The Canadian Grand Prix Preview (5-7 June 2015)

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This weekend, Formula 1 turns its attention to Canada, the home of maple syrup, beavers and the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. Despite having a love for other sports like ice hockey, curling and lacrosse, the Canadian Grand Prix has featured heavily in the hearts of its people since the emergence of one of their greatest home-grown heroes; Gilles Villeneuve. This weekend promises to be full of action, controversy and excitement as Lewis Hamilton aims to snatch back control of the World Championship and Nico Rosberg tries to leapfrog his team-mate with a third race win in a row.

The Headlines from Monaco

Mercedes mistake costs Hamilton deserved win, handing boyhood friend (turned bitter rival) Nico Rosberg his second win of the season. The Brit, and current leader of the 2015 World Championship, had been dominant all weekend and on Lap 63 looked poised to convert his 25 second lead to a much-desired second career win in Monaco. However, on Lap 64 a safety car was deployed and the Mercedes mechanics called in the race leader for a quick change of tyres, calculating he had a big enough lead to maintain position over the rest of the field. To Hamilton’s dismay, team mate Nico Rosberg and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel cruised past behind the safety car as he exited the pit lane and Hamilton was heard on the radio saying, “We’ve lost this, haven’t we?” An assumption that proved correct as Monaco lived up to its reputation and offered Hamilton no further chance to overtake the two Germans in front, despite being on much faster tyres.

Rosberg makes it three in three years at Monaco. The German racer has certainly mastered the Monte Carlo track over the past couple of years winning from pole in 2013 and 2014, but his most recent victory can be attributed to luck more than judgement. Rosberg became only the second driver in 11 years to take the chequered flag in Monaco after not starting on pole, and he was clearly ecstatic at making it a third in three years, even if he realised this one was a gift, not hard earned. Showing humility in his post-race interviews, Rosberg said that he had “mixed” feelings over winning the race as he realised Hamilton deserved it, however, he will be quietly happy about how it impacted on the world championship standings. The fateful pit-stop caused a 17 point swing, reducing Hamilton’s lead to only 10 points, instead of stretching it to 27, had the race finished on Lap 63.

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Image shared through the Creative Commons License, via Motorsports by Maddie

Max Verstappen goes from hero to zero in a matter of seconds after spectacularly smashing into the back of Romain Grosjean’s Lotus at high speed, before going into the barriers at Sainte Devote. The young Dutchman was attempting an overtake on Lap 63 to take 10th place and finish the race with another points finish. Luckily, he managed to walk away from the incident with nothing more than a fright, however, his miscalculation had permutations all across the field when the safety car was deployed. Since then, Verstappen has been slapped with a five place grid penalty for Canada, and been widely criticised by his fellow drivers (especially Jenson Button and Felipe Massa) for his abrasive approach to the situation. Verstappen isn’t keen to shoulder the blame for the incident, accusing Grosjean of deliberately braking early or ‘brake-testing’ him on that lap, but the evidence suggests to the contrary. The talented 17 year old may not look back too fondly on this whole affair in the years to come.

McLaren score their first Championship points of 2015 as Jenson Button finishes eighth. The British driver managed a four point haul meaning they are finally on the board this season, sitting ninth in the constructor’s championship, above lowly Manor Marussia who still have 0. Fernando Alonso also looked likely to finish a strong race with a points finish (despite an early five second penalty), but had to retire from ninth place on Lap 42. The result will be seen as the first glimmer of light in what has been statistically McLaren’s worst start to a season of all time, but they understand that there is still a lot more hard work to be done before they are fighting for the top spot again. As usual, Button summarised it well by saying, “We’re not going to be patting ourselves on the back too much for eighth place but it’s a good day.”

The Red Bull revival begins with a fourth and fifth placed finish. Daniil Kvyat managed to beat his team mate to the finish line for the first time since Malaysia, despite having to let him through. The Aussie driver managed to make a controversial pass on Kimi Raikkonen on Lap 72 which resulted in contact, but they both survived to the finish. Following that, Red Bull let him leapfrog his team mate Kvyat and have a crack at Hamilton in the closing laps. Having failed to make the pass, they then ordered Ricciardo to hand the place back to his Russian team mate and order was restored. The result in Monaco means Red Bull jump from 30 points to a more respectable 52 in the constructor’s championship, but more importantly, will be buoyed by the fact that a previously uncompetitive car was able to push the Championship leader for position at the end of a race.

It’s a strategy game

So Lewis Hamilton lost out on a deeply deserved second win in Monaco due to the failings of his teams’ strategy last time out, which got us to thinking about other races in recent times where team strategy has proved the deciding factor, for better or worse.

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Image shared through the Creative Commons License, via Benjamin Chia

2008 Singapore Grand Prix: Renault order Nelson Piquet Jr to crash to gain team mate Fernando Alonso a sporting advantage. The incident dubbed ‘Crashgate’ is one of the darker chapters in recent Formula 1 history and resulted in Renault Managing Director, Flavio Briatore, and Executive Director of Engineering, Pat Symonds, being banned from the sport. On Lap 14 of the inaugural race in Singapore, Nelson Piquet Jr crashed into the wall of the circuit, thus bringing out a safety car, which handed his team mate a huge advantage in the race having previously made an early pit stop. Alonso had started the race in 15th place, but moved up as others pitted under the safety car and took the lead in the final third of the race, leading his Renault home for their first win in almost two years. This strategic decision by Renault not only brought the sport into disrepute, but also potentially cost Felipe Massa a World Championship. The Brazilian had been winning this race at the time of the incident, but ended up finishing 13th as a result of the crash, he later went on to miss out on the championship by 1 point to Lewis Hamilton who finished the race third.

2002 Austrian Grand Prix: Rubens Barrichello ordered by Ferrari to slow down and allow Schumacher to overtake on the final turn. Rubens Barrichello was only ever allowed to play second fiddle to his team mate, and in 2002, the Ferrari bosses thought that only one of their drivers was capable of winning the Driver’s Championship. Despite the Brazilian leading from pole to finish at the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix, and Schumacher already holding a 20+ point lead in the Championship, Barrichello was told he had to sacrifice the glory and allow his team mate to pass in the final stretch. There were comical scenes on the podium as Schumacher allowed Barrichello to stand on top of the podium and receive the winners’ trophy, but the farcical nature of the race ending left the crowds angry and frustrated, not amused. The incident led to Barrichello, Schumacher and Ferrari being subsequently fined £1 million between them and ‘team-orders’ were officially banned from the sport.

1998 British Grand Prix: Ferrari take advantage of sloppy stewarding, allowing Michael Schumacher to win from the Pit Lane. In a rain soaked and incident hit race, Michael Schumacher found his Ferrari in the race lead after seeing both McLaren’s of Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard spin off in front of him. However, on Lap 58 of the 60 lap race, the German was issued a controversial ‘Stop & Go’ penalty. The Ferrari pit wall decided that the best way for him to comply with the rules without sacrificing the lead was by pitting him on the last lap. In doing so, he crossed the finish line (which extends across the pit lane) before reaching his pit box. He was classified as the race winner amid mass confusion and although his penalty was later rescinded, it remains one of the most controversial finishes to Grand Prix of all time.

2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Early pit stops cost Alonso and Webber the world title, in final race of the season. In the 2010 season finale, the race started with four possible world championship outcomes. Lewis Hamilton had a mathematical chance of winning, although that was highly unlikely, Sebastian Vettel was third in the standings, whilst hoping to become the youngest ever F1 world champion, and Mark Webber trailed Fernando Alonso who had an 8 point advantage. Both Webber and Alonso came in for unusually early pit stops as tyres seemed to be losing grip, but miraculously, they then started coming back to those drivers who had stayed out on track longer, retaining more grip and thus speed. This resulted in Vettel and Hamilton being able to go 10 laps deeper with their first set of tyres and take a foothold in the race. Vettel sat top of the driver’s championship for the first time in the entire season as his team mate, Mark Webber and title favourite Fernando Alonso struggled to make their way back through the pack. Vettel was crowned champion, whilst the Spaniard and the Australian were left to ponder why their team strategy cost them a world title.

The Canadian Grand Prix

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The Canadian Grand Prix is held in Montreal at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, which was affectionately named after one of Canada’s most famous sporting sons. As if by fate, Gilles Villeneuve managed to take his first ever race victory in Montreal’s inaugural race, making it a truly memorable home debut for the whole nation. Unfortunately, Gilles Villeneuve’s career and life ended tragically in 1982, but his son Jacques also became a prominent F1 driver, becoming the first and only Canadian World Champion when he won the title with Williams in 1997. He was however, unable to repeat his father’s feat of winning in Montreal as a home win eluded him throughout his career.

Canada has been on the Formula 1 calendar since 1967 and has featured in Montreal ever since 1978 and has proven to be one of the most exciting and event-filled tracks in the history of the sport. The 1997 Canadian Grand Prix won by Michael Schumacher will go down in history as one of the most watchable and unpredictable races, whereas the 2005 race was statistically the most watched Formula 1 Grand Prix in the world and the third most watched sporting event behind the Super Bowl and Champions League Final that year.

Lewis Hamilton won his first ever race in Canada in 2007 and the rain hit 2011 Grand Prix (which was won by Jenson Button), lasted a record 4 hours, 44 minutes and 39.537 seconds and saw six safety cars deployed during a race for the first time ever. Even the 2014 race was full of drama as Daniel Ricciardo claimed his first ever race victory in an unexpected turn of events, taking the chequered flag under the safety car- only the sixth time in history that a race has ended this way.

Predictions

Hamilton is like a wounded animal right now, still reeling from his injuries in Monaco. Hamilton feels aggrieved that he doesn’t hold a greater lead in the Championship just like last year and he is rather justified in that opinion seeing as he has yet again been the best driver so far this year. In 2014, he responded from his early retirement in Melbourne by going on a four race unbeaten streak and likewise, after his collision with Rosberg in Spa that knocked him out of that race, he went on to win the next five in a row. Hamilton this week, no doubt.

The Red Bull’s had their strongest race weekend for a long time in Monaco, but that was probably due to the concertina effect that is usually apparent around that track, so don’t expect them to be charging up the grid and threatening the podium in Montreal. We expect Raikkonen or Vettel to pinch third behind a dogged, but second Nico Rosberg.

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This weekend could be the next step in the McLaren transformation and if both their drivers finish in the points then that can be considered a huge success. But don’t expect the likes of Toro Rosso pair Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr to roll over based on sentiment. Those last few points’ finishes are probably the most hard fought and there could be more late drama should Romain Grosjean (as pictured above) and Pastor Maldonado in their Lotus’ get in on the action.

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