MONTREAL – Sebastian Vettel's last lap skid at the Canadian Grand Prix last year was a minor diversion on his way to the 2011 Formula One championship.
Now he has a chance to make up for that rare mistake.
Vettel earned the pole position for the Canadian GP on Saturday, finishing qualifying with a fastest lap of 1 minute, 13.784 seconds that was more than a quarter-second faster than No. 2 qualifier Lewis Hamilton. It is the 32nd pole position of Vettel's career, and his second straight at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
"This track is very special," Vettel said. "It would be a great race to win, for sure."
Vettel had won five of the first six races when he took the pole in Montreal last year, then he led for virtually all of a race that was stopped for more than two hours because of a torrential downpour. He still had the lead heading into the backstretch of the final lap before the rear of his Red Bull car slid wide on the slippery track, allowing Jenson Button to pass him and take the checkered flag.
Even so, Vettel ran away with the points race in 2011, winning 11 times in all.
"Last year's race and the last lap of the race — obviously in that moment it hurt a little bit because the victory was so close," Vettel said. "But in the end, it was a tough race, easy to make mistakes. We didn't expect one from me in the last half-lap, which cost us a victory.
"But it's 2012 now, and I think we had a quite decent 2011, so it's not too bad."
This year's season has been more competitive, with an unprecedented six different winners to start the season. Vettel is one of them, having won in Bahrain on April 22.
Since then, he has had to answer questions about a ruling that forced the Red Bull team to alter the design of holes in the floor of the car that had been previously declared legal.
"It's a bit of a shame that it went one way and then the other ... but in the end we never feared a big impact on the performance of the car," Vettel said. "It was good fun today, and even without the hole I enjoyed qualifying a lot."
Hamilton will also start in the front row after finishing qualifying on the 2.71-mile course with a time that was 0.303 seconds slower than Vettel. A victory for Hamilton, who has won twice in Montreal and taken the pole in three of his previous four starts here, would make it seven different winners in seven races this season.
"Of course I want to win," said Hamilton, who is fourth on the championship list, "but these guys are phenomenally quick at the moment."
Alonso, who is the points leader, won in Malaysia on March 25.
"The championship looks a little bit crazy," he said. "Races this year are very difficult to predict. What we think on Saturday is not anywhere near what happens on Sunday."
Seven-time Canadian GP winner Michael Schumacher will start ninth. Button will try to repeat his victory here coming from the 10th position, but he won't get any help from the rain; it was clear and sunny on Saturday and more of the same is expected for Sunday.
Saturday's practice session and qualifying were not disturbed by threats of student protests in Montreal that forced organizers to cancel an open house earlier in the week. Riot police roamed the streets of the city on Friday night to keep the protesters apart from Grand Prix revelers.
The mention of last year's slide didn't spoil Vettel's mood at the post-qualifying news conference on Saturday. But he put his foot down after a question about the multiple changes in the color scheme on his racing helmet.
"There's a football match starting in 15 minutes, Germany is playing," he said, referring the European Championship soccer match between Germany and Portugal. "If I answer that question full-length we will still be sitting here tonight."