Five things we learned from the Canadian GP
Motorsport.com’s Global Editor-in-Chief Charles Bradley gives his views as Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes returned to winning ways in Montreal.
1: Lewis Hamilton seems untouchable around Montreal
Some drivers are suited to certain tracks, and one of the most-suited combinations in recent times has been Hamilton and the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal.
The track is named after one legend, and Lewis got a reminder of another after qualifying. His stellar Q3 lap equaled Ayrton Senna’s record of 65 pole positions, and – in a very classy touch – the great Brazilian’s family rewarded Lewis with a helmet to mark the occasion. Although it turned out to be a ‘placeholder’ replica, which created a mini social-media fuss, when Lewis gets the real McCoy back home it’ll be richly deserved.
On Sunday, he took another step towards Michael Schumacher’s seven victories at Montreal, and, of course, is now just three shy of equaling Schuey’s all-time pole position record. What an achievement that would be.
The prospect of a full-on title battle with Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari promises to be as good as it gets between genuinely great world champions.
2: Vettel shows he’s willing to put everything on the line
Vettel is a four-time champ, and in Montreal on Sunday he showed why.
For once, Vettel didn’t make his usual lightning start from the front row, and it was Max Verstappen who opportunistically darted to the outside and swept across his bows – mashing the right-side flaps of Vettel’s front wing.
With the damage only becoming apparent when he got up to racing speed, Vettel was forced to pit prematurely to replace his nose – and although it was the original plan to go to the end on this set of tyres, Ferrari spied the opportunity for a ‘free’ second pitstop ahead of the closing stages.
It switched him to the faster ultrasoft tyre, and he zoomed up to the squabbling Force Indias, which had been caught in the ‘DRS train’ behind Daniel Ricciardo’s third-placed Red Bull.
Ricciardo was running soft tyres, and their extra longevity allowed him to pull clear of the ‘pink panthers’ as the laps wound down. With Sergio Perez now losing his DRS advantage, Vettel pounced upon Esteban Ocon as the cars concertinaed together at Turn 1 with as forceful a passing move as you’ll see by a driver with a world championship lead to defend.
A few laps later – having straightlined a chicane, he was pushing so hard – Vettel outbraked Perez for fourth at the final corner with another bold manoeuvre.
It reminded me very much of Nico Rosberg’s brave move to pass Verstappen which helped seal his world title in Abu Dhabi last year. While the stakes weren’t quite as high in Canada, Vettel knew that every point will count in the final reckoning.
His damage limitation game was strong – salvaging fourth from 18th. He’ll need all that, and more, if he’s going to defeat Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes in the long run.
3: Force India got stuck between a rock and a hard place
What a conundrum it was that faced Force India on Sunday.
On the one hand, it had the tantalizing prospect of a podium finish, with only Ricciardo’s Red Bull standing in its way. It had two guns in the chamber, with the experienced Perez and precocious talent Ocon. And yet…
On the other hand, it had Ocon on fresher supersoft tyres than Perez, who was running ahead of him and unable to pass the obstinate Ricciardo. It had Vettel closing on his epic burn from the stern.
So here was the choice: If Perez couldn’t pass Ricciardo, might Ocon be able to? A couple of mild suggestions were made to Perez to let Ocon through, with the assurance he’d hand the position back if he too was unable to pass.
But Perez simply wasn’t having it. He came up with a convenient excuse of there being traffic ahead that might give him a chance to pass, but when he lost DRS on Ricciardo, Force India’s flush was busted. And Vettel snarled past them both with two storming passing moves.
Should Force India have forced the switch upon Perez? In hindsight, yes. Ocon’s fresher tyres were always a benefit, and even if he’d hadn’t passed Ricciardo (who knows?), he might have stayed out of Vettel’s range, giving it a fourth and sixth.
The payoff was cementing itself firmly in fourth position in the constructors’ championship – so in the big picture, this was no disaster.
But perhaps the most telling thing was that Perez defended harder against his teammate than he did against Vettel… Their intra-team feud starts here.
4: McLaren keeps up the pressure on Honda
You have to wonder at what point the relationship between McLaren and Honda becomes untenable, and simply not worthwhile pursuing.
Once again, after another brave performance, Fernando Alonso had to park up with an engine-related failure – this time when he was seemingly within reach of the chequered flag in a points-paying position.
After the race, Eric Boullier did not pull any punches, and his sentiments echoed those of Zak Brown before the weekend.
“It's difficult to find the right words to express our disappointment, our frustration and, yes, our sadness,” said Boullier. “So I'll say only this: it's simply, and absolutely, not good enough.”
5: Stroll removes the rookie stabilizers at last
It was good to see Lance Stroll’s rookie season finally coming good on home turf in Canada, the youngster turning around a woeful qualifying performance into a couple of points with ninth place.
When Felipe Massa was harpooned out of the race by the out-of-control Carlos Sainz at Turn 3, you feared for Williams’s chances – which seems like it’s been fighting against Force India with one arm tied behind its back.
After qualifying a lowly 17th, after only using one set of tyres during Q1, there were intense talks between team management and Stroll’s billionaire father Lawrence. I’m certain that there would have been a frank exchange of views…
But Lance seemed to get his act together on raceday, and showed some of the form that’s expected of him.
It’s like taking off the child’s stabilizers on a pushbike – you can only mollycoddle a youngster for so long, then it’s up to them to show what they can do.
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