Sebastian Vettel claimed his 50th race victory by winning the Canadian GP at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. The Ferrari driver who started the race from pole position was followed by Valtteri Bottas in second place and Max Verstappen in third place. The German’s second victory ends Ferrari’s 14 year long victory drought in Montreal (last win was 2004), and ends Mercedes dominant record of winning every Canadian GP in the hybrid era of the sport. On the other hand, Mercedes Finnish driver claimed his fourth podium at this venue and the fourth this season.
The race had a thrilling start where Lance Stroll lost the rear of his car and collect Brendon Hartley, along with him at Turn 6. While Stroll lost his rear after Turn 5, Hartley was unfortunately on the inside line and got clipped by the rear of Stroll’s car, sent into the barriers and spiraled along with Stroll onto the gravel trap at Turn 6. The nasty crash caused both drivers to retire, and brought out the Safety Car which last till lap 4, due to the debris on the track mostly from the severely damaged Toro Rosso.
McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne and Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson were seen coming into the pits under the Safety Car period, to repair the damages they suffered, as they encountered debris as the two immediate cars behind Stroll and Hartley. The Belgian came in for a nose and wing change (damaged front) while the Swede was seen changing tyres due to a puncture.
Vettel, who had a slow start the weekend, found his momentum in qualifying and was using an upgraded Ferrari engine then and for the race. After a strong qualifying, the German managed pulling a gap over Bottas and finishing the race 5 seconds ahead of him. However the Finn was also under pressure from Verstappen who was closing in on him rapidly.
While the top three finishers did not lose grid positions and finished in their qualifying order, there was a bit of a shuffle further down the grid. Daniel Ricciardo who started sixth on the grid finished fourth while both Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen who started fourth and fifth on the grid had to settle for a fifth and sixth place respectively. For the four time World Champion and six time Canadian GP winner, this is the first time he has finished the race at this venue outside the top three, the only times the Briton has not been on podium is when he had retirements.
Ricciardo managed overtaking Raikkonen for fifth at the start before the safety car, and gained a fourth place when Hamilton pit early due to a engine problem. While Hamilton pit due to the heating issue, Red Bull Racing team executed the perfect pitstop to bring out the Australian ahead of Hamilton.
Raikkonen who also had an edge over Hamilton was pit for a change to the supersoft compound tyre early and resulted in the Finn going out into heavy traffic. Later he was seen having some brake heating issues, and backed off from fighting the Briton. Had the Finn managed a fifth place finish and Hamilton would have finished sixth, Vettel’s lead in the championship would have been more and would have catapulted Ferrari into the top spot in the Constructors’ title. But this is not the first time Ferrari has not prioritised the Finn’s pit-stops.
As far as Red Bull Racing team were concerned their drivers commenced the race on the hyper soft compound, which made them pit their drivers to the prime compound early, with two well executed pits-tops. Normally at a race in Canada, one would see a huge gap between the top two teams and the Milton Keynes squad. But the Renault power upgrade seems to have paid off along with their perfect tyre management. While Verstappen could close in on Valtteri Bottas effortlessly, Ricciardo was able to keep a charging Hamilton at bay on a power hungry circuit over 69 laps.
A strange inference from this race was how Mercedes have started to struggle with overtaking in the new wider F1 cars, specially at tracks like Montreal which were a guaranteed win for them. A fundamental flaw in their car has been the low rake levels and the long wheel base chassis design, which affects the cooling system and balance of the car on the whole. The dirty air from the car ahead can cause turbulence, and in Mercedes case trouble the cooling system of its car which sits fairly low compared to the Red Bulls and Ferraris.
The one drawback Mercedes had was they were the only team to not bring an upgraded power unit, and both Hamilton and Bottas had used the same one for seven races. Their second drawback was they did not factor in Ferraris strengths on various tyre compounds. Therefore coming into the weekend with confidence in their mindset of delivering a strong performance, things took a twist when the margins narrowed down from qualifying to race.
With the new engine rule that allows the use of three power units per season, after which penalties incur, the Silver Arrows team seemed to have stretched it thin by using the same engine for seven races. Hamilton was heard complaining on his pit radio around lap 7, reporting the car was down on power. The Briton had a chassis component that compromised the cooling from the opening lap itself, and resulted in engine overheating. When he was brought into the pits for the tyre change, they tried resolving the issue by opening up the body work and improving the situation, but they lost a place to Ricciardo.
The Renault factory team had driver Nico Hulkenberg finish at his best place so far in seventh, followed by Carlos Sainz in eighth place. Although the Renault car is a long way in comparison to Red Bull in terms of chassis development, but they have been consistent with their performance this weekend and looked competitive with their updated engine unit.
Force India’s Esteban Ocon finished ninth and was followed by Sauber driver Charles Leclerc in tenth place to complete the point’s finishes of the race. For the young Monagasque, a point’s finish at this circuit is a redemption from his crash at his home race, and the third time the driver has claimed a points finish for his back-marker team.
Along with the two retirements at the start, Fernando Alonso’s retirement due to a turbo issue was a gutting one on the 300th GP weekend of his career. The Spaniard who has been struggling to be competitive in the hybrid era of this sport, has been hinting at not enjoying the sport anymore and this retirement can only add to the frustrations. However, he has had a strange statistic at this venue where he has had the highest number of retirements, eight at Montreal in his entire career.
A change from Honda to Renault engines cost the Woking squad roughly a 100 million USD, to make sure the team was competitive again. But their lack of competitiveness despite the engine change could cost them an ace driver by the end of the season. However, a positive the double World Champion has to look forward to be his participation in the iconic 24 Hours Le Mans race next weekend with Toyota Racing.
Although the race was dull post the Safety Car period, and flagged before the 70th lap in a confusing error, the result that has impacted the Drivers’ title is interesting. With the current result Vettel leads Hamilton by one point with a total of 121 points while the latter has a total of 120 points. Bottas is in third place with a total of 86 points and is followed by Ricciardo who is fourth with a total of 84 points and Raikkonen in fifth with a total of 68 points. In the Constructor’s title Mercedes lead with a total of 206 points, while Ferrari have brought down the gap to 14 points with a total of 189 points. Red Bull Racing team are in third place with a total of 134 points, and are followed by Renault who are in fourth place with a total of 86 points.
The last two races might have been a slow and dull in terms of entertainment, and have been won from pole position, but it is getting harder to predict the outcome going into the weekend. As the momentum of the race weekend builds the pecking order is sometimes clear, but with the performance margins being so narrow between the contenders, it all boils down to who will make the least mistakes on track, and which team brings the best package of both engine and chassis to the respective circuit. With one-third of the calendar over, the next few races till summer break are going to be an interesting tale that will unfold until summer break in August. The next race weekend is scheduled from the weekend of June 22-23, 2018 at the Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet, France.