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2018 Canadian Grand Prix: Qualifying Analysis

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Sebastian Vettel clinched pole for the 2018 Canadian Grand Prix, and was followed by Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen. The three together managed to dislodge six time winner and circuit favourite Lewis Hamilton out of the top 3, and the Briton had to settle for fourth place on the grid.

Vettel claimed pole position at a circuit where Mercedes has had pole for the last five years, and where his title rival Hamilton has been a favourite. While the scarlet team has a way of building momentum over the race weekend.

From Friday Free Practice to Qualifying, it looked more like a Red Bull and Mercedes fight, however in the German’s words “Yesterday, I think we were n a bit of trouble, I wasn’t really happy with the car, we had some problems and I just couldn’t get the rhythm, usually I like this track”. Speaking of the contrast in qualifying, he said “The car was incredible in quali. It just kept getting quicker”.

His team-mate had to settle for fifth place on the grid followed by Red Bull Racing driver Daniel Ricciardo in sixth. The fight between the top six was the closest so far in the season, where a fraction of a second splits them apart. When it comes down to such a narrow margin, the tiniest mistake can cost you a place or two, as seen with Hamilton where he locked up thrice on one lap and although he was quick it cost him a place in the top three. The same was with Raikkonen who could have been in the top three, but made an error in his final sector and then abort his final attempt in the third session of qualifying.

While the top six have secured their grid spots, the driver who was best of the rest was Renault driver Nico Hulkenberg, who has been consistent in securing P7 at most of the race weekends so far. The German was followed by Force India’s Esteban Ocon in P8, his team-mate Carlos Sainz in P9 and ex-teammate and Force India driver Sergio Perez in P10.

The Renault drivers often occupy similar spots as p7 or p9 and this year their main contenders are Force India, as they will fight for fourth place with them. But Force India’s limitations in developing their car due to financial issues, means they will have limitations at future races in the season.

Vettel’s fastest time of the 1:10 .764 seconds was the new track record. Although he had set the fastest time in all three sectors to string together his quick lap, he got beaten by Verstappen in the first sector. The sector times of the final session of qualifying were as follows:

Sector Driver Time
S1 Verstappen 19.420
S2 Vettel 22.626
S3 Vettel 28.570

A lot of times at a track like Montreal, a safety car or virtual safety car means it is very difficult keeping the tyres within the optimum temperature window. With the circuit being harsh on brakes, brake temperatures is something teams have to factor in when it comes to the cooling of the car and setup. As the track starts coming alive, the times start getting quicker, but it can also me a lot of brake dust on the tarmac, which can affect grip and balance for some later in the race. Brake by wire issues are common at this track and they either cause a retirement or bad performance issues for some.

With dropping temperatures during the race, pitstops and tyre compounds used will play key in determining the outcome of the race. While the FP2 runs indicated that the Mercedes look very competitive and strong on the ultra-soft and supersoft tyres in their long run pace/ race trims, it still can be a different ball game altogether when it comes to the race. It is likely that Ferrari and Red Bull will step up their game by then, and try their best to dislodge the Silver Arrows from the podium at one of their favourite circuits.

When it comes to engine power at this power sensitive circuit, there were talks of Renault’s new engine upgrade being boosted by an extra 20bhp, but it would still mean they would have 20bhp more to go to equal the Mercedes or Ferraris. However this weekend Red Bull Racing team have used the upgraded unit, and Verstappen’s final attempt in the Q3 session could be a indicator of the same. As far as the rumours about Ferrari cheating are concerned, the current result has proved that their engine as a whole is not a bad package and powerful enough around circuits like these. Vettel too had a mistake in his final attempt but it did not cost him much since the car and engine package seemed to have worked perfectly to generate the overall put come devoid of the error.

Another point to note, but a minor one is how Hamilton’s psyche evolves during the course of a race weekend. The psychosis of the drivers in contention for the title often plays as a huge factor in the battle that evolves through the season. At circuits like Montreal, and Silverstone where the Briton stamps his authority, it doesn’t just boil down to the race.

For the four time British World Champion, it is often the case, where if the rhythm does not build from a Friday to Sunday, it can play havoc with demotivating him and thats when a driver like Sebastian Vettel has the edge over him. An example of this is the 2016 season, when Nico Rosberg would use those bad weekends to his advantage.

While Canada marks one third of the season done, a win at tracks like these can motivate or demotivate a driver, and when it comes to the Vettel versus Hamilton battle, this is not the first time Ferrari has broken a Mercedes record of taking consecutive poles, they have managed that at China earlier this year. A feisty factor that adds into this is Verstappen starting in the same row as Hamilton, and the Dutch hasn’t had a crash or incident yet this weekend.

Ideally the Silver Arrows strategy will be to have Bottas take care of Vettel while Hamilton gets to battle Verstappen for his third place. However, if Ferrari uses their strategy correctly they can have Raikkonen play into the game as second gun man from the start of the grand prix. This weekend marks the 100th race without a win for the Finn, and it also marks the 100th race where a Merc, Ferrari or Red Bull Racing car have had a victory. The last time a driver who wasn’t from these three outfits and had one a race was Raikkonen with Lotus F1 team at Australia in 2013.

The Canadian circuit sometimes has thrown up boring races, when Mercedes had a superior advantage over majority of the grid, but when the fight between the top 6 is so close; one has to rewind back to some of the races here where there has also been a lot of drama. The start can be a chaotic one here, rain is often a factor, and if there is something to add to it, it is the straight at the Wall of Champions where a lot of drivers tend to mistakes or crash into it.

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