Vettel was closely matched with Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton in the shootout for pole, with the Briton striking early by taking a 0.2-second advantage after their first laps on a circuit around which he traditionally excels.
But Ferrari’s prodigious straight-line speed came to the rescue on the pair’s second laps. They were neck and neck up to the long back straight, but from there Vettel was able to power ahead, reversing his deficit to snatch pole by 0.206 seconds.
“He’s bloody good in qualifying, hard to crack!” a jubilant Vettel said. “Really, really nice. I really enjoyed it.
“Very happy for the team because the last weeks have been quite tough for us.”
But the German, who trails Hamilton 45 points in the championship standings, said he wasn’t convinced his single-lap pace would translate over a race distance.
“Today the car was a lot better,” he said. “These guys [Mercedes] will be very quick over the distance, but we’ll try everything.
“The car felt good and I think we can carry that into the race.”
Hamilton apologised to his team for failing to claim top spot on his warm-down lap, but the reigning world champion and six-time Canadian Grand Prix winner believed he got the most from his car.
“I don’t particularly feel disappointment, I think I gave it everything we could,” he said. “Really, really thoroughly happy with the job.
“We knew they were quick — but this is good, this how racing should be … hopefully we can put on a good show tomorrow.”
Charles Leclerc qualified third, the Monegasque unhappy with his feeling in the car and trailing his teammate by 0.680 as a result.
“I struggled with the car, with the setup maybe,” he said. “I need to work on that and the tyres to have the right setup for the final Q3 time.
“Hopefully we’ll have a better race on my side tomorrow.”
But Leclerc may yet find his race further hampered by a potential penalty, with the stewards set to investigate him rejoining the track incorrectly after running wide at turn nine.
Daniel Ricciardo qualified a phenomenal fourth for Renault, just 0.15 seconds behind Leclerc and ahead of Red Bull Racing’s Pierre Gasly in fifth, though his lofty position was eased by Mercedes’s Valtteri Bottas putting in an extremely scruffy Q3 lap that left him sixth.
Ricciardo’s Renault teammate, Nico Hulkenberg, qualified seventh, keeping at bay McLaren teammates Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz. However, Sainz also faces a potential-post session penalty for impeding Alex Albon in Q1.
Kevin Magnussen qualified 10th despite not setting a time in the top-10 shootout after an enormous crash at the end of Q2.
The Dane brushed the exit of the final chicane, the so-called Wall of Champions, which spat him across the track to make heavy contact with the pit wall just before the start-finish line.
Not only did it end his session, but it affected several other drivers on their final attempts to qualify for the top 10, ironically including teammate Romain Grosjean, who was on his sole fast lap immediately behind Magnussen when he crashed. The Frenchman was knocked out in 15th.
But the highest profile affected driver was Max Verstappen. The Dutchman set his first time of the session on the slower medium-compound tyre — had he made it into Q3, he would have been allowed to start the race on the more durable rubber — but his time wasn’t quick enough to progress, forcing him to undertake a late lap on softs.
But the Red Bull Racing driver’s final flyer was abandoned by Magnussen’s smash, eliminating him in 11th.
Daniil Kvyat and Alex Albon were happy with their laps for Toro Rosso, qualifying 12th and 14th respectively, with Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi splitting the pair in 13th.
It was the only the second time this season Giovinazzi outqualified teammate Kimi Raikkonen, the Finn eliminated in 17th in Q1.
Sergio Perez got himself ahead of Raikkonen in the first segment of qualifying, but it was a disappointing result for the Mexican at his Canadian-owned Racing Point team’s home race. The car had seemed quick during practice, but the tightness of the midfield and a lockup at the hairpin undid his session.
It was worse for his teammate, Canadian Lance Stroll, who was knocked out in 18th for his home race, his 11th consecutive Q1 elimination.
Williams drivers George Russell and Robert Kubica locked out the back row of the grid, the Briton beating the Pole by 0.8 seconds.