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By Steve Keating
MONTREAL, June 9 (Reuters) - World champion Sebastian Vettel was perfectly placed to become the first repeat winner of the Formula One season after putting his Red Bull on pole position at the Canadian Grand Prix on Saturday for the second year in a row.
The German’s 32nd career pole, a tally that lifted him level with Britain’s Nigel Mansell in the record books and one adrift of F1 greats Alain Prost and Jim Clark, also denied McLaren their 150th.
“I think we’ve learned a couple of lessons from the last few races where we were quick but we didn’t get it out of the car in qualifying,” grinned the double world champion after only his second pole of the campaign.
McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, who took the first win of his Formula One career in Canada in 2007, was fastest in Friday practice but had to settle for the second front row slot when it really mattered.
Championship leader Fernando Alonso put his Ferrari in third place on the grid.
A wildly unpredictable season has produced an unprecedented six different winners from the first six races with Vettel triumphant in Bahrain. Hamilton has yet to win and is the best bet to stretch the run to seven.
Red Bull have never won in Canada, with Vettel losing out to McLaren’s hard-charging Jenson Button on the last lap in a rain-hit epic last year, and his team bosses were determined to rectify that.
“It would be nice. Canada’s been a bit of a bogey circuit for me,” said Red Bull designer and technical head Adrian Newey. “But it’s only qualifying, we’ve got a long way to go tomorrow.”
Button certainly faces another big challenge after qualifying 10th.
A technical rule change after the last race had raised a question mark over Red Bull’s car, whose holed floor had been under scrutiny, but any hopes rivals might have had of a drop in performance soon vanished.
Vettel was quick in all three qualifying sessions at the sunny Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and took pole with a best lap of one minute, 13.784 seconds.
“It seemed to work pretty well without the hole,” he said.
“I think it’s not just a hole in the floor that makes the difference. It was a bit of a shame that it was declared legal and then illegal but in the end we never feared a big impact on the performance of the car.”
Hamilton, a two-time winner in Canada, clocked 1:14.087 and said he was surprised to qualify second.
“It was definitely harder for us today - we struggled,” he said. “We were having to push extremely hard to get the tyres to switch on...we’re very happy with our performance, and very surprised to see us on the front row, but happy to be there.”
Spaniard Alonso will line up alongside the second Red Bull of Australian Mark Webber, who will be looking to follow-up his win in Monaco.
“All the improvements we have been making on the car are really paying off now,” said Alonso.
Nico Rosberg, who missed third practice due to a problem with a fuel connector, will line up in fifth place for Mercedes and will be joined on the third row by Ferrari’s Brazilian driver Felipe Massa.
France’s Romain Grosjean was seventh for Lotus, again out-qualifying team mate Kimi Raikkonen, while Britain’s Paul Di Resta was a strong eighth for Force India.
Germany’s Michael Schumacher, a seven times champion and seven times winner in Canada, qualified ninth.
The 43-year-old German, who had been fastest in qualifying in Monaco, failed to get in a final flying lap after Mercedes mis-timed his run and he crossed the line to start it 0.04 seconds after the chequered flag.
“I don’t really know how we managed not to make it over the line early enough to start the second lap but, when I passed the line, the team told me it was too late,” he said.
“We could not have achieved pole today as we could not do the times the guys up front were doing, but I could most likely have been able to do the time I was doing earlier in qualifying and start the race from a bit better position.” (editing by Alan Baldwin)