From McLaren-Honda winning a race to Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the starship Enterprise drinking Champagne from a sweaty shoe, the 2017 Canadian Grand Prix had it all.
Following an uncharacteristic performance in Monaco where Lewis Hamilton floundered to seventh place, he hit back and dominated this year’s Canadian Grand Prix like only he could; setting a phenomenal pole-position, he led every lap and set the fastest lap on his way to a sixth Canadian victory. It doesn’t get much better than that for the 3-time world champion and the icing on the cake for the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula 1 Team was Valtteri Bottas coming home in second, the team’s first one-two of the year. Just like old times.
Yet, in many circles, it’s Hamilton’s title rival, Scuderia Ferrari‘s Sebastian Vettel, that leaves Canada with a gold star to his name. The German’s record of finishing first or second may have come to an end with his fourth place finish in Canada, but it could have easily been so much worse.
An average start for Vettel saw to it that Hamilton had an unchallenged run to turn one whilst his main title rival dealt with the attentions of Valtteri Bottas and a late-braking Max Verstappen. Indeed, it was the latter’s sweep around the outside of turn one, making the slightest of contact with Vettel’s front wing, that lead to one of the finest comebacks Formula One has seen in recent years.
It wasn’t that long ago that Vettel was criticised for his apparent lack of ability when it came to overtaking and racing wheel-to-wheel with other cars. His critics may have ignored the 2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix where Vettel started the race from the pit-lane but fought his way onto the podium come the race’s conclusion. His drive this Sunday was a performance worthy of comparison.
Following his early pit-stop to change his damaged front wing, Ferrari’s strategists could only do so much; with a “free” pit-stop twenty laps from the finish allowing Vettel to fly in the closing stages, it was nonetheless Vettel’s good ol’ racing skill that softened the championship blow delivered by the dominant Hamilton.
What that showed was Vettel’s willingness to put everything on the line in his quest for a fifth world title. His risky overtake on Esteban Ocon on the dusty line into turn one proved that he isn’t willing to play it safe just yet.
We may have been treated to a brilliant comeback by Vettel as he carved his way through the field but the bitter aftertaste of Canada is that once again, we were denied a wheel-to-wheel battle at the front between the two giants of F1 2017. We had a tantalising taste of it at the Spanish Grand Prix but are yet to have a full race of Hamilton versus Vettel fight for victory…
Vettel’s charge to fourth was aided greatly by that David amongst Goliaths: Sahara Force India. Given their size and budget, Force India are a remarkable prospect – pound for pound they’re the best team in Formula One right now – and were staring at a podium opportunity in Canada with both cars hounding Red Bull Racing‘s Daniel Ricciardo late in the race.
And yet they left Canada with a 5th and a 6th. A superb result on any other day but oh-so painful to see a podium slip away, arguably courtesy of Sergio Perez‘s refusal to play the team game and allow his charging team-mate, Esteban Ocon, to challenge Ricciardo. The Australian holding on to take his third third in a row and delighting the crowd with another ‘shoey’.
Indeed, Perez defended more robustly against his team-mate than he did against Vettel when the Ferrari man sliced his way passed the Mexican. Was this Perez making a point? Stating in the clearest way possible that he will not allow his young up-start team-mate to beat him. Perhaps, but be sure that the likes of Bob Fernley and Otmar Szafnauer will have had stern words with Perez about his ‘team spirit’.
Regardless of missed opportunities, Force India’s result cemented their current position of fourth in the constructor’s championship as their rivals continue to fight their own battles.
Williams Martini Racing have been racing with one arm tied behind their back courtesy of their young rookie Lance Stroll taking his time in finding his feet. But he found them, they were at home all along. Indeed, the Canadian, racing in front of his home-crowd for the first time, finally claimed his first championship points and did so on a day when the team’s ‘first driver’, Felipe Massa, was removed from contention in a crash on lap one. Have the floodgates been opened for Stroll and will the points continue to flow? Williams will certainly be hoping so.
Elsewhere, it was a dreadful day for Scuderia Toro Rosso as neither car made it to the finish. Danill Kvyat had a bizarre race after stalling on the formation lap and receiving a seemingly ever-changing amount of penalties for failing to follow the correct starting procedure. Carlos Sainz meanwhile, was eliminated on lap one in the same scary crash that wiped out Massa. Unlike Massa, who was an innocent party in the incident, Sainz played a part in his own demise by squeezing Romain Grosjean on the run to turn three. Remarkably, Grosjean recovered to finish tenth!
Don’t underestimate that crash; it could have been so much worse. With Sainz wayward and pointing backwards at turn three, it was immensely fortunate his Toro Rosso struck the rear quarter of Massa’s Williams and not toward the front of the car where Massa would have been vulnerable to a painful shaking.
Talking of painful…McLaren-Honda. Ouch. It looked certain that Fernando Alonso had done enough to score McLaren’s first points of the year, indeed, he was running in the points when his McLaren-Honda conked out in sight of the checkered flag.
They may have won the pre-event raft race but you have to wonder at what point the McLaren/Honda relationship becomes unviable and worthy of scrapping. I’ll leave the last words on that to McLaren-Honda’s Racing Director, Eric Boullier:
“It’s difficult to find the right words to express our disappointment, our frustration and, yes, our sadness,” said Boullier post race. “So I’ll say only this: it’s simply, and absolutely, not good enough.” Hear, hear!
Formula One moves on to Baku next, for the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix and a track that should suit the power of Mercedes but will doubtless see Ferrari wanting to make up for a difficult performance in Canada. Bring on the next chapter in what is developing into a fascinating title fight.