the first attempts… until Vettel rediscovered some of his old magic.
Vettel’s 1:10.240 was 0.2s quicker than F1’s most prolific qualifier and gave him his first pole position since last year’s German Grand Prix, where he infamously crashed out of the lead in the rain the following day. He’s never quite been the same since that moment and the cheer he let out on the radio after being told he had pole position showed it meant a lot to him. Beating Hamilton in qualifying is never an achievement to be downplayed and the Ferrari man was quick to reference that fact.
After the session, Vettel said: “He’s bloody good in qualifying, hard to crack! I’m full of adrenaline to be honest. You know the feeling in the car when it just keeps coming and then you feel the grip and you go for it. It was just one of those laps. Really nice, I really enjoyed it.”
“Very happy, very happy for the team because the last weeks, the last 17 races… no but the last weeks have been tough for us.”
This season absolutely needs Vettel or Charles Leclerc stood on the top step of the podium tomorrow. Ferrari handed victory to Mercedes in Bahrain two months ago and haven’t been in this strong a position since then — a win would surely be a huge lift for everyone at Maranello. Given the errors he’s made since that moment in Hockenheim last year, Vettel in particular needs to remember how special that winning feeling can be.
Danny Ric steals the show: Vettel deserves plaudits for his pole lap, but the undoubted star of the session was his old Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo. A lot has been written about the Australian’s move to Renault for this season — no-one would have predicted him finishing fourth on the grid this weekend.
Sure, that was helped by Max Verstappen’s shock elimination from Q2 (more on that below), but Ricciardo beat Pierre Gasly and Valtteri Bottas on merit in Q3. Edging Gasly, the man who took his seat at Red Bull, must have felt especially sweet.
Surely no-one can forget the thrilling drives Ricciardo has turned in over the past few years, but it was a fantastic reminder to anyone who has just how big a talent the Honey Badger is. Renault spent big to lure him away from Red Bull and he looked to be worth every penny on Saturday.
It was no flash in the pan either — Ricciardo qualified superbly in Monaco and deserved a strong finish, but he and the team were caught out by the early Safety Car period and shuffled down the order. A perfect chance to make amends awaits on Sunday.
A body-blow for Bottas?: We’ve talked all year about how crucial it is for Valtteri Bottas to keep Lewis Hamilton in striking distance in the championship. In Monaco Hamilton was able to open up a 17-point lead and Bottas did himself no favours on Saturday afternoon in that battle, spinning at the start of Q3 and ruining his first qualifying attempt and, crucially, leaving himself with it all to do with the final attempt.
It was a clumsy lap, with lock-ups at Turn 6 and the hairpin, consigning Bottas to his worst qualifying performance of the year so far – he’ll line up in sixth position. The Finn refused to make any excuses afterwards.
“I’m not quite sure, just the first run was my mistake,” Bottas said. “I had a bit of a snap out of Turn 2 and actually ended up in a spin while I trying to minimise the time lost and just get going, so then I was on a bit the back foot for the last run.
“I was still feeling confident that I could still do it but I had messy laps with many lock-ups, just missing the apexes. I just need to have a look in the mirror at what went wrong.”
He has the chance to reverse his fortunes on Sunday, but he’s given himself a big task and will need an aggressive start to ensure he’s not locked out of the fight for the podium places.
Magnussen’s double whammy: At the end of Q2, Kevin Magnussen became the latest name to be added to the list of victims claimed by Montreal’s infamous Wall of Champions. The Dane got out of shape and spun across the track into the pit wall, immediately bringing out the red flags and effectively ending the session early.
— Formula 1 (@F1) June 8, 2019
That had a massive drawback for Magnussen’s team, as teammate Romain Grosjean — who had not set a lap time earlier in Q2 — was directly behind him on the race track and on a quick lap. That meant Grosjean was eliminated in 15th on a weekend Haas looked like a good candidate to get both its cars into Q3.
Grosjean couldn’t believe his luck afterwards, opening his radio channel to say: “Mate, mate! I can’t believe my luck, I can’t believe my f—ing luck”.
Another driver cursing Magnussen’s mistake was Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who was in a similar situation. Red Bull had tried to get Verstappen through to Q3 on the medium tyre but the Dutchman had been nowhere near quick enough to be safe — he went out for a late run on the soft tyres and was effectively locked into P11 as soon as Magnussen’s car hit the wall. More on Max below, but first, let’s stick with the Haas theme for a second…
Top trolling: Haas’ title sponsor Rich Energy has arrived in Canada in a strange situation, having recently lost a trademark dispute over its logo. It asked Haas to remove the stag from its cars for this weekend’s race as it prepares for further legal proceedings in UK courts against Whyte Bicycles.
Whoever is in charge of the team’s social media accounts was happy poking fun at that situation, using a hashtag #BetterThanRedBull — referencing Rich Energy boss William Storey’s bold claim ahead of this season that his energy drinks company wanted to beat the industry leader on and off the track in 2019.
— Nate Saunders (@natesaundersF1) June 8, 2019
@redbullracing get on yer bike!! @Max33Verstappen should drink the world’s premium energy drink @rich_energy and he would be a bit happier #givesyouhorns #richenergy #BetterThanRedBull #F1 #CanadianGP #kevinmagnussen #viking #Warrior pic.twitter.com/2Ek8ftpgMR
— Rich Energy (@rich_energy) June 8, 2019
In a world that can sometimes take itself too seriously, it was a refreshing moment of utter ridiculousness.
(Note: Rich Energy’s #BetterThanRedBull tweets were later removed)
Max in attack mode: Verstappen won’t like starting so low down the order, but the director of F1’s world TV feed might — it means the Dutchman needs to come out all guns blazing on Sunday to get himself back into contention. Luckily, the Montreal circuit is one where overtaking is possible at a couple of places and we know Verstappen isn’t exactly one to shy away from those chances anyway.
It shows you just how risky such a call can be in Q2. Ferrari was panned by some for trying it in Baku before Charles Leclerc slid into the wall and blew his shot at pole position and Red Bull are likely to face some flak for doing the same. There’s a fine line between genius and foolishness and Red Bull showed how easy it can be to fall on the wrong side of that if Lady Luck isn’t on your side when you take a gamble or two.