CANADIAN GP REVIEW By Bob Constanduros
I’m sure you – like me – were impressed by Lewis Hamilton’s victorious race in Canada. His extraordinary pole position and imperious race performance showed him at his very best and why he is a three time World Champion and why he could well be a four- or even five-time champion in the future.
But it also showed commitment from him and particularly from Mercedes AMG Petronas. They obviously went back to Brackley after the Monaco debacle and really worked hard to analyse what had gone wrong and how it shouldn’t go wrong again. That was always Ross Brawn’s philosophy at BAR-Honda/Brawn/Mercedes: don’t tell me why it went wrong, tell me why it won’t go wrong again.
So James Allison got the best out of his boys and kept Mercedes in the ballpark all weekend in Montreal. But come qualifying, you always wonder just how much more Mercedes and their rivals have in reserve, how much they can turn up the engine to claim pole position. The answer was more than enough for Mercedes. And Lewis responded too with an amazing lap. At times like that, you look at your rivals but particularly your teammate, but when you start notching up advantages over the latter in the order of three tenths, then you know the driver is more than pretty special.
Of course, that was maybe no surprise to the regular readers of this column. I pointed out in my preview that Lewis had won this race five times already, had also been on pole five times; he was the man to beat. Even Valtteri’s performance in inferior equipment here had been impressive, so it should have come as no surprise that this was the pair to beat.
Ferrari, however, were right up there in practice, heading Mercedes in FP2 and FP3, once the track was slightly cleaner. Track conditions were precarious with dust early on and later wind – which helped to at least disperse the dust. But honours seemed fairly even going into qualifying. Having said that, Mercedes always seem to have that little bit extra. Ferrari tried to get themselves some extra ultrasoft tyres for Q3 by using supersofts in Q1 but even with that extra advantage they couldn’t depose the imperious Hamilton. It was a brilliant performance.
And it was backed up in the race itself by ‘a walk in the park.’ Of course, Ferrari hobbled themselves here, thanks partially due to that mega-start from Max Verstappen. I don’t think we were really expecting Renault’s engine to provide Red Bull with enough puff to put themselves on a par with Ferrari and Mercedes, hence the drivers’ grid positions, but that didn’t stop that precocious teenager Max Verstappen from slicing his way through the traffic at the first corner to hold second place, even if it was at the expense of Sebastian Vettel’s front wing.
It took a lap or two under race conditions – rather than safety car conditions – before the damage really asserted itself and after a pit stop for the new front wing, Sebastian was really on the back foot. When he was winning World Championships from the front, Sebastian didn’t prove himself an adept racer at coming through the traffic; indeed, sometimes he made a right hash of it, tangling with everyone he could as he tried to come through the field from a lowly grid position.
He’s now older and wiser and more mature, and his rise through the field after the pit stop was slow and steady. When he came into the limelight, challenging the Force Indias on his second set of ultrasoft tyres, his overtaking manoeuvres into turn one were incisive and committed. He deserved more but it underlined why he’s Lewis Hamilton’s nemesis and another reason why this season is a very special one.
What a great job from the Force Indias again! There was much talk about swapping the drivers so that Esteban Ocon could challenge Daniel Ricciardo at the head of the DRS queue, but I don’t recall seeing Ocon really close enough to even get by if he’d been allowed to. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a great fan of the young Frenchman but he’s really got to be banging on Sergio’s door if he wants the team to give him a chance and ask – with the chance of no response – for his teammate to let him by. Esteban wasn’t close enough, he wasn’t strong enough, even on the newer tyres. I don’t think he deserved the chance.
There was much talk about Honda and Fernando Alonso, back from his Indy experience. Of course, the pair very nearly scored a World Championship point which would have been some reward for their perseverance but I’m still at a loss as to wonder how they got themselves in this position anyway. Back in the eighties and nineties, McLaren virtually had a second team pounding round and round Suzuka, developing Honda’s Formula One engines. People like Emanuel Pirro made a career as a test driver for McLaren-Honda.
I guess there was some reason why they couldn’t do that again, but couldn’t they have put the engine in a sports car or anything just to work on development? Better still, maybe they should have powered Lance Stroll’s Williams last year when he was doing his own private testing around the Grand Prix circuits of the world. Somewhere, Honda and McLaren just didn’t prepare the ground properly. Was it all Honda’s fault?
The story continues that McLaren executives have recently been seen in conversation with Mercedes people and that there could be a swap sometime. I say sometime but I actually mean any time. This really could happen.
Another interesting story was the suggestion from Toto Wolff that Nico Rosberg could be seen in a Ferrari. Wow, that was a good one. What does he know? Nico’s due to drive a Mercedes at the Goodwood Festival of Speed so more from there!
And finally, we’re due to go back to Montreal for the next foreseeable years so that the paddock might finally be built properly. This has been happening for so many years I’ve lost count. I wasn’t there this year as you may know, the first Grand Prix I’ve missed since 1985 and three more to go. I still enjoyed the experience from my sofa, I’m still looking for those little improvements in the show that I see or don’t see here and there. Might come back to that after Baku!