Lewis Hamilton is on full alert for the safety car at tomorrow’s Canadian Grand Prix after snatching pole position in a dramatic qualifying session at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
With a track deteriorating by the lap in some places during qualifying and with memories still fresh of an incident-packed maiden Formula One victory in Montreal 12 months ago, the McLaren driver revealed he was acutely aware of the role the safety car could play in the race as he bids to win the sixth grand prix of his career.
Hamilton led from wire to wire last year but had to build his lead time and time again after incidents throughout the race, including an horrendous crash for BMW Sauber driver Robert Kubica, forced the safety car out onto the track and allowed the rest of the field to catch up to him.
After snatching the eighth pole position of his career with a last-ditch lap to knock Kubica off the top spot, Hamilton quickly turned his attention to race strategy.
“The safety car can cause a lot of trouble for everyone so we’ve got to make sure we’re on point as a team,” Hamilton said.
“The last few races have been quite difficult but I think with the experience of leading here in the race last year and having the four safety cars last year you can anticipate it’s going to be pretty similar. Especially as the track surfaces aren’t great.
“It’s going to make it very, very tricky and I’m sure I’m going to be pushed very hard from the other guys but we’ll just give it the best shot we can and try and score as many points as we can.”
Hamilton, currently leading the world driver’s championship after a second win of the season at Monaco last month, repeated his feat of a year ago at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve when he claimed the first pole position of his career.
That paved the way to his maiden victory and Hamilton is set fair for back-to-back wins after grabbing pole on Saturday with a time of one minute 17.886 seconds on the very last lap of the session.
Polish driver Kubica had moments earlier taken top spot from Hamilton in the shootout with a lap of 1:18.498 before Hamilton stormed back on the deteriorating track to grab pole for the second time this season.
World champion Kimi Raikkonen, three points behind Hamilton in this year’s title race, took third place in the grid with 1:18.735 while Fernando Alonso of Renault will start the race alongside the Finn in fourth after a lap of 1:18.746.
“It has been a fantastic Saturday,” said Hamilton, who had posted the quickest times in all three sections of the day’s qualifying session.
“I’ve felt comfortable since yesterday in the car. This morning was tricky for everyone, the track was very slippery but we remained positive and the car was fine.
“When we got to qualifying I felt at home and the team did a great job of getting me out early in each qualifying session.
“I had two laps left at the end but in the first one I nearly wiped at turn one so I had to make sure the last one was good. It was a bit similar to last year and it felt just as good.”
Kubica agreed the race would be a difficult proposition given the state of the track.
He has extra work to do from second on the grid as it puts him out of the clean driving line occupied by Hamilton at the start of the race and into the area filled with debris from tyre rubber, known as marbles, and the grit thrown up from the broken track.
“It was a very difficult qualifying with the track breaking up in some corners, which is a disaster,” said Kubica.
“It’s easy to make mistakes with these conditions. When you missed the racing line by just 10 or 20 centimetres you were on the marbles with very low grip.
“However, I’m very happy with second. Certainly it will be a tough race tomorrow on this track. Unfortunately I shall not be starting on the clean side.
“McLaren particularly looks very strong and I shall also have pressure from the Ferrari, but we have to see who is on which strategy.”