Canadian Grand Prix – Ferrari & Sebastian Vettel underlined their championship credentials by stamping their authority all over the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on Sunday, while Valtteri Bottas had the measure of his illustrious teammate at one of Hamilton’s most rewarding venues.
The Canadian Grand Prix was far from a classic in terms of on track action, but it still painted an interesting picture in terms of the championship. With Sebastian Vettel claiming a much needed win, he has re-established himself at the head of the World Championship. While Lewis Hamilton was pretty anonymous at a circuit where he has previously romped away on several occasions, it was Valtteri Bottas who stepped up to the mark for Mercedes.
The power unit upgrades were an important step forward too. While power appears to be an area Ferrari have largely matched Mercedes, fuel efficiency was not. However, this seems to have ben rectified with the upgrade. Vettel didn’t have to do any excessive fuel saving, while Valtteri Bottas did. So much so, he was almost passed by Max Verstappen crossing the finish line, and this was despite the Safety Car intervening early in the race.
For the first time in the hybrid era, Mercedes were rattled. For four consecutive years, it’s been faux anxiety from Toto Wolff & Niki Lauda as they tried to appear concerned about how competitive other cars have been, only for Mercedes to blast away and win by whatever gap they fancied. But Canada was a different story. The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is a Hamilton stamping ground. Running the older engine wasn’t ideal for Hamilton’s weekend, but Valtteri Bottas looked consistently more hooked up. According to the Finn, Mercedes went into the weekend still confident of being competitive with their older power units. But, as Sunday showed, Ferrari clearly had the quicker package. And being conservative on the power front doesn’t explain Hamilton’s constant lock-ups and loose rear end. The 2017 car was famously called the ‘diva’ by Mercedes & Hamilton, but the 2018 car looks even further away from what the World Champion likes.
“I thought the engine was going to fail. Straight from the start, I got to Turn 2 and the power started dropping out. “I’m sure in the next couple of days it will get more painful but it could have been a lot worse. I could have lost 25 points.” “I’m definitely behind a little bit in that respect but I’m just grateful the engine made it and I got to see the distance. I gave everything I could. That’s all you can do.” Lewis Hamilton
There’s no doubt that this season isn’t going the way Hamilton & Mercedes have been accustomed to in recent years. Australia & Spain have been the only races where Hamilton was genuinely the quickest driver and, had luck been on his side a bit more, Vettel would undoubtedly be further ahead in the points chase. With Merc being so close to perfection since 2014, setbacks such as the power unit upgrade not meeting their quality control standards, as well as issues such as the bodywork causing overheating on Hamilton’s car on Sunday – these were unthinkable in previous years.
“I think this is a major wake-up call for every single member of the team,” said an obviously frustrated Toto Wolff after the race. “Everybody needs to assess how to improve performance, to optimise those marginal gains that make all the difference.”
“We went to Montreal expecting our car to be really strong and we are leaving Montreal seeing that we haven’t been where we thought we should be.”
France is likely to be a different story. It’s not fully confirmed yet, but Mercedes are almost certain to have their upgraded power units. Possibly more significantly, the return of Paul Ricard to Formula 1 also sees the return of the altered Pirelli compounds that were run in Spain – the race that Hamilton dominated, while Ferrari struggled. With two days of in-season testing taking place since then, allowing Ferrari to have a stab at addressing their issues with these tyres, France will be illuminating as to whether progress has been made by the red team in that area, particularly with the same tyres also being used for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
Red Bull’s outside chance of a championship challenge remained just that in Canada. The brilliance of their chassis is evident – the Red Bull was a lap clear of the Renault factory cars, and millennia ahead of the McLarens. Max Verstappen appeared much more relaxed and reigned in his aggression to produce a drive that underlines that his current issues remain psychological and not talent related. He got to grips with the upgraded Renault power unit better than Ricciardo, and kept his nose clean to run Bottas close for P2 throughout. His attack into Turn 1 was the perfect level of aggression, and it was great driving from both himself & Bottas to ensure that it remained hard fought but clean throughout the first corners.
It wasn’t the smoothest weekend on my side of the garage, we had the upgraded engine but we had a few issues trying to get it calibrated, I think that’s the right word, even during the race it wasn’t that easy at times to manage tyres and wheel slip, so for that I think we did the best we could. The good thing is that Max’s engine seemed to be running well, so we have that as a reference moving to France. It’s probably the first time in a while that we have gained really good team points so it’s a good weekend from that perspective and also good for Max. I’m looking at the positives (laughs) we also took two points from Lewis so we’re still in the championship, we’re still there. Daniel Ricciardo
With Ricciardo not quite hooking up his qualifying, he had a hard task to move up from P6. Getting past an underwhelming Kimi Raikkonen into Turn 1, he and Verstappen’s early pitstops to shed their HyperSofts forced Lewis Hamilton to follow suit in order to not lose track position. Ricciardo’s pace meant that he emerged ahead of the Mercedes and he spent the rest of the race soaking up the pressure from Hamilton. Closing up by two points in the title chase isn’t much, but it was still a strong showing from a team that were not expecting Canada to go their way.
There are still plenty of circuits to come that will play to Red Bull’s strengths more, so the backwards and forwards pendulum of form between Mercedes & Ferrari will allow Ricciardo to remain in the hunt for longer. RBR are traditionally strong at developing a car through the season, so keeping their nose clean and scoring strong finishes like the Canadian result is crucial for what may come later in the year.