After a dismal Monaco showing and skips sadly overflowing with the remains of Felipe’s qualifying and race car, the Scuderia needed a boost as they headed west to Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix. The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve has been home to this race since 1978 and made history in 2001 when the Schumacher brothers took first and second places (Ralf actually triumphing that day). Fernando declared just ahead of the race that he now needs a sequence of four or five races on the podium to have any chance of the Championship.
Controversy surrounding the Mercedes ‘illicit’ Barcelona Pirelli test session continued with a call from the FIA for the team to attend an international tribunal. Politically how much of this is fuelled by Bernie’s allegedly strained relationship with Ross Brawn or Jean Todt’s links with Michelin, who knows, but the eventual outcome is unlikely to become public knowledge until later in the month.
So down to business. Montreal for once shifts emphasis from tyres to brakes with long super- fast straights leading to tight hairpins and chicanes. Brake dust clouds were soon in evidence during Friday free practice as drivers fought to decelerate their charges into ‘Epingle’ and the ‘Wall of Champions’. Keeping tyre temperature balances optimal between front and rears is paramount here with hard pressed rears observing largely redundant rubber upfront. A recipe then for under-steering and corner-cutting to avoid that fatal kiss with the infamous ‘Wall of Champions’. Harnessing brake heat to raise front tyre temperatures was a big opportunity for the Teams.
The boost needed for the Ferrari boys arrived in Friday free practice.
New front wings and upgrades to side aero catapulted Fernando to
the top of the combined time sheets with a hard earned lap of 1:14.8secs
but with Lewis trailing by a mere 0.012secs – Felipe 6th 0.436
behind his team mate.
Later on Saturday with rain leaden skies and cool track temperatures of 16ºC prevailing, the cars gingerly made their way out on circuit for Q1. Initially risking slicks, but soon scurrying back into the pits to switch to inters as showers came and went. The scene was more reminiscent of rally cross than F1 as cars routinely resorted to grass run off areas and escape lanes. Grosjean and Di Resta soon found themselves in the drop zone. More rain heralded the start of Q2 and in no time qualifying had also claimed the scalps of both McLarens and with just two minutes of the Q2 session remaining that of Felipe also. The luckless Brazilian strayed on to the glistening white lines in the run down to turn 3 and soon found the car drifting sidewards at speed into yet another barrier. After much thumping of the steering wheel he emerged from the vehicle unscathed. Q3 was a touch dryer but tempted no one to risk smooth rubber. Throughout qualifying if you were from Finland and called Bottas you were having the time of your life. F1’s Scandinavian rookie was reveling in the tricky conditions finishing 3rd fastest in both Q2 and Q3 and gaining a well earned place on the second row of the grid for both himself and the Williams team. Overarching even this performance was that of Sebastien Vettel who consistently posted green lap times throughout the qualifying sessions to take a deserved pole which frankly never looked in doubt. Fernando again would be in his now customary third row placing on the grid.
Race day heralded warmer and dry weather with track temperatures of 30ºC. Two-stopping was thought to be the optimal strategy and most cars filed out on circuit shod on the option super soft tyre. Only the McLarens and Di Resta selected primes. We were in for a treat.
As the red lights went out the pack surged the short distance to Turn 1 and all made it through the initial tight complex without incident. Vettel made a particularly confident get away and was gaining on the pack at a rate of a second a lap in the early stages. Immediately behind the leader Bottas was finding life tough so far up the grid and soon succumbed to the usually quicker qualifying machinery around him. The leading five cars held station for the first half of the race with Vettel leading Hamilton, Rosberg, Webber and Alonso. Further down the field Felipe was making up for disappointment in qualifying with some great overtaking and a gripping joust with Sutil to elevate himself into a points scoring position by lap 26.
His team mate was also on a charge and on Lap 42 finally got past Webber with both cars having already dispatched Rosberg. Webber, despite losing most of his front wing end plate after being chopped at the hairpin by Van De Garde, continued without any noticeable loss of pace and even briefly came back at Alonso. Ahead of Fernando lay Hamilton who had earlier reported in with DRS issues. The lead Ferrari went in dogged pursuit of the Brit and with seven laps remaining bagged that all important second place which he held until the end. Lewis hung on to the final podium spot and Massa came in 8th after also overhauling Raikkonen – the Finn for once having a lacklustre race possibly down to brake problems. In summary a most entertaining and largely clean race with barely time to draw breath.
It was only some time afterwards that we found out the sad news that a marshal involved in the clearance of Gutierrez’s stricken Sauber had been run over by the trackside crane and had died. A terrible reminder of the many dangers lurking in this sport of ours.
So, Vettel finally broke his and Red Bull’s duck in North America and a number of other race milestones were also reached - not all creditable. For McLaren it was their first time in 66 races that neither car made it into the points. Raikkonen matched Michael Schumacher’s record of continuous points finishes. Force India’s 100th GP outing with Di Resta crossing the line in a worthy 7th position. Amazingly Paul was able to run 80% of the race on his opening set of tyres (surely another record there somewhere).
You might think choice for driver of the day should be awarded to Vettel – starting from pole and leading throughout the race. Your writer would suggest otherwise given Seb’s hefty kiss with the ‘Wall of Champions’ on Lap 10, then later baling out of Turn 1 and really not being challenged hard. My vote would go to Jean-Eric Vergne who made steadfast progress throughout and escaped the attention of what otherwise was excellent TV coverage. Vergne’s 6th place was Toro Rosso’s best finish since 2008 and was achieved of course with the benefit of a Ferrari Type 056 V8 engine.
After the champagne celebrations the teams and drivers went off to a 3 hour Rolling Stones concert in Montreal. Tough life!
Click here for FIA lap chart.
Stefano Domenicali: “ Fernando produced an absolutely extraordinary performance, especially when taking into account that today, our competitors operated at a really high level. Felipe also showed exactly what he could do: managing to bring home points after starting from the back was the best response to those who felt he was affected by the unfortunate incidents of the last few days. I must congratulate the winners, because even if it’s easier to get the job done when starting at the front, it’s also true that they managed to produce a perfect qualifying, a task which we know we must improve on.”
Fernando Alonso: “At the end of an extremely complicated weekend, this second place tastes like a win, because we were competitive and managed to fight with the front running drivers. Now we only have Vettel ahead of us, who was untouchable here and deserved the victory. Even if he has increased his lead, there’s still a long way to go in the championship and there’s plenty of time to catch up. I don’t know if I could have done better if I’d started further up. Qualifying, even in the wet, is our weak point and an.phpect we absolutely must improve on: we are working very hard on that, both back home and at the track.”
Felipe Massa: “After going off the track yesterday, I knew it wouldn’t be easy starting from sixteenth place, but I also knew I had a good car and I tackled the race on the attack, managing to pull off several nice passing moves. However, because of a problem with graining, I lost precious time behind Sutil in the Force India: that’s why I think a strategy based on using two sets of Medium tyres would have seen me gain at least one or two places. Even if I can’t be satisfied with this result it was still a positive day, in which we showed we had a good pace and that we were able to fight.”