Rain certainly shakes things up. While Sebastian Vettel
on his 39th Grand Prix pole and Lewis Hamilton
lining up alongside him on the front row were arguably within expectations for the Canadian Grand Prix, it's hard to see how anyone would have put money on a second row start for the Williams
F1 of Valtteri Bottas. Meanwhile neither McLaren
made it through to Q3, after a red flag for a early exit into the tyre wall by a Ferrari.
The start of qualifying saw the start of a new light rain shower hitting the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, as the unseasonably cold and dismal conditions in Montreal persisted into Saturday afternoon. The good news was that the teams were confident that the rain would be short-lived, but that simply meant that getting through to Q2 was going to be more of a lottery than usual and a factor of being out at precisely the right moment when the conditions were at their optimum.
No surprise then that there was a flood of cars taking to the track the minute the session went green, everyone hoping that the track was still dry enough to run on the supersoft dry tyres for one quick lap before conditions deteriorate. Unfortunately that wasn't the case, and after a perilous initial reconnaissance lap the cars all streamed straight back onto pit lane for an emergency change to intermediates - the last thing the teams wanted given the supply of just four sets all the teams have available to them for the entire weekend - and with the forecast of showers looking more likely for race day.
After the phoney start on the slicks, Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne set the first flying lap on the intermediates with a time of 1:28.204s that was quickly beaten by Felipe Massa
and then emphatically sliced by over a second to 1:26.781s by Nico Rosberg
as the cars started to forge a dry line on the circuit. Even so, the teams were advising their drivers that they expected times to drop by more than two seconds from here provided the rain didn't worsen.
A few scary moments for Adrian Sutil, Lewis Hamilton
and Fernando Alonso
underlined just how tricky these crossover conditions were for the drivers as they continued to push to the limit of their tyres' adhesion and their own level of talent, and ensuring that despite a completely dry line in some parts of the track there was no realistic chance of the drivers trying slicks again anytime soon.
Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel
proved the pit wall prophecies right by calmly setting a new benchmark of 1:24.788s at the midway point which he lowered by seven-tenths next time round in response to an improved effort by Lewis Hamilton
in the Mercedes. Vettel ran wide on his next lap indicating that his current intermediates had reach the end of life status and that a visit to pit lane was mandated, allowing Nico Rosberg
to move to the top of the timesheets with a new target time of 1:23.840s swiftly bettered by a tenth by Felipe massa in the Ferrari.
Under pressure with time running out was Jenson Button, firmly in the drop zone and complaining about being blocked by Vettel; seconds later, and starkly showing how rapidly things were changing in this all-action Q1 session, he was up to fifth but then rapidly shuffled down to ninth by the cars following him across the line. It could all have gone very wrong for the McLaren
driver after that, but a brief pick-up in the rain prevented many of those still on flying laps from doing the business and improving their times in the last seconds.
When the dust - or rather, the water spray - had finally settled after the chequered flag called time on the first part of qualifying, there were two big surprises left without a seat in Q2. For the second time in succession, Force India's Paul di Resta was left on the wrong side of the cut, a gearbox glitch leaving him just over a tenth off the back of Toro Rosso's Daniel Ricciardo. That meant di Resta is now faced with having to claw his way back up from 17th place on the grid on Sunday. The Scot was joined in the elimination zone by Lotus F1's Romain Grosjean, who will now start from last place after finishing 19th in the times and then having his ten-place grid penalty from Monaco to serve. Alongside di Resta and Grosjean on the sidelines for the rest of qualifying were the usual suspects of Charles Pic, Jule Bianchi, Mac Chilton and Giedo van der Garde
Webber, Rosberg, Hamilton and Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne were quick to take to the track as race control declared "a change in climatic conditions" - and not in a good way, a surge in the rain front having wiped out the previously emerging dry line. That put the times back around the 90-second mark, with Hamilton's first flier clocking in at 1m29.259s before a close encounter with the wall of champions; other drivers including Fernando Alonso
and Sebastian Vettel
started overshooting the final chicane as the rain really started to set in. It was growing so bad that Sergio Perez was even told by the McLaren
pit wall that there was a serious team discussion about whether the full wet would be shortly be required.