Saturday 18 June 2011

Canadian GP Report: Wet a drive from Jenson

A few stats from Jenson Button's drive in Canada last Sunday. Number of pitstops: 5; number of drive-through penalties served: 1; number of laps in last place: 4 (laps 37-40); number of collisions with other cars: 3; number of punctures: 1; average speed: 46mph; place at the chequered flag: 1st.

Jenson Button's win in Canada was stunning
Credit: Alex Comerford / CC
No doubt had you written a drama script based on Jenson's afternoon in Canada it would have been thrown back at you by the producer with comments scrawled on it to the effect of 'unbelievebale' and 'outrageous'. Yet, it is exactly what happened, and the numbers tell the story of what an outlandish and stunning performance it was from the Englishman, as well as what a potty race it was in Canada. Without hyperbole, it will surely go down as an all-time classic.

It was very much a race of two halves for Jenson. His first half of the race was somewhat clumsy, and herein he ended the race of two other drivers (Hamilton and Alonso) in clashes. Both did have the whiff of the racing incident about them, but speaking personally I'd marginally attribute any blame for both to Jenson. His change of direction before the Hamilton collision looked a bit unnatural and robust to me, while in the Alonso contretemps Nando gave him just enough room and no more, and Jenson seemed to understeer off a kerb into him. These, and a few other things besides, served to put Jenson in last place just after half distance.

But then in the final 30 laps as the track dried and took slicks, Jenson was like a driver on another plane, not just compared with his own first half performance but compared with everyone else out on track. He consistently took seconds out of all of his opponents on each lap, came through the field (literally) and got into spitting distance of Sebastian Vettel, who'd led all the way up until that point, by the last lap. Part way around the final tour Seb was pressured off the road, allowing Button to lead and win in short order. F1 can be a magnificent sport sometimes.

As far as anyone can tell this was only the third time in the history of F1 that a driver has won from being in last place in the same race, after Jenson himself won having been last in Australia last year and the infamous Singapore 2008 win for Fernando Alonso. Though in both of those cases the places were almost entirely gained via pitstops rather than the overtaking that Jenson employed in Canada. Yes, he was aided by the odd safety car, reducing the gaps to the leaders, but it can't take away from what was a breathtaking performance.

It's also the sort of display that we've seen from Jenson before. He shows precision and control as well as confidence and commitment in these sort of wet-to-dry conditions, as seen in his maiden win in Hungary in 2006, as well as in his two wins last season in Australia and China. Martin Brundle has commented that it's almost like he attacks the track more when it's in a perfidious state than when it's bone dry. If you're being hyper-critical you'd ask where some of that aggression goes on days when it isn't raining.

Vettel led until the last lap
Credit: Alex Comerford / CC
Vettel’s last lap faux pas has brought back unhappy memories of his occasional mistakes under pressure seen in previous years. But to press this point would be harsh as it was his first costly error of the season, and he also drove very well in Canada. This was another track that was supposed to be a relative weakness for his Red Bull, yet he took pole and led all the way to the last lap, in tricky conditions, with walls close and enduring several safety cars periods and a red flag. Once again his bravery and assurance was on show just as in Korea last year, and as then he was routinely seconds ahead of the next car in the first lap post the safety car with unknown levels of grip beneath him.

Seb's salvaging of second place means his championship lead is now 60 points (upwards of 20 points in old money), and barring disasters it’s very hard to see how he won’t claim his second world title this year. Further, the tightness of the pack behind makes it hard to see how any one driver could get a run of results to usurp Vettel even if he does slip.

Michael Schumacher put in the best performance of his comeback
Credit: Alex Comerford / CC
Elsewhere, Schumi put in by far the best performance of his comeback in coming fourth. Indeed he could have finished even higher as he aggressively moved up to second place in the wet part of the race, only to be mugged by a couple of DRS-assisted cars in the late stages, thus demonstrating a definite downside of the new overtaking aid. We’ll nevertheless see if this is Schumi finally getting to grips with things in his return to the sport, or a false dawn (there have been a few already).

And the knives are out for Lewis it seems, after a brief but haphazard run in Canada. In three racing laps he managed to squeeze in two collisions and one further near miss. Nevertheless, the language of the Apocalypse being used (especially in Niki Lauda's case) is rather extreme (I feel the Button clash wasn't Lewis's fault, as I said), though it can’t be denied he’s making rather too regular contact with other cars right now, as well as that he's clearly not a happy bunny generally.

Then there's Ferrari, who in the dry at least showed improved competitiveness in qualifying second and third, aided by an improved off throttle blown diffuser as well as that the Montreal circuit plays tho their strengths. Their pace tapered off somewhat in the wet of race day. Massa came home sixth after touching a wall going off line onto the wet on slicks lapping a backmarker and damaging his nose, while Alonso was put into the pack by a wrong guess switching to intermediates in the early stages (it seemed odd that they chose to roll the dice when sat in second place - I can't help but think Ferrari's strategic calls are still somewhat deficient), before being eliminated in a clash with Button, already mentioned. The next track, in Valencia, may also suit them.

And finally, a grumble. Once again the race director appeared rather risk averse with the use of the safety car in wet conditions. On two separate occasions when the safety car was out because of the wet conditions it stayed out for longer than many thought necessary, and the track was almost suitable for intermediate tyres by the time the green flag was thrown. You wonder if there's any point taking extreme wet tyres to these circuits if they're not going to be used in racing conditions.

Race results
Race highlights


  1. Great article as always Graham, awful pun though!

    Ha ha

    Matt B

  2. Thanks very much - glad you like it!

    Sorry about the pun :)