Lewis Hamilton sensationally sealed his maiden Formula 1 pole position following a stunning lap around the challenging Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal that not even reigning double world champion Fernando Alonso could get near.

The Briton - who had looked visibly relaxed as the qualifying hour got into gear - ultimately ended up almost a full half-second clear of his Spanish team-mate following a superb last-ditch effort, while fourth and fifth places for arch-rivals Ferrari would seem to confirm the tide has swung well and truly in Woking's favour. What's more, the performance has come in the same country as McLaren's debut pole position in the top flight, at Mosport Park some 35 years ago. It is an advantage Hamilton will now clearly be keen to convert into victory.

The first of the three knock-out sessions got going with David Coulthard the first man to hit the track to put in a banker lap, but an 'off' on his out-lap, followed by a scrappy effort on his flyer that saw the Scot take briefly to the grass, led him to abort almost immediately.

His woes were nothing compared to Heikki Kovalainen's, however, as the luckless Finn struggled under braking and seemed to be paying just a little too much close attention to Montreal's notoriously unforgiving kerbs. Then, as he came around turn four, the 25-year old lost the back end in spectacular fashion, smacking into the concrete wall and tearing his rear wing off into the process, scattering debris across the track and leaving him with a mountain to climb if he was to make it beyond Q3.

The session was red-flagged with Renault team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella fastest by over a second from the Toyota duo of Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli but, once it got underway again, first Felipe Massa, then Alonso lowered the benchmark, while Nick Heidfeld took the scenic route through turn one.

With McLaren once more showing Ferrari the way up front, at the other end of the order, with just four minutes to go, both Williams and Coulthard were lingering dangerously within the drop zone. Nico Rosberg was the first to rectify the situation, popping his FW29 up into sixth place and pushing Adrian Sutil into perilous waters, while Alex Wurz followed suit by moving up to twelfth shortly afterwards.

Practice star Takuma Sato also hoisted himself up into the top ten as the seconds ticked away, but both Coulthard and Kovalainen were still facing the chop. The former nicked 16th place with less than a minute remaining, but Monte Carlo nemesis Kovalainen immediately pushed him back into the drop area again while, at the same time, Jenson Button slipped into the danger zone too.

Frantic last efforts from Coulthard, Button and Scott Speed would prove just enough to see them through into Q2, with Anthony Davidson, Schumacher, Kovalainen, Wurz, Sutil and team-mate Christijan Albers those to miss out. For Davidson, in particular, it was a tough blow after setting strong times throughout practice over the weekend.

Up at the front, meanwhile, Alonso and Hamilton unsurprisingly led the way - separated by just 14-thousandths of a second - with Fisichella a strong third ahead of the Ferrari duo of Massa and Kimi Raikkonen. Button saved his skin in sixth, ahead of team-mate Rubens Barrichello, BMW-Sauber duo Heidfeld and Robert Kubica, a relieved Trulli, Coulthard, Mark Webber, Rosberg, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Speed and Sato.

Coulthard was once more the first driver to take to the circuit at the start of Q2, but he again went off into turn one following a lock-up just after beginning his flying lap. Trulli almost immediately deposed the Red Bull ace from the top spot, with Sato moving into second and Speed third.

Fisichella was the next to show his hand, lopping some three-tenths off countryman Trulli's quickest effort, while Webber went better still with a lap some four-tenths faster than either of them. Sato skated briefly off-piste on the slippery track, while Coulthard continued to struggle, lapping some way off the pace.

Raikkonen was the first of the big guns to set a time, though even he was more than three-tenths adrift of the impressive Webber, but an inspired Hamilton then went eight-tenths of a second quicker than anybody else on the circuit.

Massa slotted neatly into second place shortly afterwards, albeit more than six-tenths adrift, while Alonso's first missive was just under four-hundredths shy of his team-mate's lightning effort. Kubica and Heidfeld improved to fourth and fifth as BMW continued to advance up the order as the weekend progressed, with Barrichello, Sato, Liuzzi, Button, Speed and Coulthard those in danger of missing the top ten cut with just three minutes to go.

Coulthard was the first to attempt to rescue himself, taking advantage of a clear track while everyone else played a waiting game, but it was ultimately only good enough for 14th place and left him in the drop zone with time for only one more flying lap. Heidfeld then found himself under investigation for skating across the run-off area on his flying lap and feasibly gaining an advantage from it, dropping him down to 16th with only seconds left to drag himself back up into the top ten again.

As the session came to a close, Hamilton and Alonso - as usual over this weekend - had the top two spots sewn up, with a superlatively committed effort from a fired-up Heidfeld seeing him snatch third right at the close despite almost grazing 'Champions' Wall' in the process. Massa ended up fourth, ahead of Rosberg, Webber, Fisichella and Kubica, with Raikkonen only just making the cut in ninth and an impressive Trulli overcoming all the odds to make it through into Q3.

Those not so fortunate were Sato, Liuzzi, Barrichello, Coulthard, Button and Speed, who will start the race from eleventh to 16th positions respectively.

The third and final knock-out session got underway with the cars setting off for their 'fuel-burning' phase, and Hamilton again set the early pace from Raikkonen, Massa and Fisichella, with Heidfeld was once more on the march and searing to the top position, just over a tenth of a second clear.

Hamilton then hit back, re-taking the prime spot less than a minute later by just shy of two-tenths, with Alonso playing his cards close to his chest and holding back in eighth place. The Spaniard's team-mate, though, was certainly giving it plenty, coming very close to scraping the wall as he pressed on and continued to trade P1 with Heidfeld.

With seven minutes to go, Hamilton headed Heidfeld, Raikkonen, Massa, Fisichella, Kubica, Rosberg, Alonso, Trulli and Webber and, with all of them pitting before going out to give it their final shot, the action promised to be fast, furious and, most of all, extremely unpredictable.

Webber went first, though he too was now under stewards' investigation for skipping a corner and found his best time subsequently deleted. His next flyer would prove enough to jump from the bottom of the pile to the top however, some three-tenths up on Hamilton. The McLaren ace almost immediately seized it back again, though, as the times began to tumble. Alonso then finally showed his hand, leaping to the head of the order, in front of Hamilton, Raikkonen, Heidfeld, Massa and Fisichella.

With just under two minutes remaining, Alonso held a two-tenths advantage over his rookie team-mate, with the Ferraris - as per practice - seemingly unable to challenge. A superb effort from Rosberg lifted the Williams up from tenth to fifth with just seconds left on the clock, while Hamilton was really on it, and stole pole by almost half a second as the chequered flag fell. An error in turn ten on his final attempt meant Alonso was unable to respond, while a last-ditch lap from Heidfeld replicated his Q2 effort in placing the BMW third, a mere tenth of a second away from the front row.

Fourth and fifth for Massa and Raikkonen was far from what Maranello had hoped for heading into the qualifying hour, with Webber a strong sixth, Rosberg seventh, Kubica eighth and an all-Italian fifth row of Fisichella and the battling Trulli.

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