ANALYSIS: 2019 Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix – Assessing the field

by William Brierty

Formula 1 has always thrived on controversy and human drama, but not like this. The hordes of enraged fans booing the podium ceremony was an unedifying spectacle and a bad day for F1. With the fans and much of the paddock united in utter contempt for the fateful stewards’ verdict, many of the sport’s finest journalists have spent recent hours trying to balance the debate and somehow explain such an outwardly perverse decision. None have succeeded. However, it is worth remembering that everything that transpired stemmed from a driver error…

Top of the class…

Sebastian Vettel – Scuderia Ferrari

Qualifying margin to team-mate: -0.680s
Race margin to team-mate: -6.038s (not incl. time penalty)

Neither of the weekend’s duelling protagonists enjoyed a particularly clean weekend. A rare lapse of judgment put Hamilton into the barriers in FP2, costing him crucial mileage. Vettel initially struggled to keep a lid on team-mate Charles Leclerc, before producing a stellar lap in the final seconds of qualifying to snatch his first pole position of 2019. The side-by-side clearly showed the Mercedes’ superiority on the exit of the chicanes, with Vettel doing an excellent job of minimising the time loss while Hamilton locked-up into the hairpin on his final effort.

The Ferrari could just about restrain the Mercedes in the race, although Vettel struggled to maintain the ferocious pace after his switch to the hard compound tyres. An innocuous error whilst under the rear wing of a lapped car destabilised the rear in T3 and sent the Ferrari scrabbling over the grass. It is not only obvious that Vettel was all but out of control at this stage (he was on about 120° of opposite lock with his grass-covered rear tyres bouncing off the sizeable curbs) it’s a credit that he didn’t hit the wall. There were shades of Vettel’s former self in the assured way he pulled a gap in the opening laps. His eloquence and clear-mindedness in the post-race drama was also evocative of a more self-assured Sebastian Vettel. Ultimately it was another driver error in an otherwise excellent weekend from Vettel, but the penalty didn’t fit the crime.

Daniel Ricciardo – Renault F1 Team

Qualifying margin to team-mate: -0.253s
Race margin to team-mate: -0.402s

Ricciardo’s final lap in Q3 made him one of the weekend’s standout performers in of itself. Despite the Canadian Grand Prix being the scene of Ricciardo’s maiden victory, the Aussie has out-qualified his team-mate just twice in seven visits to the Giles Villeneuve Circuit. To make matters worse, the Renault has fallen back into the lower reaches of the midfield in recent races and looked set for a tricky weekend on the power-sensitive Montreal layout. What transpired was perhaps the most violent upturn in form of the season so far, with Ricciardo qualifying in fourth, ahead, on merit, of a circumspect Valtteri Bottas and a disappointing lap from Pierre Gasly.

Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd.

Renault’s Canadian renaissance was no solo effort from Ricciardo, with team-mate Nico Hulkenberg just two tenths shy of the Aussie’s banzai lap. The German arguably had the stronger race of the Renault pair, extending his opening stint on soft tyres before coming back at his team-mate in the closing stages only to fall afoul of a team ceasefire. To Ricciardo’s credit, he probably would have finished clear of his team-mate had he not damaged his tyres putting up a feisty defence against Bottas’ Mercedes. Doubtless the urge to demonstrate he still had the quality to dice with the frontrunners temporarily suspended much strategic forethought. Renault still doesn’t have a car worthy of Ricciardo’s gifts as a driver, but it was nice to see the Aussie star in a race again.

Lance Stroll – Racing Point F1 Team

Qualifying margin to team-mate: +0.069s
Race margin to team-mate: -12.888s

It’s easy to be cynical about a driver who has been eliminated in Q1 for the last eleven races, and whose billionaire father owns a majority stake in the team. However, there is no denying Lance Stroll’s abilities. With a car struggling to find its feet on just about any layout, two weeks on from an abysmal weekend in Monaco, a points finish from eighteenth on the grid looked just about impossible. However, in a race that bears an uncanny resemblance to his superb drive to ninth in Melbourne, a characteristically strong opening lap became the foundation of another superb race performance from Stroll. As in Melbourne, a fine opening stint on the hard tyre allowed the Canadian to ‘overcut’ many of the early pitters (team-mate Perez included). An assured pass on Sainz on fresh rubber capped off a confidence-inspiring performance for Racing Point.

Homework to do…

Pierre Gasly – Aston Martin Red Bull Racing

Qualifying margin to team-mate: -0.604s (Q2)
Race margin to team-mate: +31.732s

Coming off the back of a more respectable trio of races and having called out rumours of his demotion as “bullshit”, a truly dreadful weekend for Gasly in Canada exposed his underlying unease with the car. Although the Frenchman had been mired in the midfield throughout an uncompetitive weekend for Red Bull in Bahrain, there was no expectation that a similarly challenging track in Montreal would see a repeat of Gasly’s utter anonymity. And yet, in carrying the baton for Red Bull after Max Verstappen’s unfortunate Q2 elimination, Gasly was not only embarrassingly pipped by Ricciardo in Q3 but proceeded to be out-raced by both Renaults on Sunday.

Albeit compromised by the long-running Lance Stroll after his stop, Gasly’s race pace was not good at all. Although the Mercedes power plant in the Racing Point gave Stroll a sizeable advantage on the straights, Gasly spent much of his assault struggling to get into the DRS zone. With both Renaults long gone by the time Stroll pitted, Gasly was forced to resign himself to a distant eighth place some thirty seconds behind his team-mate. Whilst the team’s underlying lack of performance hampered Gasly in Canada, another poor weekend only served to revive concerns about the Frenchman’s uninspiring start to the season.

Valtteri Bottas – Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport

Qualifying margin to team-mate: +0.655s
Race margin to team-mate: +51.043s
Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd.

As Bottas himself admits, his weekend ultimately fell apart with a dramatic spin in Q3. Going into qualifying, Bottas had an advantage over his team-mate in mileage following Hamilton’s FP2 crash and had every chance to fight for pole position. Albeit suffering a spin on his first attempt in Q3, an over-cautious second attempt left Bottas down in sixth on the grid. In Bahrain, Vettel managed to secure P2 with a single run in Q3, however, Bottas clearly didn’t feel comfortable to push to the full. Fourth was the best the Finn could have hoped for on Sunday, although he made a meal of passing an exuberant Ricciardo. Verstappen certainly didn’t prevaricate when he passed the Aussie.

Kevin Magnussen – Rich Energy Haas F1 Team

Qualifying margin to team-mate: N/A
Race margin to team-mate: +68.084

A hot, tyre-limited race on a bumpy circuit with high curbs and slow-speed corners was always a fairly nightmarish recipe for a team massively lacking in mechanical grip. Frustrated gung-ho racer Kevin Magnussen didn’t help matters. In overshooting the first apex of the final chicane, the 2013 Formula Renault 3.5 champion bounced off the ‘Wall of Champions’ and speared off into the pitwall, causing massive damage and ruining team-mate Romain Grosjean’s qualifying in the process. According to Magnussen, an appalling race turned into the “worst experience I have ever had in a racing car, ever” – earning him a predictably blunt rebuke from team principal Gunther Steiner. The Dane is clearly yet to find any middle ground between hero and zero…

The rest…

Despite Carlos Sainz Jr placing the car in the top four in FP2, McLaren simply didn’t have the pace in Canada. Lando Norris was struggling to maintain his place in the top ten when a braking issue broke his rear suspension. Sainz would later fall out of the top ten with severely worn tyres. Daniil Kvyat brilliantly maximised a similarly testing weekend for Toro Rosso – nabbing the final point from Sainz as the Spaniard began to struggle on his tyres. Team-mate Alexander Albon innocently lost his front wing in an unfortunate first corner pincer, all but ending his competitive prospects for the race.

Another dreadful weekend for Alfa Romeo spread the toils evenly between a dejected pair of drivers. Having crashed on Friday, Antonio Giovinazzi at least salvaged a minor personal victory by out-qualifying a fairly lacklustre Kimi Raikkonen. However, a wayward race for the Italian featuring a heavy brush with the ‘Wall of Champions’ and a spin at Turn 1 didn’t do much to bolster his confidence. With Williams making positive noises about a suspension modification, it was up to the drivers to demonstrate the progress out on track. Having made way for reserve driver Nicholas Latifi in FP1, Robert Kubica at least managed to lap within a second of George Russell. With an uncompetitive car and unfortunately steady team-mate, it’s generally been up to Russell to evaluate his own performances. He seemed fairly satisfied on Twitter.

Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd.

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