MONTREAL (AP) — Sebastian Vettel is hoping to finally convert a spot at the front of the Canadian Grand Prix grid into a place on the top of its podium.
The Formula One points leader earned his third straight pole position at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, posting the fastest lap in an abbreviated qualifying session on Saturday. In two previous starts from the front of the course, Vettel's Red Bull has finished second and fourth.
It's the third pole position of 2013 for Vettel, and he'll be looking for his third victory of the year on Sunday, when the weekend's on-and-off rain is expected to have passed. "It was very, very tricky, especially because you never knew what the conditions were the next time you were out," said Vettel, who won in Malaysia and Bahrain and finished second at Monaco last month to take a 21-point lead over Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen.
"I don't know if there's anybody who can give a precise forecast for every corner. We'll see how the weather behaves tomorrow. I think it could be an interesting race with mixed conditions." Lewis Hamilton, who is fourth in the points race, will also be in the front row with Vettel for a second straight year.
"Pole was definitely there," said Hamilton, who was 0.087 seconds slower than Vettel. "So it's a bit unfortunate but that's the way it goes." Intermittent rain that picked up just as the second session began dampened the course and slowed the cars for the last two qualifying periods. The second session was red-flagged when Felipe Massa turned sideways and skidded into the wall at Turn 3.
The Brazilian banged his hands on the steering wheel before climbing out of the Ferrari. The session resumed with 1:59 left; Vettel mistimed his return to the track and was unable to get in another lap at top speed.
"I was very happy the first lap was good enough," Vettel said. "It was very tight with Lewis." The forecast for Sunday called for showers in the morning that are expected to pass by the time the race begins in the afternoon.
That could be good news for Vettel, who had bad luck with the rain here in 2011. Coming to Montreal with five victories in the year's first six races, he started on the pole and led almost the entire race before a slight skid on the final trip down the back straight allowed Jenson Button to pass him and take the checkered flag. Still, Vettel went on to win his first F1 championship.
Under sunny skies last year, Vettel was fourth after scraping a tire against the wall in the 68th lap of the 70-lap race. But it would be disappointing for rookie Valtteri Bottas, who was third in qualifying and made the second row for the first time in his career.
"It's way more up in the grid than we really could ever imagine. We didn't expect to be in the first or second row," he said. "In the dry, the car doesn't belong. ... Some rain would help us." Monaco winner Nico Rosberg, who had been on the pole for the previous three races this year, was fourth, followed by Vettel's teammate, Mark Webber. Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, who is third in the points race, will start sixth.
Vettel posted a top lap of 1 minutes, 22.318 seconds in the first qualifying session, but rain slowed everyone in the second — especially Vettel, who came back onto the track late following the red flag. But his time of 1:25.425 in the third session put him on the pole for the third year in a row.
"We're extremely happy with the result," he said. "No matter the conditions, we should be in decent shape."