Canadian GP Review by Bob Constanduros
Sebastian Vettel was in fine form both on and off the track after last weekend’s win in the Canadian Grand Prix at Montreal. Having taken advantage of Ferrari’s latest engine upgrade, he scored a popular win on the 40th anniversary of Gilles Villeneuve’s win at the circuit, his own 50th career win and his second in Canada.
But he wasn’t letting anyone write the race off as being boring – even if it was a bit processional. “We’ve had seven races this year,” he told a German journalist who asked why the race had been tedious. “I think some were phenomenal, some were boring – but next week the World Cup is starting and I promise you that a lot of the games will not be exciting – but still people will watch it – but some games will be incredible. That’s what we always look forward to – but it can’t just always continue to go up and get better. So, I don’t know, there’s no reason, don’t even look for an answer, don’t write anything. Write about something else.”
And there was a bon mot about the consequences of the premature chequered flag, which really shows Sebastian’s excellent sense of humour. “Some of the marshals were already celebrating so… I think they peaked a bit early. Most of them are men, so it might happen.” This went over the heads of most of the journos present.
He had been imperious on the track, reserving the best until last in qualifying and then controlling the race as he wished. Clearly Ferrari had taken a move forwards, as Mercedes’ Toto Wolff acknowledged. The Austrian boss said that Ferrari had overtaken them with the best power and fuel consumption on what is traditionally a tough track on engines.
And while Renault also had an updated power unit at this Grand Prix, Mercedes had had to delay theirs due to a quality control issue. That had cost Lewis Hamilton third place with an early race power issue and it very nearly cost Valtteri Bottas his second place, the Finn admitting that he was saving fuel on what was his last lap when he very nearly missed out to a charging Max Verstappen. The result, however, due to the mix-up with the chequered flag – an official’s fault, not the celebrity flag-waver – was taken on the 68th lap although even then, Max was less than a second behind.
Even if the race itself wasn’t the most exciting, there was an interesting mix-up in the order with some significant changes. Vettel was ultimately supreme, taking that vital pole position but teammate Kimi Raikkonen was decidedly lack-lustre. You could say that same of Lewis Hamilton, here in Canada where he already five wins from pole, plus an extra pole and an extra win. He was hobbled in the race, but didn’t get it together in practice or qualifying either being outperformed in both the latter and the race by his teammate, who scored his fourth second place in seven races this year. For the fourth time this year, Hamilton didn’t top a single session.
Making it a neat clean sweep of three different manufacturers in the first three of both qualifying and the race was Max Verstappen. The young Dutchman – who reminded us that he is still only 20 – came to Montreal with some of the press on the offensive, following his accident in Monaco. His reply was to threaten – light heartedly – to head-butt anyone who mentioned it again. The Press Association’s Phil Duncan stood to reveal his 6ft plus height when he asked Max again about the accident, suggesting that Max might only reach his chest if he carried out his threat.
What we didn’t know was that Max had a different approach this weekend: gone were either of his parents and manager. He was on his own. How much did that – plus Renault’s updated engine – affect his weekend? Difficult to know from our perspective but it seemed to work. He was quickest in all three free practice sessions, starting third on the grid and finishing a close third to Valtteri Bottas. If his lone approach did have an effect, it was the right one.
The top three’s teammates filled the next three places with varying measures of performance, starting with Daniel Ricciardo – caught in the closing stages by Hamilton – and working downwards to Kimi Raikkonen. Renault’s performance of seventh and eighth for their pair confirmed the step taken with the power unit and it was interesting to see Esteban Ocon leading the charge behind them after the honeymooning Sergio Perez suffered an early delay.
There’s no doubt that Charles Leclerc is doing a brilliant job in the Sauber and he was in the points again, whereas McLaren, Haas, Wiliams and Toro Rosso weren’t on this occasion. Of course, the latter two teams lost a driver each on the first lap which was a shame after Hartley put his Toro Rosso into 12th spot on the grid – again with updated Honda unit which his teammate didn’t have until raceday. The latter then chased home Leclerc with 11th place from the back of the grid.
It’s easy to knock some of these historical teams who are under-performing, but that is to detract from genuinely hard-working team members who are doing what they can for their team. That the basic concept may be flawed in some way, or that they are under-financed is not down to them. The buck stops at management, and not with the troops.
There had been some interesting racing further down the order but it didn’t grab the attention of Liberty top staff who had left before the end of the race. Of course, they had no further business at the track and may have decided on an early departure for all kinds of reasons but it was interesting to see them leaving before the chequered flag – just as Bernie Ecclestone used to.
Talking of Liberty Media, I’m frequently asked how they are getting on, are things better under them? My reply is mixed; I think that what they are trying to do is still correct and many initiatives like the Pirelli hot laps for VIPs in road cars from Aston Martin, Mercedes and McLaren are excellent but there are several areas where they have taken a step backwards.
They’ve taken on a huge number of staff and obviously all these new people have to adapt their trade to Formula One, but they’ve lost some good people and yet promoted some of the useless ones. Hopefully it will all come out in the wash, as they say.
And there’s nothing like a really tough period of races to sort the wheat from the chaff. And here comes Formula One’s first triple-header – followed two weeks later by a double-header: five races in six weekends. It’s going to get busy – or, when the going gets tough, the tough get going.