With all the drama that surrounded Formula 1 and Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix, it’s easy to forget that there were more than four drivers circulating the Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve.
Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel were, unsurprisingly, the main attractions after a race-long battle that ended on the sourest of notes with a highly dubious five-second time penalty “stealing” victory from the German.
Daniel Ricciardo was another headline-catcher in Canada, showing some semblance of his Red Bull Racing form for new employers, the Renault F1 Team. An astounding fourth place in qualifying was backed up with a competent, if slightly quiet, drive to sixth and marked his and Renault’s best weekend of the 2019 by a distance.
And, of course, there was Lance Stroll. Sarcastically cheered by many of the his home crowd at the start of the weekend, a huge power unit failure before qualifying and an eleventh successive Qualifying 1 elimination signalled that Montréal could prove to be ‘same old, same old’ for Stroll – but a wonderfully mature drive and the alternate strategy from the Racing Point F1 Team allowed him to take ninth place and two more points to his total.
To reiterate, there were 16 other drivers on track, including the four rookies in the 2019 field – but all of them left Quebec pointless. Canada is a track that the drivers enjoy, for the most part. Long straights, challenging chicanes and fear-inspiring walls on the exit of many of the 14 corners provide somewhat of a unique challenge on a state-of-the-art permanent racing facility used in modern-day F1; one that is regarded as timeless after 40 races spanned over five decades.
ANTONIO GIOVINAZZI | ALFA ROMEO RACING
QUALIFYING: THIRTEENTH – STARTED TWELFTH | RACE: THIRTEENTH
A very quiet race for Giovinazzi, who is still looking for his first F1 points finish. His quest hasn’t been helped by Alfa Romeo’s temperamental car, patchy reliability on Fridays and curious strategy decisions, but there are still a few mistakes that hinder his progress. A bang with the wall on the exit of Turn 9 in Free Practice 1 did little to ease his nerves or boost his confidence. A spin in Sunday’s race at Turn 2 – losing a position to Carlos Sainz Jr. as a result – also failed to help, or impress team boss Frédéric Vasseur, who still, rightly, holds faith in the Italian.
However, it must be pointed out that Giovinazzi managed to outqualify team-mate Kimi Räikkönen on his first visit to Montréal – no small feat given that Räikkönen is a winner around this track. Kevin Magnussen‘s late accident in Qualifying 2 then promoted Giovinazzi to a career-best start of twelfth. But, that couldn’t be turned into any points at all; Alfa Romeo has problems that it needs to address if it is to have any chance of reaching it’s upper-midfield status target.
GEORGE RUSSELL | WILLIAMS RACING
QUALIFYING: NINETEENTH | RACE: SIXTEENTH
If there are any positives to Williams’ 2019 season, it’s that 2018 FIA Formula 2 champion Russell’s stock rises with each passing race. Like Giovinazzi, he vastly outperformed a team-mate that can boast a victory to their name in Montréal – but, admittedly, the two team-mates in question (Räikkönen and Robert Kubica) are not totally comparable. Russell comfortably outqualified Kubica by 0.776 seconds, keeping the 100% success rate he has against the Pole on Saturdays this season. He also finished two laps behind race victor Hamilton, while Kubica went a further lap down, and ahead of the struggling Haas F1 Team car of Magnussen. Small victories for a driver who will – or rather should – certainly move up the F1 driver hierarchy very swiftly under Mercedes AMG Motorsport‘s wing.
The Williams looked slightly more compliant in Canada, owed to a front-end and suspension upgrade. Russell said that, while he was pleased with the improvement, there’s still a long road ahead for Williams to reach the tail-end of the midfield – never mind the points.
“The car was feeling relatively nice to drive and we made the most of the package,” said Russell.
“We now need to bolt some downforce on it and hopefully we will find some lap time.”
ALEXANDER ALBON | SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO
QUALIFYING: FOURTEENTH – STARTED THIRTEENTH | RACE: DNF
From the high of a first Qualifying 3 appearance and ninth place two weeks’ ago in Monaco, came a disappointing non-finish for Albon. First lap, first corner contact when sandwiched between Sergio Pérez and Giovinazzi cost the Thai driver his front wing and any chance of a second successive points score. His race came to a close in the garage with 11 laps of the 70-lap grand prix remaining. Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost explained that Albon was called into the pits to save mileage on the Honda power unit, due to no possibility of salvaging anything from a difficult Sunday.
Albon admitted that his and Toro Rosso’s long run pace was not up to scratch in Canada and must be improved in the coming races, but team-mate Daniil Kvyat‘s spirited drive to tenth place and a solitary point showed that there was a bit of pace in the STR14.
LANDO NORRIS | MCLAREN F1 TEAM
QUALIFYING: EIGHTH | RACE: DNF
Eighth on the grid looked very promising for Norris, who endured a frustrating Monaco weekend. He managed to outqualify Sainz Jr. by over a tenth of a second and by one place, but his race ended in a peculiar fashion on lap 8. The McLaren’s right rear brakes looked to have overheated and melted the rear suspension on that side as Norris exited Turn 14 and had to limp down the pit straight. A lack of urgency from the fire marshals at the pit exit would have done little to improve McLaren’s outlook on the situation too.
Before his retirement, Norris had shown good racecraft and determination to fight with Max Verstappen. Norris locked up into the Turn 10 hairpin on the first lap, ceding eighth spot to the Dutchman, before re-passing him with a firm move at Turns 13 and 14. The 19-year-old felt that McLaren had potential for points in Canada, exacerbating the frustration he would experience less than 10 laps into the race.
Friday proved to be difficult for the 2017 FIA Formula 3 European champion, as he struggled to get up to speed on his first visit to Montréal and looked to be lagging behind team-mate Sainz Jr. His Saturday performance hopefully buoyed him sufficiently to enter the first double-header of the year with confidence.