Vettel storms to pole in wet Canada qualifying

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Sebastian Vettel has claimed his third consecutive pole in Canada for this weekend’s race, excelling in the wet conditions which saw the entire session completed on intermediate tires.

However, the big surprise from the session was Valtteri Bottas’ excellent performance to qualify 3rd, marking Williams’ first foray into Q3 this season as the team looks to score for the first time in 2013. He will start between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, with neither driver able to continue Mercedes’ pole position streak. For Vettel, his championship lead looks set to be extended after championship rivals Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen qualifying 6th and 9th respectively, although, as Felipe Massa proved with a crash, mistakes can be costly in Canada.

A short rain shower before Q1 left the teams with a dilemma over which tire to send their drivers out on, and despite the first runners using the dry compounds, they struggled to stay on-track and all returned for intermediate tires. Hamilton and Rosberg were the early pace setters alongside both Red Bull drivers, but many struggled in the damp conditions: Sutil, Massa and even Canada-specialist Hamilton all made mistakes. Massa did manage to improve and went quickest with three minutes to go, only for Webber to top his time. Vettel eventually finished quickest, whilst Alonso and Bottas also ran strongly at the top, but at the bottom it was a battle between Romain Grosjean, Esteban Gutierrez and Paul di Resta to get into Q2. Gutierrez pulled out a great lap to finish P12, yet Grosjean and di Resta could not improve and joined Charles Pic, Jules Bianchi, Max Chilton and Giedo van der Garde in the Q1 dropzone.

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Conditions failed to improve ahead of Q2, and once again it became a battle between Mercedes and Red Bull at the top of the timesheets, joined by Jean-Eric Vergne for Toro Rosso. The trio of Hamilton, Sutil and Massa all made very similar mistakes into turn three, and Massa complained of a lack of grip on the intermediate tire. Perez was informed that the times were not improving, yet Vettel managed to open up a big gap at the top, only joined late on by Webber and Bottas. The session was red flagged after Massa crashed at turn three under braking, with the Brazilian driver being very frustrated to leave him in the dropzone. On the restart, the drivers queued two-by-time at the end of the pit lane, all gunning for one final lap time. Button failed to cross the line in time and was eliminated, and the Briton was joined in the dropzone by Hulkenberg, Perez, Maldonado and Gutierrez. However, Valtteri Bottas made it through to Q3 for the first time in his career, finishing an excellent 4th.

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Bottas was the only driver not to go out immediately in Q3 as the wet weather persisted, meaning that intermediates would be used until the end of qualifying. The first set of runs saw Vettel edge out Hamilton and Rosberg at the top, with Toro Rosso impressing to stand P7 and P8, but Bottas once again stood out to sit P3 when the drivers pitted for fresh tires. However, as the rain intensified in sector three, the times failed to improve, allowing Vettel to remain on pole after Hamilton made an error on his final timed lap. The big story from the session was Bottas’ excellent run to P3, finishing ahead of Rosberg, Webber and Alonso. Vergne was once again impressive to qualify 7th, with Sutil, Raikkonen and Ricciardo completing the top ten.

This result sees Vettel claim his third pole of the season, and his third in a row at the Canadian Grand Prix, but all eyes will surely be on Bottas off the start tomorrow after such an excellent performance. As qualifying was completed on intermediate tires, the teams will have all of their dry compounds available for the start tomorrow.

Daniel Ricciardo frustrated to crash out of home F1 qualifying

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Daniel Ricciardo made no secret of his frustration after crash out of Formula 1 qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix, resigning himself to a 10th-place start for his home race on Sunday.

Ricciardo entered the Melbourne weekend aiming to become the first Australian to finish on the podium at his home race since the event became part of the F1 world championship in 1985.

Despite struggling with the setup on his RB13 car on Friday, Ricciardo looked poised to claim a top-five grid slot for Sunday’s race, only to lose control of his car at Turn 14 in Q3 and end the session in the wall.

“That was a tough one today. I don’t crash into the barriers often and the last place I want to do that is at home,” Ricciardo said after the session.

“But I feel I crashed for the right reason, as I was basically pushing and trying to find the limit and these things happen, so let’s say I’m not disappointed by the approach, it was just more of a frustrating outcome, starting 10th instead of being under the top five.”

Ever the optimist, Ricciardo said the difficult qualifying will only serve as greater motivation to fight back up the order and give his home fans a result to celebrate on Sunday.

“I knew the crowds would have also preferred to see me further up the grid and it would have been nice to put on a better performance than that but tomorrow is where the points are,” Ricciardo said.

“It’s a chance to create a bigger headline if I have a good race so that’s what will motivate me to do better tomorrow. I made it a bit more difficult for myself but it’s going to be alright.

“To get a good start in the race will be the key. I saved a set of ultra-softs in Q2, I know that not everyone in front of me has, so maybe that gives me a chance.”

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET.

Valtteri Bottas disappointed with P3 start for Mercedes F1 debut

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Valtteri Bottas came away from qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix feeling disappointed despite securing third place on the grid for his first Formula 1 race as a Mercedes driver.

Bottas joined Mercedes over the winter following world champion Nico Rosberg’s decision to retire from racing, and made his first official race weekend appearance for the Silver Arrows on Friday.

The ex-Williams driver made a splash in qualifying by running teammate Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel close, but was left to settle for third on the grid after finishing three-tenths of a second off the pole time.

“Third position is not ideal. In general I’m not happy with the result,” Bottas admitted after qualifying.

“But what I’m really happy about and proud about [is] what the team has done again with this car. I only saw a very small part of the preparation with the new car and the new era of Formula 1, and it’s really nice to see that all the work has paid off and we’re fighting at the very front.

“It seems to be very close this year, especially here. Myself I didn’t get any perfect laps in, so not that satisfied.

“Tomorrow’s the day that matters. It seems like in the race starts we’ve been quite strong. If we can keep that form I had in practice, and have a nice and clean race and get some really good points.”

Bottas’ best finish in Australia currently stands at fifth place in 2014 with Williams, with the Finn never qualifying any higher than sixth at Albert Park in his four previous attempts.

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET.

Vettel: Front-row grid slot for Australia proof of Ferrari’s progress

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Sebastian Vettel believes that his charge to second place on the grid for Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix acts as proof of the progress Ferrari’s Formula 1 operation has made over the winter.

Vettel arrived in Australia as one of the favorites to take pole following an impressive showing in pre-season testing, prompting three-time champion Lewis Hamilton to name Ferrari as the leading team.

Hamilton rallied in qualifying to take pole position for Mercedes, beating Vettel by two-tenths of a second, but the Ferrari driver managed to fend off Valtteri Bottas in the second Silver Arrow and clinch a front-row berth.

The result marked Ferrari’s best qualifying result since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix – Vettel’s and Ferrari’s last pole and victory in F1 – and the German was encouraged by the result.

“I think we have a good car. I think we are working well as a team,” Vettel said.

“Things are improving. Obviously it’s nice to see that things are working, the car is working. I had a mixed day yesterday, but the confidence in the car was there from testing and I think we showed that again today.”

Vettel conceded that he felt his final lap in qualifying could have been faster, but doubts it would have been enough to catch pole-sitter Hamilton.

“In the end I was not entirely happy with my lap. I was pretty happy with the end, maybe not so much with the opening of the lap where we lost a bit too much,” Vettel said.

“But I think Lewis did a very good lap. I would have loved to, but I don’t think pole was up for grabs. Tomorrow I think we can do something in the race. The car feels good, we’ve improved it so the pace should be much better than it was yesterday when we had practice.

“It’s been a big winter for us, lots of change we’ve gone through as a team in the last 12 months, and for the better. I think the team is getting stronger.

“Obviously everyone is pushing very hard and it’s not so easy to come here with a long journey to get to Australia, but I think people are fired up and we are motivated for tomorrow.

“I think it’s the first good opportunity.”

Hamilton buoyed by sixth Australia F1 pole, ready for tight race

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Three-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton was buoyed by his charge to pole position in Australian Grand Prix qualifying on Saturday, but is braced for a tight race at the front of the pack.

Hamilton saw off a challenge from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and new Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas to capture his sixth pole at Albert Park, and the 62nd of his F1 career.

Hamilton had doubts over Mercedes’ advantage over Ferrari heading into the new year, making his charge to pole all the more meaningful as he paid tribute to the team members after qualifying.

“It’s been a fantastic weekend so far. It’s quite amazing to come here for I think the 11th time, and it feels like it was only yesterday that I came here and had my first race here in 2007,” Hamilton said.

“I’m just incredibly proud of my team. This rule change has been huge and such a massive challenge for everyone. The guys have just worked so hard to make this car what it is today.”

Despite taking pole by almost three-tenths of a second in Q3, Hamilton is braced for a close fight on Sunday with Vettel and Bottas, the latter starting his first race for Mercedes from third on the grid.

“Valtteri did a fantastic job given it’s his first qualifying session with the team. He did a great job and it’s great for Mercedes,” Hamilton said.

“Looking forward to the race, it’s close between us all. As you can see, there’s going to be a tight race this year I think.

“I think tomorrow is about putting all the work that’s gone in over the winter, all the work that’s gone through testing and this whole weekend and really put it to work tomorrow.

“I’ll make sure I get a good night’s sleep and come back tomorrow stronger than ever.”

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET on Sunday.