Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton takes pole in Montreal

Lewis Hamilton kisses the trophy on the podium at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Lewis Hamilton kisses the trophy on the podium at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
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LEWIS Hamilton came to Montreal to put his frustrating fortnight behind him, and he’s in position to do just that.

The reigning Formula One champion took the pole for the Canadian Grand Prix on Saturday, his fourth at the track and his sixth in seven races this season. He has already won three races this year, and his worst finish was third in the previous race in Monaco, when his team bungled strategically and allowed two pursuers to pass him.

“It’s definitely a positive to come back into this weekend on the right foot, to come back still with the good pace I had in the last race,” Hamilton said on Saturday. “But there’s no points for today; the race is tomorrow.”

A three-time Canadian GP champion, Hamilton posted a fastest lap of 1 minute, 14.393 seconds in qualifying on Saturday over the 2.71-mile (4.361-km) Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg will start next to him, with an all-Finnish second row of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Williams’ Valtteri Bottas.

Mercedes is 1-2 in the championship race, with Hamilton holding a 10-point lead over Rosberg. But that’s half as large as the gap was heading into the Monaco Grand Prix on May 24, when Hamilton’s team cost him a chance at the win by calling him into the pits late in the race.

Mercedes technical director Paddy Lowe apologized, and Hamilton said through gritted teeth that he was looking ahead, not back. But he knew the only way to overcome the setback was to return to Montreal, the site of his first F1 victory in 2007, and win here for the fourth time.

Things didn’t start out well in Friday’s practice when he spun, jumped a curb and then - as a torrential rain began to fall - skidded into the safety barrier. He had the slowest best lap in the final practice on Saturday morning, then turned it around in qualifying - the 44th career pole for the driver of car No. 44.

“It wasn’t the easiest of days, so I was going into qualifying a bit blind really,” he said. “But I won my first Grand Prix here, and to get my 44th pole here is very special for me.”

Rosberg left the track at the end complaining to his team of a “rubbish end of the qualifying,” but he consoled himself with the knowledge that he will start in the front row.

“I had a bad qualifying and I’m still second on the grid,” he said. “That gives me hope for tomorrow.”

The big surprise in qualifying was the failure of four-time F1 champion Sebastien Vettel to make it out of the first session. Vettel came out just minutes before the end of the 20-minute period and had only two laps at full speed, the best still 1.5 seconds slower than session-leader Romain Grosjean.

Vettel was called to the stewards after qualifying for passing Roberto Merhi while the red flag was out. He was sent to the back of the grid, given a five-position penalty and docked three points.

Joining Vettel in the pits for the remainder of qualifying was Felipe Massa, who complained of a loss of power. Jenson Button didn’t take part after parking his car alongside the track in the final practice session because of a loss of engine power.

Rookie Max Verstappen, who was given a five-position penalty for causing a crash in Monaco, also took a 10-position penalty for using his fifth engine of the season. That means not only does he start at the back of the pack, but he will have a 10-second stop-and-go penalty during the race.