This week’s Formula 1 action had us at the edge of our seats, so we decided we would bring together the best parts of it just for you…
Formula 1’s visit to Montreal last weekend for the seventh round of the 2016 season failed to produce the rain, safety car interventions and (at least in the race) any significant meeting between the drivers and the walls of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. However, there was no lack of drama and excitement as the F1 community was instead treated to a tense and thrilling duel between two of the most remarkable drivers of their generation. Even so, there was a whole lot going on around the leaders that merits further discussion…
The tide has well and truly turned
Lewis Hamilton picked up in Canada where he left off in Monaco with a scintillating and memorable drive to secure the 45th victory of his career. The Briton put in a shift worthy of his title as world champion, showing some impressive pace during free practice before secure pole position on Saturday. On Sunday, he lost out at the start to the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel but firmly stamped his authority on teammate Nico Rosberg to retain second place. From there, a mixture of good strategy, good driving and excellent tyre management secured a fifth Canadian victory for Hamilton.
Rosberg, by contrast, had a day to forget as he first lost a handful of places at the start and then spent all day struggling to pass slower cars. His incident at the final chicane on lap 69, where he looked to have the Red Bull of Max Verstappen well and truly beaten before losing control of his car, more or less sums up his afternoon. Two well-deserved victories on the trot will doubtlessly fill Hamilton with a flood confidence, which will make him particularly difficult to beat for the foreseeable future. For Rosberg, another less-than-optimal weekend and his rapidly evaporating championship lead means it’s back to the drawing board.
Ferrari’s updates work, their strategy less so
Ferrari introduced a new turbocharger in Montreal, an area which had been identified as a weakness on their SF16-H challenger in the opening rounds of the season. The upgrade appeared to be a success as Sebastian Vettel qualified within 0.2 seconds of Lewis Hamilton on Saturday and was able to produce some encouraging pace on Sunday, eventually finishing seven seconds behind the Briton. The Scuderia’s decisions concerning strategy, however, was less encouraging. After a phenomenal start saw Vettel jump both the Mercedes cars and take the lead, Ferrari opted to employ a two-stop strategy for the German, even though one stop appeared to be the preferred option.
At the time, Vettel was in control of proceedings, enjoying a small but constant advantage over Hamilton and looking comfortable out in front. The two-stopper eventually left him with too much to do and he was ultimately unable to derive the required benefit from his fresher tyres to overtake Hamilton. Why the pitwall decided to gamble on strategy when everything was going according to plan is something that will undoubtedly be discussed thoroughly in the coming days. Ferrari have been criticized for their strategy decisions so far this year, indicating that a change of approach may be in order at the Italian team.
Maturity and Mettle from Max
Max Verstappen needed a strong weekend in Canada to bounce back from a disappointing outing in Monaco, and the young Dutchman certainly delivered. While he was out-qualified by teammate Daniel Ricciardo on Saturday, Verstappen smartly swept around the outside of the Australian into turn 2 and didn’t put a wheel wrong even as Ricciardo piled on the pressure. When Red Bull eventually asked the youngster “not to hold up Daniel”, he responded by pulling away from the Australian rather than letting him past, which is entirely fair.
Verstappen’s late-race defence against the clearly-faster Mercedes of Nico Rosberg was top-notch. He positioned his RB12 perfectly at the hairpin time after time to make up for his lack of straight-line speed relative to the Silver Arrow. Even when Rosberg seemed to have him beaten heading towards the final chicane on lap 65, Formula 1’s youngest-ever winner stubbornly went side-by-side with the German and held onto his position. It seemed that Verstappen would be powerless to resist Rosberg’s second attempt on lap 69, but rather than giving up the fight the Dutchman held the inside line. Crucially, he made the corner while Rosberg spun. On the whole, it was a tenacious, mature and overall impressive drive from Verstappen, who continues to impress in top machinery.
Renault’s engine progress is noticeable, but not quite enough
Canada marked the first race where all Renault-powered cars on the grid would make use of the French manufacturer’s upgraded power unit. Given the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve’s long straights, any lack of raw performance from the power unit was sure to be exploited. The overall result turned out to be that while the Renault engine is certainly heading in the right direction, it could do with more updates sooner rather than later.
The Red Bull RB12, which is the only of the front-running cars to make use of Renault power, showed reasonable pace all weekend, but pure straight-line grunt remains in slightly short supply. Daniel Ricciardo found himself stuck behind the Ferrari of Kimi Räikkönen, and despite the Australian certainly being the faster of the two drivers overall, he never seriously threatened the Finn as his RB12 didn’t quite seem to have the legs to pass the Ferrari, even with DRS. On the whole, however, Renault can be pleased with their progress on the engine front, but many long hours of work still lie ahead.
Kimi Räikkönen has hit another slump
Compared to Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Räikkönen’s form left much to be desired during 2015 as the Finn was comprehensively beaten by the German. The opening rounds of 2016 showed some improvement from Räikkönen as he mostly kept Vettel honest and enjoyed a few visits to the podium. However, his performances in both Monaco and Canada were utterly unremarkable as his pace was lacklustre in both qualifying and the race on both occasions. Before Monaco, the Finn seemed on his way to secure another year at Ferrari in 2017, but such talk will have cooled based on his more recent efforts.
While Räikkönen is on good terms with Vettel, allowing Ferrari to benefit from a co-operative and harmonious relationship between its two drivers, the Italian marquee cannot afford to give anything away on the driver front if they are to consistently trouble the dominant Mercedes outfit. Unless Räikkönen finds some pace going forward, he may himself ousted in favour of fresh talent at the Scuderia.
The curious case of Jenson Button
The McLaren-Honda partnership has made some welcome progress of late, with both Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button finding themselves able to consistently fight for points for the first time in a long time. Furthermore, for the first time in 18 months, McLaren find themselves capable of progressing to the third and final segment of qualifying on Saturdays. Or at least, one of their drivers does. While Fernando Alonso has now completed the feat twice in succession, Button has yet to do so.
The result is that Alonso has tended to end up qualifying 10th of late, with Button close behind in 11th or 12th place. While that may not seem like a big difference, it means that Alonso tends to progress to Q3 while Button fails to escape Q2. This reflects badly on a driver that may find himself without a seat at McLaren for next year. While Button is certainly a safe and dependable pair of hands, he seems to lack the extra “edge” that Alonso has, and it’s beginning to show as McLaren enter the midfield fray, where the margins are immensely small this season. Whether he forms part of the 2017 chapter of McLaren’s master plan in the pursuit of glory remains to be seen.
Enjoy the full experience of the 2016 FIA Formula One season on FOX Sports Play, where you can catch LIVE races from angles unseen before, exclusive interviews, behind the scenes, in-depth analysis and so much more. Don’t miss it!