After Sebastian Vettel’s incredible pole position lap on Saturday, many people expected Formula One’s record run of different winners to come to an end in Montreal. But a gripping Canadian Grand Prix ended with Lewis Hamilton notching up his first victory of the year, so the crazy world of F1 2012 continues unabated.
The teams approached the race weekend differently. Many disagreed on tyre strategy, and there were different philosophies on how best to achieve the ultimate lap time. On paper, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve was the first low downforce track of the year, with cars topping 300kph on four occasions around the lap. But Red Bull Racing managed to get both of its cars into the top four on the grid – Seb on pole and Mark Webber in fourth – despite being slowest of everyone through the speed trap.
The downforce generated by the RB8 allowed Seb and Mark to brake later than their rivals and carry more speed through the corners, and that more than made up for the 8kph deficit to their main rivals along the straights. Vettel then put in a mighty performance to qualify 0.3s ahead of second placed Hamilton. It was the largest qualifying advantage that we’ve seen so far this year, on a track that is made up of effectively five corners.
“It was a good lap,” said Sebastian. “I got the maximum out of the car and left nothing on the table. But there are no points awarded for qualifying; it’s tomorrow that counts, so the hard work hasn’t even started yet.”
Webber was 0.5s behind his team-mate, after admitting that he hadn’t managed to get the best out of his car in Q3. But he was still fourth on the grid and looked like a genuine podium contender. Further back, it was also a good day for the other Australian on the grid, Daniel Ricciardo. He out-qualified his Toro Rosso team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne by a massive 1.5s to line up 14th.
The weather improved as the weekend progressed and on race day the track temperatures were 20 degrees hotter than they’d been during Friday practice, which was when the teams put in their heavy-fuel runs. Surely that increase in heat would have an effect on tyre life?
“To be honest,” said Red Bull’s chief technical officer Adrian Newey on race morning, “the prime tyre could have lasted the entire race in Friday’s low temperatures. It’s less clear-cut now that it’s warmer.”
When the lights went out to start the race, Vettel disappeared into the distance like a scolded cat. He was more than a second clear of Hamilton by the end of lap one and looked to have the race by the scruff of the neck. But 15 laps in, Hamilton started to close on the race leader as his tyres went off and Hamilton passed Sebastian in the ensuing pitstop melee. Fernando Alonso then passed them both when he stopped two laps later.
It was at this moment that Vettel plumped for a one-stop strategy, believing it to be his best means of passing the two-stopping Hamilton later in the race. Further back, Webber was on a two-stopper, but his chances of a podium were scuppered at his first pitstop. He rejoined the race behind the one-stopping Sergio Perez and didn’t find any clear air until the Sauber driver pitted on lap 41.
At the front, Alonso also opted for a one-stop strategy and we were left with him and Seb nursing their tyres to the end, while Hamilton pressed ahead with his planned two stops. Which would prove the right strategic call?
Two stops was the way to go. With 10 laps to go, Alonso and Vettel’s tyres started to fall apart and Hamilton was able to breeze past them on his fresher rubber – as did Romain Grosjean and Perez. Vettel opted to limit the damage and pitted a second time, dropping to fourth, while Alonso stayed out and slipped back to fifth.
Webber came home seventh, with Ricciardo the final runner on the lead lap in 14th. It’s still very tight at the top of the championship table, with the top four (Hamilton, Vettel, Alonso, Webber) separated by only nine points.
Has F1 ever been this exciting?
Sebastian Vettel - 4th: "It was a difficult race today. We found ourselves in third place, quite far away from Lewis. He decided to box again, but Fernando and I took the decision to stay out. I felt pretty comfortable on the tyres and obviously we were hoping to get the place back, but as it turned out it was the right thing to go for the second stop. We decided a few laps from the end to do a pit stop - a stop here is not so long, about 15 seconds – and in the end it was the right decision. All in all it was a good weekend. We had a very smooth run up to qualifying and a very good qualifying. In the race we maybe lost some of that edge, but we were there or thereabouts. We have another winner today also, I think Lewis deserved to win today, no doubt, but we have learned more and will make step forward in Valencia."
Mark Webber – 7th: "I knew it was going to be mixed up today, but not that mixed up! In the first ten laps, we had a small issue with the engine, which we had to manage, but then I settled into the pace. We pitted and came out behind the one-stoppers. It’s hard to get it right here – if you push to try and pass you kill the tyres but if you wait, then you find you’re on the same strategy and finish behind them anyway. With hindsight we could have done a different strategy, but it’s easy to say that now and I’ve had worst days than today."
Daniel Ricciardo - 14th: "I finished where I started. I got a good launch off the line but there was nowhere really for me to go, so I opted to go down the inside at Turn 1, which put me on the outside of Turn 2, where I tried to go around a few of the guys in front of me. But there was not as much grip there as I had expected and this cost me a few places. So from then on, I had some work to do as it put me on the back foot. From mid-race to the end, I could not match the pace of those I was racing against. Our pace is simply not enough to crack the top at the moment, so we must not get downhearted, but keep working hard to try and improve."