Verstappen posts more fast times in Canadian GP practice

The Mercedes pit crew practice their pit stops during the third practice session at the Formula One Canadian Grand Prix auto race Saturday, June 9, 2018, in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP)

MONTREAL (AP) Sebastian Vettel had a steering problem that washed out much of the first practice session at the Canadian Grand Prix and then brushed the wall later in the day.

When he brought his Ferrari out for qualifying a day later, his problems – and the rest of the field – were behind him.

”Yesterday, I wasn’t really in charge. More of a passenger,” Vettel said Saturday after earning his 54th career Formula One pole with the fastest lap ever on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. ”Today was a lot more natural.”

Vettel covered the 2.71-mile (4.36-km) track in 1 minute, 10.764 seconds to deprive Lewis Hamilton of a record seventh pole in Montreal. It’s Vettel’s fourth pole on the Ile Notre-Dame, but his first since 2013, when he was on his way to a fourth straight world championship for Red Bull.

It’s the first pole for Ferrari at the track named for one of its most celebrated drivers since Michael Schumacher in 2001.

”Being on pole here with Ferrari means something extra,” Vettel said. ”Gilles Villeneuve, the favorite driver of Enzo Ferrari, and I think his charisma, his character that he brought to Formula One, to racing in general, is still alive today.”

Valtteri Bottas‘ Mercedes will also start in the front row, coming in about one-tenth of a second slower than Vettel. After leading all three practice sessions, Max Verstappen will start third in his Red Bull, alongside Hamilton.

Kimi Raikkonen in the other Ferrari and Monaco winner Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull are in the third row, with Nico Hulkenberg seventh and the best of the rest.

Ferrari is running an engine update in Montreal. Mercedes was expecting to do the same, but it wasn’t ready in time; they also decided to bring fewer sets of the softest tires.

”The numbers are just in theory, but there would have been gains,” Bottas said. ”I think it would have been a close fight for the pole with the new engine. But we’re going to get it later anyway, so that’s all good.”

Vettel won the first two races of the year but did not return to the podium until his second-place finish in Monaco last race. The only thing slowing the German down on Saturday was a line of cars that interrupted his attempt at going even faster.

”This is ridiculous. What are these guys doing?” he asked over the radio.

”It’s never happened to me,” he told reporters afterward. ”Either they weren’t told or they weren’t looking. … I had to abort; there was no chance to slalom around them. It was a bit surprising. There was no way for me to carry on.”

A day earlier, Vettel was back in the pack – seventh and fifth on the first day of practice.

”Yesterday, I think were a bit in trouble. I wasn’t really happy with the car. We had some problems. I just couldn’t get the rhythm,” he said. ”Usually, I like this track. Yesterday was very difficult, but today it switched on. I guess I woke up the right way and what a day.”

Hamilton tops the championship leaderboard, 14 points ahead of Vettel, as each pursues a fifth Formula One title. Ricciardo is third in the standings, 38 points behind Hamilton, and Bottas is another four points back, in fourth.

”As difficult as days like today are, there’s no points today,” Hamilton said. ”The points are tomorrow.”

Verstappen arrived in Montreal amid an error-prone season and bristled at questions about his recent crash history, even threatening to head-butt any reporters who asked him about it. But he dominated in practice, with the fastest time in all three sessions.

”We extracted the best we could out of qualifying,” he said. ”The car all weekend has been really strong. Every session we made progress.”

Earlier in qualifying, local favorite Lance Stroll failed to make it out of the first session and will start 18th. Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso is in 14th position.

Romain Grosjean was unable to complete any laps in qualifying and will start in the back of the field, in 20th. On Saturday, he hit an animal that had wandered onto the track and damaged his nose cone.

”Maybe the beaver from yesterday was still in there somewhere,” he said. ”We’ve had some really tough luck. … Starting last is never ideal, but it’s one of those racetracks where you can overtake, so luckily it’s not Monaco.”