Sebastian Vettel monstered the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and left the rest of the field reeling, by pulling out a three-tenths margin over his nearest challenger in Q3 and looking amazingly comfortable in an untouchable pole position.

It hadn't exactly looked like going that way at the start of the qualifying hour. Both Red Bull drivers, Vettel and team mate Mark Webber, opted to stay in pit lane and let others go out on track and set the initial pace, preferring instead to wait until the traffic eased and there was room for them to be able to get to work.

Even do, it was a sedate start for both drivers despite the open space out on the track, and they seemed to need to build up their speed relatively gradually through Q1 before finally levelling off at a comfortable level that was easily enough to see them through to the next round, Vettel finally setting the fastest time of 1:14.661s.

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Many of the cars seemed a handful in the opening 20 minutes, the track looking to lack grip despite sunshine and blue skies overheard making the day so much more pleasant than the gloomy and threatening conditions of Friday. Drivers were having to work their tyres hard to get temperatures up and then promptly locking up at various points around the track and especially into turn 1, which saw a surprising number of overshoots.

Both McLaren drivers had looked nervous and ended up coming back out on track with new option tyres in order to safeguard their progression through to the next round of qualifying, just in case the backmarkers were able to get a dramatic gain in performance in the closing minutes and catch out any of the top teams who dared snooze in pit lane assuming that they were safe.

In fact, there were no late improvements in Q1 positions, with the usual Caterham, Marussia and HRT suspects firmly embedded in the bottom section of the timing screens for the duration. The surprise was that they were joined by Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne, who never looked on the pace and even at maximum attack in his final attempt to avoid going out of qualifying early he was unable to even get ahead of the Caterhams and will duly start from 20th position in Sunday's race.

With the preliminaries out of the way it was time to get down to more serious busy. Almost everyone was out on the supersoft option tyres with the exception of Ferrari, who tried an experiment but quickly thought better of it and fell into line. Tyre strategy for qualifying seemed less of a dominant factor in Montreal, with degradation not looking to be particularly fearsome and most teams speculating that the race might prove to be an old-fashioned one-stopper affair.

Vettel was increasingly finding his groove and went top again in Q2, with Ferrari's Fernando Alonso emerging as the major challenge to him just ahead of Hamilton.

Jenson Button, on the other hand, was fast approaching his limits, and the lack of practice time due to technical problems on Friday was starting to show - he looked about half a session behind his chief rivals, and gradually found himself shuffled down the positions as the chequered flag approached to end the session.

Button was in tenth when Pastor Maldonado posted a new set of impressive sector times and looked a sure thing to leap into the top ten at Button's expense. But coming through the final corner, the Williams driver pushed that one inch too far and lost control of the car, spinning the back end into the notorious Wall of Champions. He kept his foot down and showed impressive car control as he spun the car completely around, but the damage was done to Maldonado's qualifying effort.

Moreover, as the Williams finally found the right way forward, it was clear that the suspension was damaged and he would have to park the car where it sat on the start-finish straight, bringing out a local waved yellow that meant that no one else was able to improve their times in the seconds remaining. Button owed Maldonado a big thank you present for saving his place in Q3 for him.

Maldonado was joined in his exit from qualifying by his Williams team mate Bruno Senna, who had himself found the wall the previous day, ensuring that the Williams pit crew got quite a work out in Montreal this weekend. Both Saubers also went out - in Kamui Kobayashi's case he failed by just 0.008s to go through in Button's place - and there was also disappointment for Force India's Nico Hulkenberg and Toro Rosso's Daniel Ricciardo.

Perhaps most surprisingly in this part of qualifying was the exit of Kimi Raikkonen, the Lotus never showing the expected pace and the Finn looking deeply non-plussed by the day's outing. He would have been even more irked by his young team mate Romain Grosjean managing to extract the pace from the car to get through to Q3.

In the final ten minute round of qualifying, it was still anybody's game - until Sebastian Vettel went out and posted a mighty 1:13.784s that had jaws dropping up and down pit lane, and it was pretty evident that no one had any chance of getting close to that time. It was half a second closer than Lewis Hamilton's first flying lap, and while the McLaren driver narrowed the gap with his second effort it was still all he could do to get within three tenths of a second of the Red Bull.

Hamilton's improved second lap did at least muscle Alonso off the front row of the grid, meaning that the Ferrari will now share the second row with Mark Webber, who looked safe and solid throughout the entire qualifying session but someone lacked that last extra bit that Vettel had been able to pull out of the hat.

Nico Rosberg will share the third row alongside Felipa Massa, who enjoyed one of his best qualifying sessions of the year so far and who looks throughly rejuvenated by his positive outing a fortnight ago at Monaco.

Behind them, the rest of the cars initially seemed content to just try some basic sighting laps, but once it was clear that Jenson Button's day was over and done with relatively early in Q3 the others saw the possibility of a bonus place or two and went out after all, with Paul di Resta popping up to join Romain Grosjean on the fourth row and Michael Schumacher edging up a position to start in ninth place alongside Button who had to settle for tenth.

Despite Vettel's emphatic pole - his 32nd in F1 - the starting grid order still seemed oddly fragile even after the chequered flag came out, with several people looking out of place from where they might have been expected to be. Even Vettel's pole position itself was just so much out of nowhere that the suspicion is that it might not translate into quite such a dominant race performance on Sunday.

Not only that, but few pole sitters go on to win at Montreal; and with safety cars a regular fixture in every Canadian Grand Prix, there's still a very real sense that anything can happen come the start of the race on Sunday.