If you want excitement, just add water.
A soaking wet Circuit Gilles Villeneuve set the tone for an unpredictable qualifying hour that gave us a great jump starting grid for Sunday’s Grand Prix.
Jumbled up with the exception of maybe just one driver: Max Verstappen.
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The Dutchman was in a class of one in his pursuit and capture of pole, placing him perfectly positioned to inflict maximum damage on his title rivals, notably Charles Leclerc, who will start 19th with a grid penalty.
Alpine was a big winner of the conditions thanks to a Fernando Alonso masterclass, and both Haas drivers will give the race a curveball from fifth and sixth place. Even the Mercedes drivers did unexpectedly well.
It’s the kind of grid that makes you want to set your alarm in the middle of the night and watch the race.
VERSTAPEN’S DREAM SCENARIO
Qualifying for Max Verstappen could hardly have gone better.
It made no sense on Saturday afternoon, from soaked Q1 to near-slick Q3, that the Dutchman didn’t look as if he had the situation under control, his well-known wet-weather prowess at the forefront to just take his second pole position of the season to grab.
His almost 0.7 second lead on the field underlined his supremacy in the conditions and the adaptability of the car, which is still largely set for Sunday’s dry race.
“Today, with the difficult conditions, we kept calm, made no mistakes and made the right decisions in Q3,” he said.
But more than pole is the context in which he is at the front of the field.
Charles Leclerc will not start near him. Ferrari confirmed on Saturday morning that the former title leader will face a back-of-grid penalty for taking a swag of new parts from the power unit overnight. He starts from 19th place ahead of Yuki Tsunoda, who was also penalized and aims for the best possible finish in fifth place.
Figuring out how high Leclerc can rise will be one of the main storylines of the race and crucial to any hope he has of returning to the title fight.
Furthermore, Carlos Sainz was not at the pace of Verstappen and will start from the front row from the third row, where the risk of being boxed in at the first apex is high. That’s not to disregard a Sainz challenge, but Red Bull Racing should at least be a race pace match for Ferrari, and a clean break from pole should be strategy enough in a one-stop race. .
Sergio Perez’s absence may be the only frustration as he can’t hinder Sainz from his crashed 13th, but it does give Verstappen an open goal to harden his championship lead against his teammate after a couple of strong weekends for the Mexican .
The Canadian Grand Prix has a habit of delivering unusual results, and Verstappen said he was not expecting an easy afternoon, but he is perfectly positioned for another strong weekend ahead of his championship campaign.
There really is only one driver to be wary of, at least off the line, and he starts from an excellent second on the grid.
ALONSO WINDS THE CLOCK BACK
Fernando Alonso has been strong all weekend but made things sensational on Saturday, when the rain helped him fully express how valuable he is, even at nearly 41 and 21 years after his F1 debut.
The Alpine car establishes itself as a more consistently competitive car in the upper midfield, but it tends to build its lap time at linear speed – see Alonso’s Azerbaijani Grand Prix performance from last week. That just makes it all the more remarkable that it could be manipulated into the front row in the slippery conditions.
Second on the grid is the two-time champion’s best qualifying result in 3,619 days, dating from his pole position at the 2012 German Grand Prix for Ferrari.
It had been so long – almost a full decade – that Max Verstappen, sitting next to him in the front row, hadn’t even switched from karts to cars.
The result also makes him the oldest driver to start on the front row since Michael Schumacher’s second place on the grid at the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix – the German was 43 years, three months and 11 days old after qualifying in Shanghai, 874 days older than Alonso.
What kind of result can Alonso bring back from the front row?
“The goal is to lead the race on lap 1,” he said. “So run 1 max attack.
“And then after that [Verstappen and Sainz] can go and they can fight, but it would be nice to lead the race. †
Alonso is clearly not ahead of schedule, but his racing simulation pace on Friday had him only marginally shy of Red Bull Racing and Ferrari. Big points should be on the table for the Spaniard if not a shot at third on the podium if the strategy works for him.
His chances have been improved by both Aston Martin drivers starting well below in 16th and 17th place – a shock to Sebastian Vettel in any case, who looked great in Friday practice and was second fastest on wet FP3, to discover that his car had no traction at all. Q1. The green team was second best at race pace, but won’t make an impact from that far down.
SCHUMACHER BEATS BACK UNDER MOUNTING PRESSURE
If wet weather is a great leveling up in motorsport, allowing the driver to better transcend his machine, Mick Schumacher has done a good job beating his critics with an excellent sixth on the grid, the best qualifying result of his Formula 1 career.
Schumacher is under mounting pressure after a tough handful of Grands Prix have still left him winless for a year – and his career – while Kevin Magnussen has proved a consistent performer in the first year of his F1 return.
He was also openly criticized by team principal Guenther Steiner for costing the team time and money for his ever-growing list of crashes, some of them huge, as was the case in Saudi Arabia and Monaco.
In that context, Steiner must have prepared hard for the worst during a soaked qualifying hour, but Schumacher navigated the session flawlessly to retain fifth place from teammate Kevin Magnussen for the team’s best combined qualifying result.
But now comes the hardest part: converting that result into points.
The Haas car is well above its station, and you’d think Esteban Ocon and George Russell would at least make their way, before Perez and Leclerc finally invade the points and drop Haas into the lower echelons of the top 10.
But points from here are a must. Schumacher hasn’t had a better chance of getting the monkey off his back than this one. He just has to run.
A Glimpse OF THE SUNSHINE FOR MERCEDES DESPITE TIRE GAMBLE
Compared to Friday’s doom and gloom, Mercedes had a much better wet day on Friday, with Lewis Hamilton qualifying fourth and George Russell a bold, albeit unfulfilled, eighth.
Hamilton was still a massive 1.6 seconds off pole, but the Briton’s body language never lies, and he was delighted to have had a clean and comfortable day in a car that behaved much better than the day before, the lower speeding in the rain makes the car’s bouncing problems less severe.
“Honestly, I feel great,” he told Sky Sports. “I am so, so happy. P4 has never felt so good.
“Could be [it did] when I was in my first year here in 2007 and I got my first P4 in qualifying – it felt great then. It kind of feels that way, especially because it’s been a really, really hard year.
“Going through what we were facing today was tough for everyone there, and I’m really happy to have us there and put us in a position.”
The car worked well enough to prompt Russell to take a risky gamble on slicks for his final run in Q3. A dry line had formed around most of the track, but on the first two turns there was still some puddles on the top curbs, and unsurprisingly they took him out, sent him into the crash barriers and left him in eighth .
“We had a good car today,” said Russell. “It’s high risk, high reward. It didn’t pay off today, but the race is tomorrow.”
“I’m glad I went for it because it could have paid off. At the end of the day I am P8. It’s not the end of the world.”
But can Mercedes maintain its pace until Sunday, when the track will be dry and warm?
Despite the team making some set-up gains after Friday, Hamilton was not convinced he had the pace on dry land.
But Hamilton’s wet-weather skills are well known, so while the result is a much-needed boost for a team stuck in a serious battle, the Briton admitted a dry Sunday will still be a challenge.
“If it was dry, I don’t know if we would be in that position,” he said. “The rain always offers opportunities.
“There is still a lot of work to do tomorrow, but I hope the whole team feels positive.”
And positivity after the last three weekends could be enough for now for three tracks that should suit the car much better than the bumpy, semi-street track in Canada.
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