Monday 11 June 2018

Canadian GP Report - Righting the past's wrongs

In this one, the sense of the past was conspicuous.

In a special place for Ferrari Sebastian Vettel took the win
Photo: Octane Photography
Sebastian Vettel took Canadian Grand Prix victory for Ferrari, astonishingly the Italian team's first win in Canada since 2004. And the previous day he had taken its first pole here since 2001.

All this was done on the 40th anniversary of F1's first Montreal visit which then was won by local hero and archetypal Ferrari pilot Gilles Villeneuve, after whom the circuit is named. The four decade milestone was marked on the track's 'Salut Gilles' etching on the start line as well as by son Jacques taking that 1978 Ferrari on a demonstration lap before the race. Judging by the crowd's response to Vettel's win there remains plenty of Scuderia loyalty here.

"The Canadian tifosi, I think they have been waiting long enough for Ferrari to do well here," Vettel noted afterwards. "Forty years after Gilles won his Grand Prix here, I think it's great to show that Ferrari is still alive, that Ferrari is still there, winning races. I'm just extremely proud to become part of that story."

Seb afterwards also paid homage to his own hero Michael Schumacher, the last in red to bag pole and the win at this track. "I think I remember the race in 2004, I think I was watching on TV, so it's crazy to realise," Vettel added.

But perhaps the past of the more recent sort was represented most conspicuously of all. Seb's win was imperious and could have been right from his Red Bull championship-winning pomp. All the hallmarks were there: a not especially large underlying advantage was converted to pole position then to a win with an overwhelming sense of inevitability as he controlled matters out front. From a long way out this one looked in no doubt.

Vettel's win never looked in doubt
Photo: Octane Photography
But not that long a way out. As at the end of Friday practice Vettel declared his running so far a "disaster". Overnight swotting by the team righted things and Vettel did the rest. It was a reminder too that for all the 'big three' squads remain close on competitiveness, and for all that Ferrari hasn't always made the most of things, the red car likely is F1's best all round package in 2018.

"I think I was under control," said Vettel, confirming how it looked. "I managed the gaps to Valtteri [Bottas in second]. During the first stint I tried to build up a little bit of a cushion. I had one lock-up where I lost a bit of time but after that I think it was fairly well managed.

"It wasn't easy with the traffic and so on. In the end I was just praying that we don't run into a problem, which can happen, so I tried to save the car a little bit, stay away from the kerbs and just bring it home."

Appropriately Vettel with it takes back the lead in the drivers' table as well, by a point from Lewis Hamilton. If there exists another parallel with the past then we know how those Seb-Red Bull title charges used to end.

Perhaps best of all for him it all was done in the most unlikely of places. Hamilton has won here six times, including the previous three, but was not a contender on this visit as he trailed in fifth - a result only in part explained by overheating problems causing power drops as well as requiring him to make his pitstop early.

Valtteri Bottas held off Max Verstappen to finish second
Photo: Octane Photography
"I could have had a DNF and lost 25 points [to Vettel]. I'm just grateful the engine made it through today," Hamilton insisted afterwards.

A big part of the explanation too is that Mercedes again struggled more generally - including again with getting the tyres working to its liking. The team admitted its tyre selections - with fewer hyper-softs than its rivals - was an error, and it was the first of a few.

Monaco last time could be written off as an outlier by Merc but - given it got a crushing 1-2 result at Montreal last year - it was harder to explain this one away. And in fairness to the team's boss Toto Wolff he didn't try to - his words for his squad afterwards were damning.

"It is a shit result for us," he said. "It is a strong track for us, but all weekend long we did little mistakes, from the beginning on. The only feeling I have is that we have to wake up.

"We fall behind in every aspect. This is a track where we should have maximised points. It was not about performing damage limitation."

Wolff added that there would be 'consequences' internally.

Max Verstappen took a worthy third place,
putting recent woe behind him
Photo: Octane Photography
Valtteri Bottas was the better of the Mercedes pair and was Vettel's closest challenger throughout, trying his best to keep him honest. And with 15 laps left he looked like he might make things interesting as he closed in, but then he ran wide lapping Carlos Sainz and there his charge ended. He later had to conserve fuel in any case, a matter Bottas said was "critical".

Second place was salvaged, but only just by a tenth from Max Verstappen as Bottas felt he had to lift on the line. It was in effect not close though as the chequered flag was shown early due to a miscommunication - sadly though that didn't stop plenty piling in on model Winnie Harlow waving the flag who was only obeying instructions.

The Red Bull pair finished between the Mercs - a result it will likely take at a track that doesn't suit its Renault engine. Verstappen thus became another to in part right the wrongs of the past given all the criticism he's had recently. He was in stoic mood in and out of the car at Montreal - and on track he was flawless.

Kimi Raikkonen was next home in sixth, a result that could have been better. He made yet another error at qualifying's crunch time and missed an opportunity to gain a place from overcutting Hamilton, though his stop wasn't brilliant either. After that he seemed to lose interest and fell away from the Ricciardo-Hamilton squabble despite having much fresher tyres.

Renault took a one-two in class
Photo: Octane Photography
Renault in effect took a one-two in class by finishing seventh and eighth with Nico Hulkenberg ahead - though underlining the chasm to the 'big six' the yellow pair were lapped by all of them. They finished ahead of Esteban Ocon's Force India who lost a potential seventh place when his rear jack failed at his pitstop. Charles Leclerc impressed yet again to complete the scorers.

It was a place though that likely would have been taken by Fernando Alonso but he retired with an exhaust problem - McLaren more generally sunk further this weekend as the track according to boss Eric Boullier shows up the car's low speed grip problems.

Romain Grosjean likely would have broken his 2018 points duck had he not had to start from the back after his engine went pop as soon as he pulled out of the pits to start qualifying, in almost tragi-comic style.

Whatever the comedy around though Sebastian Vettel was one grinning after this race. There were not many thrills around but that suited Vettel just fine. And from the title perspective things by contrast could barely now be set more tantalisingly.

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