Having pulled cleanly away from pole position, led into turn 1 and built up his customary lead of a couple of seconds over the course of the first lap, victory for Sebastian Vettel in Canada was never really in doubt. If you hadn’t known, you never would have guessed that Vettel and his Red Bull Racing team had never won at Montreal. It was a dominant victory. Vettel was never really challenged for the lead and the race might have been a bit of a procession had it not been for the abundance of action behind the leader.
Having made little progress early on in the race Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who started in sixth place, really came alive towards the end of the race. Alonso had his customary good first lap, making progress and passing Valtteri Bottas, who had qualified an impressive third in changeable conditions, to be in fifth place by the time he crossed the line to start lap two. However, the Spaniard was unable to make any further progress until lap 30 of the race, which almost certainly cost him any chance to mount a credible challenge for the race win.
Despite his relatively poor showing in qualifying, Alonso had confidently stated before the race that he thought that victory was possible, saying “We start in a position that gives us all the chances to win the race if we are quick enough”. Judging by his pace later in the race, the Ferrari may well have been quick enough, but being trapped, along with Vettel’s Red Bull team mate Mark Webber, behind the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg really cost Alonso.
Webber, who was running in fourth place, finally made his way ahead of Rosberg through the first of the two DRS zones at the Circuit Gilles Villieneuve on lap 30. Alonso followed him straight through and, having saved KERS, utilised KERS and DRS to pass the Mercedes in the second DRS zone; the start/finish straight. It look Alonso another 12 laps to find his way ahead of Webber, which he did, again down the start/finish straight, on lap 42.
Alonso really came into his own in the last 20 laps or so, hunting down the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton who had been running strongly in second position throughout the race. Hamilton had a lead of around 10 seconds at one point, but Alonso rapidly closed him down, aided by traffic, in particular Adrian Sutil, who received a drive through penalty for ignoring blue flags. Alonso eventually found his way through on lap 63 at his favourite place; the start/finish straight. Hamilton, despite his best efforts was unable to pass Alonso back, but with only seven laps go Alonso did not have time to mount a challenge to Vettel, who had a lead of around 15 seconds.
The aspect of the race that stood out the most for me, though, was the tyres, or more accurately, the lack of extreme degradation. The fact that Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes – the car that has suffered most with tyre degradation this season – was able to run a much longer first stint than many of his rivals, was telling. The Englishman stopped from the lead on lap 19; three laps later than Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso. This might have been partly down to the nature of the track in Montreal; lacking in high speed corners and a relatively smooth surface. This meant that the tyres weren’t stressed quite as hard as they were at Barcelona. I also doubt very much that we’ll see Paul di Resta manage to do a one stop race in round 8 at Silverstone. A 57 lap first stint on the medium compound tyre in Canada was hugely impressive by the Force India driver.
The key point is, though, that we had an exciting race without having tyres that fell apart after a few laps. That surely makes a mockery of the argument we need high degradation tyres in Formula 1. Unfortunately, unless Pirelli’s new tyres, which we expect to be raced at Silverstone, have dramatically different characteristics to the current tyres, we’re likely to see a return to endurance racing at the British grand prix. That’ll be music to the ears of Lotus and Kimi Raikkonen who really struggled at Montreal.
Lotus have a car that is probably the kindest on its tyres of all the 2013 generation of Formula 1 machines. That really cost them at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Raikkonen had only managed to qualify in ninth place, but started one place further back after a pit lane infraction in Q2 resulted in a grid penalty for the Finn. Things didn’t improve much for Raikkonen and Lotus in the race, with the 2007 world drivers’ champion only managing a ninth place – one lap down.
This meant that Raikkonen scored a paltry two world championship points, which was particularly damaging to his championship hopes given that championship leader Alonso scored the maximum 25 for his race win and Alonso took 18 for his second place, moving him into second place in the championship, leapfrogging Raikkonen. Indeed, Lewis Hamilton, having taken 15 points for his third place, is now only 11 points adrift of the Finn in the standings.
The constructors’ championship position won’t make pleasant reading for Raikkonen and Lotus, either. A fifth place finish, and 10 points, for Nico Rosberg added to his team-mate Lewis Hamilton’s 15 points gave Mercedes a 25 point haul from the race in Canada, enabling them to leapfrog Lotus into third in the constructors championship. Indeed, Mercedes obliterated Lotus’s slender three point lead to move 20 points ahead of their rivals, aided by a non-point scoring race from Raikkonen’s team mate Romain Grosjean who finished 13th, having started last following an exceptionally poor showing in qualifying, made worse by a 10 place grid penalty for a crash with Daniel Ricciardo in Monaco.
As I’ve mentioned, though, the tables may well turn again at Silverstone. Lotus are likely to be stronger at a circuit where tyre wear is likely to be an issue again, while Mercedes are likely to suffer. What’s clear, though, is despite Red Bull Racing’s justified complaints about the Pirelli tyres, they’re still the team to beat. Vettel now takes a commanding 36 point lead in the world drivers’ championship, while his team have an even greater 56 point margin in the constructors’ championship.
Unless another team and driver puts a great run of results together and bad luck befalls Vettel and Red Bull Racing it’s hard to see anyone else winning the championships come the end of the season. Still, we’re not even at the halfway point of the season yet. As Murray Walker said, “Anything can happen in Formula 1, and it usually does”…