Sunday, 10 June 2012

Canadian GP Report: Lewis in seventh heaven

Seven races in 2012, and now seven different winners. And for all of the variation and talk of lotteries, there always seemed something absurd about Lewis Hamilton never having visited the winner's circle this year. That particular wrong was righted today.

Lewis had the whole thing under control from an early stage of the Canadian Grand Prix, despite the odd adventure which we've come to expect at this Montreal venue.

Lewis Hamilton took a fine win today,
and now leads the championship
Credit: Morio / CC
For the most part the race for the win was a game for three players: Lewis, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso running in close order out front. Seb led off the line and scampered off in the fashion to which we've grown accustomed, but Lewis in second place gradually hauled him in and then got ahead by staying out a lap longer at the first stops and being able to hold Seb off while he got sufficient heat into his tyres. Fernando Alonso threatened to be the wild card, as he stayed out two laps longer than Lewis and cleared them both. However, it also took his Ferrari a while to get its tyres to operating temperature and Lewis cruised past him in the DRS zone at his earliest convenience.

From that point on Lewis had the race in the palm of his hand it seemed, streaking into a lead of the region of 3-4 seconds and retaining it. But we should have known that at Montreal things are never that simple. Many had been speculating about the feasibility of a one stop strategy as tyre wear, particularly on the softs, was low this weekend. Lewis out front blinked first and pitted for a second time, and Alonso and Vettel's pitwalls hoped their cars' boots could stay in shape until the end via a circa 50 lap stint and thus decided to roll the dice by eschewing a second stop. As it was, neither rolled a six: Seb got a two and finished in fourth, while Nando got a one and finished fifth.

Ferrari rolled the dice on strategy, but it didn't come off
and Alonso sank to fifth by the end
Credit: Ryan Bayona / CC
That familiar phrase, 'tyres falling off a cliff', was the culprit. Both cars' laptimes faded disastrously, and as well as Lewis usurping them Romain Grosjean and Sergio Perez, both on one-stop strategies themselves, also got ahead and completed the podium in that order. Vettel cut his losses eventually and pitted with a handful of laps left and managed to scramble ahead of the obdurate but now brick-slow Alonso before the end.

Of course, their strategy decisions reflected the maxim of risk and reward and it's very easy to be wise with the benefit of hindsight, and at the time of the decision it seemed they had little to lose from the approach (no one foresaw that Grosjean and Perez would be able to get ahead). If their tyres had held on (as they did with Grosjean, whose boots were of a similar vintage), I'd be writing a very different report right now, and given that Ferrari was criticised in Monaco for missing out on a possible win by 'playing it safe' on strategy to an extent you can see how pitwall strategists are damned if they do and damned if they don't. Additionally, both were probably wary of emerging from their stops behind Grosjean, who continued at a fair clip until the very end. Still, it seemed odd that both teams took such a risk, especially Ferrari who has been preaching the virtues of a playing a percentage game this year.

None of this should detract however from Lewis Hamilton's star of the show performance in Montreal. As mentioned, the race was under his spell from the point he sailed past Fernando Alonso after the first stops, and it continues his 2012 season characterised with all of the old pace and aggression but losing the impulsiveness and ill-judgement on show in 2011. And he now leads the drivers' table.

Romain Grosjean claimed an impressive,
and timely, second place
Credit: Morio / CC
Grosjean and Perez's surprise results as mentioned were achieved by putting a one stop strategy to good use and thus continue Montreal's tradition of slightly madcap finishing orders. In Perez's case he performed his party piece: going all the way to lap 41 on a single set of prime tyres before pitting for the only time. For both drivers the result is timely: criticism for Grosjean was growing due to his propensity of getting involved in early race contact. But each time he's avoided this he's scored good points, and today he took his best ever F1 result and on a day that his team mate was nowhere. While for Perez his classic drive to third place (his second podium of the year) may alter the views of those who suspected that, just maybe, with a 2013 Ferrari seat on the horizon possibly he was beginning to take his eye off the ball.

It's true what they say: you never get an ordinary race at Montreal. And this remained the case today even when, perhaps in the biggest surprise of all, there isn't a single safety car period.

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