It’s round 7 at the Circuit De Gilles Villeneuve, the track named after possibly the greatest ever driver to never win a world championship. I may one day go into detail on my feelings about Gilles, but for now we can just say that this circuit not only bears his name but his spirit. This fast winding track requires real commitment and that’s exactly what Gilles built his name on; riding the line between in control and in the barrier. The “wall of champions” that borders the outside of the last chicane has claimed many high profile drivers into retirement before you even consider the other difficult sections of track. Furthermore, the challenge facing the drivers this weekend is not only precision but outright pace: this circuit is incredibly power sensitive with it’s long back straight and fast flowing wide chicane type corners. One might expect that this weekend will be difficult for the Renault powered cars and especially McLaren with their Honda donkeys, as well as concluding that the Mercedes power unit will power cars well. However Montreal has an interesting stat: only 35% of the pole sitters in history have actually won the race, so there is a lot more at play here. Jenson Button’s ridiculous 2011 win is a lasting testament to the fact that in Canada, anything can happen.
There has also been a lot of talk and action behind the scenes in the paddock since Monaco. These include an ultimatum from McLaren to Honda, talks between McLaren and Mercedes, Alonso’s thought on his future and also a potential comeback from fan favourite Robert Kubica, whose only win during his previous years in F1 came from this very circuit. So during this race weekend review I will try to sprinkle those happenings throughout the sections to keep you updated on all within the F1 world. But let’s get into the race itself first and foremost. The championship seems to be opening up for Ferrari to stretch their legs, but let’s see how they fared in their first larger steps.
Mercedes (1st & 2nd)
Lewis Hamilton, P1: A dominant race from Hamilton, who led from start to finish even through the pitstop phases: as such there is not too much on comment on as there is only so many ways you can say excellent. What is worth more words is Lewis’ fabulous qualifying lap on Saturday, which brought him equal on the all time pole position list with his hero Ayrton Senna: 65 a piece, 3 adrift of Michael Schumacher’s 68. The Senna family themselves recognised Hamilton’s achievement with a gift to him on Saturday: a race helmet that Ayrton wore himself during his days with Lotus. This pole position was similarly dominant to how Senna used to drive; a whole 0.3 seconds ahead of the nearest car and propelled Hamilton’s momentum throughout the weekend, allowing him to close the gap to Vettel by a large 13 points. The Brit will be very happy indeed.
Valtteri Bottas, P2: Again this weekend was quietly confident from Bottas, who plugged the gap nicely between his dominant team-mate and the rest of the competition. Whilst Valtteri mostly benefitted from Vettel’s misfortune he still did well to try to keep pace with Lewis, who is famously dominant around this circuit. Similarly, it is due to this why his 0.5 second gap to Hamilton in qualifying won’t be too concerning as maybe it might be at other venues around the calendar.
Team Summary: Mercedes will be very happy with this weekend as they seem to have solved the problem of their tyre degradation and temperature from Monaco. They have also closed the gap swiftly to Ferrari to around where it was before last weekend, so have stopped the rot. Whilst they mainly benefitted from the Scuderia’s misfortune it will be a welcome foundation on which they can build during the coming races
Ferrari (4th & 7th)Sebastian Vettel, P4: Vettel’s race was essentially a huge recovery drive and one that he excelled at in spades. Unfortunately this result is the first time Seb has dropped off the podium this entire year. From the very first turn Vettel was up against it as Verstappen jumped him into second and brushed his front wing, resulting in some minor damage and another place lost. From there it went from bad to worse as the damage exacerbated itself and an early pitstop had to be made with a front-wing change, dropping him to the back of the field. From there Sebastian played a waiting game as others pitted, sitting behind Raikkonen for much of the race until his team-mate made a mistake and unleashed him onto the squabbling Force India’s ahead in 4th and 5th. From here it took two ballsy moves to squeeze past, firstly on Ocon with the dust on the inside of turn one to contend with and then another On Perez into the final chicane. Vettel will have been hoping to race Hamilton for the win, but considering how badly his afternoon could have gone, this will be a small relief.
Kimi Raikkonen, P7: Raikkonen had a similarly messy afternoon, but more so during the latter stages of the race than the first part. He was also jumped by Verstappen into turn one before iffy strategy dumped him behind both Force Indias, but his later brake problems then further caused him damage as he ended up finishing behind Vettel when he was on course to out-score him for the first time this season. Given that Raikkonen’s pace looked incredibly strong in FP2 and FP3 this will be a large let down.
Team Summary: From exultation at Monaco to baffling bemusement in Canada. Ferrari should have been looking to build on their points gap to Mercedes at the top, but instead found themselves victims of circumstance. They will be happy to have rescued what they could, whilst also quietly pleased with their pace over the practice sessions earlier in the weekend. They need to seriously avoid similar slip-ups in the future though, as this year it seems that every last point will count til the bitter end.
Red Bull-Renault (3rd & DNF)
Daniel Ricciardo, P3: This is another weekend where Ricciardo has had to settle for being the ‘best of the rest’ with no real ability within his car to catch the two ahead of him. However, he will know this and just be grateful for the champagne as the Ferraris floundered. He even shared his customary ‘shoey’ with Sir Patrick Stewart this time out.
Max Verstappen, DNF: A very unfortunate race for Max had an incredibly promising start. At the start he used the height of his impressive instinct, diving round the outside of both Vettel and Bottas, squeezing both into a shallow entry of turn 1 allowing him to swoop around the outside and into P2 behind Hamilton. However, this was soon all undone as on lap 11 his electrical system gave up, much to his fury.
Team Summary: A mixed weekend for Red Bull will see them simultaneously rueing their car’s inherent lack of pace and electrical reliability, whilst also being happy to secure yet another podium which they weren’t counting on at all. Their upgrades so far have seemed not to work above all. This will be massively concerning going forward.
Force India-Mercedes (5th & 6th)
Sergio Perez, P5: In my opinion Sergio is mainly to blame for Force India not doing even better this weekend. During the later stages of the race the team wanted to swap Perez and Ocon, giving the Frenchman the chance at over-taking the Red Bull ahead of them. However, Perez set about negotiating with the team instead of following instruction, meaning that as both cars battled they lost grip and ultimately pace. The final result of this was Vettel making use of the in-fighting to pick both of them off before the finish. Every point counts and Perez should have moved aside if the team thought it was right.
Esteban Ocon, P6: Another hugely impressive outing for Ocon, whose stock is rising higher and higher as the race weekends go by. There is no doubt in my mind that he is now the favourite young driver in the Mercedes junior programme, as Pascal Wehrlein is often not even managing to outscore Marcus Ericcson. Running as high as second at one point, he would have done even better if Force India had put their foot down and told Perez to move aside; a podium was within possibility as he had much newer tyres than third placed Ricciardo as well.
Team Summary: Force India rather shot themselves in the foot today, losing out on a potential podium as their drivers’ infighting and on track antics limited their pace and strategy calls. However, 5th and 6th still gives a very handy points haul of 18 and helps them once again gain on Red Bull ahead of them as only Ricciardo finished.
Toro Rosso-Renault (DNF & DNF)
Daniil Kvyat, DNF: A bizzarre retirement from Daniil can mainly be put-down to his team’s lack of incisiveness. However, before that the day didn’t really start well either, as Kvyat stalled his car on the formation lap and was passed by every other car. The regulations state that he had to start at the back, but was given a drive through penalty as he did not. Weirdly he was then penalised again, for an issue that no-one seems to be too clear on: because they didn’t penalise him properly the first time? A 10 second stop-go was added to a drive-through and Kvyat’s colourful language showed his inner mind. It was during this stop-go penalty where the team were unable to fit the rear right wheel and the engine over-heated, cutting out completely.
Carlos Sainz, DNF: A short trip to the barrier, via Felipe Massa’s Williams was how Sainz’ race was ended. Romain Grosjean’s Haas lightly clipped Carlos into the grass verge and the rear torque spun up spitting him across the circuit and forwards into the surprised Massa. That was all she wrote for Carlos, who also had a disappointing saturday when out-qualified by Daniil.
Team Summary: A very disappointing weekend for Toro Rosso, where they lost ground to Williams behind them. Whilst two points is not much to lose out by, it was the manner of their implosion which is the major concern. Sainz’ ill-fated dip onto the grass spelt his doom, but Kvyat’s strange retirement was completely avoidable from the team. Must do better in further ventures, especially as they have no real hope of ever catching Force India ahead. They must aim to finish in this 5th place.
Williams-Mercedes (9th & DNF)
Lance Stroll, P9: Finally! It is points for Stroll! What is more he didn’t even luck into them: I would say that this 9th place is very deserved for the young driver who many, including myself, have lambasted and criticised due to his poor performances thus far. He kept a cool head under pressure from much more experienced drivers such as Hulkenberg and Magnussen and stuck to his guns, even over-taking a stricken Fernando Alonso for his eventual P9. Following Massa’s retirement his team needed him to step up and he did so accordingly, with no better place to do it than his home country. Whether this will settle his nerves for future races and allow him to move forward is yet to be seen, but let’s see! Qualifying better will also be high on his list
Felipe Massa, DNF: Massa cannot be blamed for a completely freak retirement at the hands of Carlos Sainz’ odd spin and hit. Once again trouncing Stroll in qualifying could not save him from being hit up the rear by a rogue Toro Rosso into turn 3 on lap one. Back to the drawing board in Baku then.
Team Summary: Williams have made small inroads to Toro Rosso ahead of them and I expect that next weekend might provide a similar story due to Baku’s huge long straights. Soon their pedigree should shine through and they will take the 5th place in the standings, but whether they can hang onto that with the pack chasing behind them is another matter.
Nico Hulkenberg, P8: Again Hulkenberg has proved himself to be vastly superior to Palmer in the other car: making it to Q3 a whole second ahead of his team-mate who could only manage 15th on the grid. It should come as no surprise then that he finished well in the points whilst Palmer again failed to chalk up a score. Was impressive in his tussle with Magnussen and Stroll also, taking the car beyond what it’s power unit seemed capable of doing.
Jolyon Palmer, P11: Whilst this weekend proved a slight improvement on the track, the out of the car stories for Jolyon will be highly worrying. Rumours have started to circle about the young Russian Sergey Sirotkin taking Palmer’s seat sooner than later before this season’s conclusion. Another more romantic story, but one which will still be hugely bitter to Palmer, is that we once again saw Robert Kubica in an F1 car as he tested the 2012 Renault F1 machine in Valencia this past week. Kubica was highly rated, seen as a champion in waiting. This, along with rumours of Alonso re-joining in 2018 instead should Robert not be up to the task given his injuries, will have Palmer sweating even more than usual. I do not delight in this, I want to see Brits in the sport doing well: but Palmer has not been doing well and F1 waits for no man.
Team Summary: Renault have taken another small step towards Williams above them and will be every increasingly happy with their decision to sign Hulkenberg, who has proved pretty reliable and consistent of late. They have also had an interesting week of the track which has piqued interest in the romantic return of Kubica, as well as heightening their profiles ahead of the next few races in which they will hope to deliver.
Haas-Ferrari (10th & 12th)
Romain Grosjean, P10: A massive beneficiary of retirements in this race, most notably Alonso’s late on in the day. A point will please Romain greatly as he struggled with torque all weekend, spinning on numerous occasions during FP2. What will also be pleasing is that he beat his team-mate on both competitive sessions in the race and qualifying.
Kevin Magnussen, P12: A protagonist in one of the most interesting scraps of the race with Hulkenberg and Stroll, was as good as it got for Magnussen. He was unable to secure a leading role as the others both went on to score good points. Soundly beaten by Grosjean in qualifying as well, so Kevin will look to bounce back next time out.
Team Summary: Haas are doing well to keep pace with Renault ahead of them, the gap of three points is easily closable should they finally be able to exploit a favourable circuit to give both their drivers good points. This was not their cup of tea though, as really they only scored their solitary point from Alonso’s retirement. Baku’s high-speed nature might be similarly confusing to them, but as that circuit is overall a less well known prospect it could provide slip ups that they can capitalise on.
Sauber-Ferrari Marcus Ericsson, P13: At least Ericsson finished this time around and didn’t meet the barrier like he did last weekend. He also firmly beat his team-mate and for any F1 driver that is what you aspire to do first and foremost. The margin of 0.4 seconds to Wehrlein in qualifying will also be a confidence boost looking forward.
Pascal Wehrlein, P15: Pascal’s weekend was much more eventful on the Saturday than it was on Sunday, as he trundled around at the back. During qualifying he was the reason for many drivers being unable to have a second bite at the cherry during Q1, as he dipped a wheel onto the grass at turn 1 and catapulted into the barrier accordingly. However, what must be noted is that on both days he did actually lack pace compared to Ericsson: being out-qualified and out-raced.
Team Summary: With a year old engine, these kind of weekends are difficult for Sauber who rely much more on their car’s ability under slow speed corners than fast winding bends. Considering this they did well to get Ericsson so far up the field. Expect future painfully fast circuits like Spa and Monza to be much of the same. They will be very grateful that Fernando Alonso’s car let him down again as they still have a 4 point lead.
Stoffel Vandoorne, P14: Stoffel’s weekend was another quiet one, but then it is bound to be when your team-mate is the ultimate centre of attention with constant monitoring due to his delicate contract situation. The cloud hovering over Vandoorne’s head is of course Alonso and the terrible state of the Honda engines in his debut year. As such it is difficult to follow much about him; the general consensus is that he is doing a decent job to remain motivated with the equipment he is being given. P16 and P14 in qualifying and the race respectively is probably the best that he could have hoped for on this fast-speed circuit.
Fernando Alonso, DNF: Formula 1 re-welcomed Fernando as it has been treating him for the past few seasons: letting him down at the final hurdle, despite his best efforts. Alonso once again managed to drag the lame McLaren far beyond it’s capabilities in both qualifying, where he clocked in at P12 and the race where he was running as absurdly high as 4th at one point when he starting dictating his own strategy by calculating Ferrari pace around him; kind of amazing. In all, Fernando benefitted from the safety car and retirements and was on course to finish 10th with a solitary point, but guess what happened? Yup, once again his Honda engine gave up on him just as it did in the Indy500 and as it has done all year. I have a feeling that when Alonso dies Honda executives will carry him to his grave, just so they can let him down one last time. I know that’s an old joke but this time it is certainly relevant. As soon as Fernando clambered from the car he made his way into the grand stand where he greeted his new American and Canadian fans from his time at Indy. Rumour has it that IndyCar might be the destination for this great champion next year, as he has issued a warning to McLaren: win or I leave.
Team Summary: Well, business as usual for this fallen giant isn’t it really? To be fair to them, that they were even running so high as 10th on such a power dependent track is probably an upside to yet another dismal weekend. The news behind the scenes is far more interesting. As reported today on SkyF1 Mansour Ojjeh, a McLaren shareholder has been holding regular meetings with Mercedes Benz executives and today met personally with Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda. It would seem that a McLaren break from Honda to re-unite with Mercedes is all but confirmed unless this is an elaborte ploy to scare Honda into some meaningful action. Well, at least McLaren have won something since switching back to Honda: the raft race which is frequently held in Montreal when F1 comes to town. They still sit plum last in the table though.
Race Review & Analysis
This race was a joy to watch, pretty much from start to finish. A messy start which claimed Sainz and Massa also caused many problems for Vettel as well. The latter incident probably gave the race action it’s true longevity as Sebastian fought tooth and nail through the field on his recovery drive, limiting Hamilton’s point gain on him. However, when talking of Hamilton it must be said that the front of this race was rather boring; Hamilton led from start to chequered flag, not even being passed in the pit stop session either. Obviously, that is not his fault but it would have been good to see him challenged at some point in the race, as well as seeing the action up and down the grid.
Other notable action included Verstappen’s excellent and instinctive overtaking of all three of Vettel, Bottas and Raikkonen at the start. Secondly we saw a large scrap on lap 17 between Magnussen, Hulkenberg and Stroll, as well as seeing Perez and Ocon embark on a long and seemingly embittered duel from around lap 50 onwards. Both Force India drivers thought they should have been ahead of the other on team orders and in the end neither really won out as Vettel pounced on them both. There was also the customary safety car around this circuit with the hard shunt between Sainz and Massa, as well as the strategical intrigue that usually follows. A good watch all around, with plenty of excitement and disappointment in equal measure across the field.
Next Time Out: Azerbaijan Grand Prix
So, with the events of this weekend behind us, we draw our attention to the “fastest street circuit in the world” in Baku. Whilst it is obvious that Azerbaijan wished to promote itself as a European venue with European economic stature last time, the race there last year, dubbed the “European Grand Prix” hardly put it on the map sporting wise. This year it is just the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Even though the event was hailed with great fanfare with talk of multiple safety cars, the race itself bored to the bone in my humble opinion and was fairly processional. Maybe this time we will see a better spectacle as a vessel for the continuing championship fight.