Originally published in the July, 2015 issue of DRIVENWORLD
The 2015 Grand Prix du Canada
By Jim Hunter
June 16, 2015
Following a Monaco Grand Prix destined to be remembered not for fantastic battles but for a tactical blunder which cost championship leader Lewis Hamilton his second victory in the principality, F1 arrived at one of it’s more popular venues, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on the man-made Île Notre Dame on the St. Lawrence for the 46th running of the Grand Prix du Canada.
To date the season has delivered a few surprises, yet also failed to quell criticism of the new tire saving, fuel management era. Despite a surprisingly dreadful opener in Melbourne, the surprise resurgence of Ferrari at one of the more exciting Grands Prix ever witnessed in Malaysia offered hope that F1 might not be as sick as many critics claimed. Unfortunately the trend did not continue, and with the exception of Bahrain where Ferrari once again rose to challenge Mercedes’ Silver Arrows, the subsequent start of the European season only demonstrated that the team which began life as BAR Honda many years ago to still be clearly in control under their German moniker.
Therefore, news that Ferrari and Williams had exercised development upgrades (FIA engine tokens) for the power hungry Montreal circuit offered hope that Canada would breathe new life into the challenge.
The atmosphere in Montreal is palpable, the city welcomes the grand prix each year with great enthusiasm and the events on track are often dramatic. The tightly enclosed nature of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve utilizes every available inch of the man-made Île Notre-Dame, thus safety car appearances are frequent and consequential. Oft run under the dramatically shifting weather on the St. Lawrence, the Grand Prix du Canada rarely disappoints.
This year’s race looked certain to follow that trend. Friday practice commenced under relatively sunny skies, but the afternoon session had hardly begun in earnest before those same skies gave way to a deluge of chilly rain onto the island. Despite the circuit’s relatively narrow and parallel layout, Mercedes were caught off guard not realizing just how hard it was raining on the western coastline and sent both drivers out on intermediates. Hamilton, pushing harder than he probably should have at that point, hydroplaned straight off the northern hairpin, burying his W06 into the tire wall. The resulting red flag and continued downpour insured the cars would not return until Saturday.
The rain was, however, not the most troubling factor of the day as Mercedes totally dominated FP1. Adrift of teammate Hamilton, Rosberg resided 1.5 seconds clear of Romain Grosjean’s Lotus. One had to wonder what had become of those Ferrari and Williams engine tokens?
Fortunately FP3 on Saturday morning brought some dramatic relief as Kimi Räikkönen proved quick in his Ferrari, holding the session’s fastest time before being pipped by Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes in the closing laps.
Räikkönen’s charge was noble but not quite enough, where Mercedes once again locked the front row in qualifying. Kimi engaged in a taught battle for third with fellow Finn and rumored challenger for his 2016 Ferrari race seat, Valtteri Bottas. Bottas held the slight edge after Q2, but Kimi delivered the lap needed to secure the third slot in Q3 and thus found himself in a post quali press conference for the first time since 2013!
Teammate Sebastian Vettel incurred a surprising elimination in Q1 due to glitch with the electrical side of his power unit. The gremlin left Seb uncharacteristically 16th on the starting grid; adding insult to injury he incurred a further 5-spot setback under scrutiny for passing under yellow flags in FP3. Only Verstappen and Button’s more severe penalties kept Vettel off the back row.
With much anticipation, the cars finally took to the grid before the lights on a mild but somewhat muggy Sunday afternoon under muted skies.
Räikkönen had a fantastic start and almost managed to split the Mercedes duo. Rosberg was spared demotion simply due to the nature of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve layout, where the left hand turn one leads into the immediate right hand sweeping hairpin. Nico took advantage of the left/right complex to hold his slot, but on other circuits Kimi would have had him dead to rights.
Sadly, from that point forward and in hardly three corners the fight at the front was largely finished. Hamilton drove away with relative ease, and managed to win the race adhering to every unfortunate aspect of this modern day iteration of the sport – save, save, lift, save. The finishing order would have matched the grid had Räikkönen not experienced an odd recurrence of torque spike as he applied throttle exiting the hairpin following his first pit stop. There are plenty of skeptics who believe Kimi simply applied too much undisciplined input to the throttle, but on close inspection of his Ferrari’s rear wheel spin, it seems more likely that driver input was not the cause. Bottas inherited the gifted podium spot, his first of the season.
Bottas was understandably pleased, “We really maximized everything today and I’m really happy for us as a team. We had an opportunity to get third and we took it. We were racing hard today and we earned the podium. It’s great to be back in the top three and we know there are better Grands Prix to come because of the updates we are bringing so I can’t wait for the next few races.”
The real excitement in the race came further down the order in the hands of Sebastian Vettel, who managed to climb through the field from his lowly starting position to follow his teammate home in 5th. Seb has already demonstrated growth and maturity in this young season, and his pairing with Räikkönen has only contributed to an atmosphere conducive to winning.
Valtteri is a talent with immense potential, but it would seem almost premature to replace Kimi so early in Vettel’s time with the Scuderia. Much of the chatter appears fueled by supposition that Ferrari will lose Bottas if they don’t act quickly. Given how few teams really have anything to offer in the fight against Mercedes, that perspective is debatable. Ferrari would do well to hold course until 2017’s introduction of F1’s salvation formula, when the balance of power will naturally shift again.
Hamilton took a decisive victory in Montreal, rebounding from his Monaco debacle. Rosberg later rued the critical factors preventing his giving Lewis more of a challenge, “It was a tough race, with tires, brakes and fuel all on the limit. The problem for me was to cool my brakes behind Lewis. I had to take different lines to get some fresh air. In the last 10 laps I ramped up the pace and started to attack by using some of my electronic Hybrid power, which I had saved until this point. But the problem is that your team mate’s engineers always have knowledge of your activities and can ask him to ramp up the pace, too.”
Such is the unfortunate product of intra-team competition, and this grand prix will not be remembered as one of Montreal’s finest. These are indeed challenging times for F1, and although it now appears help is on the way in the form of a new technical formula for 2017, one must wonder whether those fixes will arrive in time.
Long after the podium celebration, Lewis signed dozens of autographs and posed for mobile photos with hundreds of adoring fans pressed tightly against Montreal’s pit wall. Bernie may believe that Hamilton is the only marketable figure in F1 today, but Lewis’ stature among F1’s core base of life long motorsport enthusiasts has been tainted by his frequently woeful off-track demeanor and tabloid drama. Certainly Lewis, so coolly playing this media opportunity for all it’s worth, wasn’t the same F1 driver who contemplated parking and pouting on his Monaco cool down lap? Perhaps there is good reason for the long history of F1 drivers who have shied from the media spotlight.
In closing, the best news from Canada could reside in confidence that Ecclestone has finally realized that the teams themselves should not be deciding the future of the sport. The turbo-hybrid era, now widely regarded as detrimental to F1’s long-term future, was most likely born in service to the corporate interests of the manufacturers over sport. That product was on full display on the Île Notre-Dame, and now there’s much work ahead to chart a path back to the level of competition well all know F1 should be. Montreal’s paddock seemed charged with impatient anticipation for that new day to begin.