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Canadian Grand Prix: Lewis Hamilton back into contention with dominant race, Sebastian Vettel left chasing

Thanks to the different time zones, it’s all too easy for me to find the Canadian Grand Prix positively sleep-inducing (the race starts at around midnight for Indian viewers). But the 2017 Canadian Grand Prix was anything but that. It was exactly the blockbuster we had hoped for — thank you gods of racing!

Pretty clearly, it was a Mercedes weekend all through with Lewis Hamilton flying around on Saturday to grab pole. He was unstoppable — and his race was a throwback to the last three seasons of sheer Mercedes dominance, in case anyone was missing that.

Canadian Grand Prix winner Lewis Hamilton, flanked by Valtteri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo and Mercedes engineer Lois Serra. AP

Canadian Grand Prix winner Lewis Hamilton, flanked by Valtteri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo and Mercedes engineer Lois Serra. AP

Hamilton equalled Ayrton Senna’s record for the most number of poles — and it was a nice touch by the Senna family to felicitate him with a hand-painted replica of Senna's racing helmet. Yet another win for the ‘new’ Formula 1 we know. Interestingly, the helmet was from Senna’s time of racing at Honda, and is surely the best publicity Honda has gotten from Formula 1 all year.

Unlike previously, this year the Mercedes cars dominated on Saturday while Ferrari still won on Sunday, Canada saw a Mercedes 1-2 with Hamilton leading from start to finish. Amazingly enough, it was Mercedes’ first 1-2 of the season, a stark contrast to eight 1-2s they had an all of last season.

Hamilton had his first pole and race victory at Canada 10 years ago — and was sentimental about his win. Sports fans will see delight in the fact that Hamilton matched his feat from 10 years ago hours after Rafael Nadal picked up his legendary 10th French Open title.

Hamilton’s win is important because it halted the winning momentum that Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari had been picking up, and throws Hamilton firmly back into the game. For us, it just reminds us how quickly the pendulum can swing this season. Coming to Canada, Hamilton lagged by 25 points to Vettel in the Drivers’ Championship, but he left Canada with a reduced deficit of just 12 points.

Vettel, from start to finish

What a race start we were treated to! There was drama up and down the order as Max Verstappen made a miraculous getaway from P5 to P2 on the grid — which seemed like the first flash of brilliance we have seen from him in a while. Carlos Sainz weaved and got himself tagged by Romain Grosjean, an incident which took out Felipe Massa as well. Even so, the biggest calamity was for Vettel when he was struck with front wing damage and dropped to the back of the field.

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel takes a turn at the Senna corner ahead of Force India driver Esteban Ocon at the Canadian Grand Prix. AP

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel takes a turn at the Senna corner ahead of Force India driver Esteban Ocon at the Canadian Grand Prix. AP

Vettel ploughed his way through the field and emerged close enough to the cars battling for P3, P4 and P5 to set up a thrilling finish. Despite the bad luck, Vettel will be pleased with the damage control he managed, and clinched the Driver of the Day award.

Why Raikkonen and Bottas should be worried

We have spoken before about how both Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas need to earn their drives for 2018, and I am not sure whether they are quite there. Bottas should be a worried man. Canada clearly showed the paddock that he is nowhere as quick as Hamilton — and is at best a reliable No 2 driver. Bottas finished second, which is good and helped Mercedes jump Ferrari to the top spot in the Constructors’ Championship, but he also finished 19.6 seconds behind Hamilton. Clearly, he should be concerned about the gaping difference in time at a circuit where clearly Mercedes were the most dominant.

The other Finn, Raikkonen, had a lacklustre weekend, bringing his Ferrari home in P7. After showing pace in practice yet again, he failed to deliver during the business end of the weekend. His progress was further hampered by car issues — his energy recovery system was dysfunctional closer to the end of the race. Had his car stayed in shape, Vettel would have had to fight Raikkonen before reaching out for the Force India's — a delightful thought for us fans. Of course, this could only happen if Ferrari let them fight.

Raikkonen now has Daniel Ricciardo snapping at his heels in the championship as he is only six points behind the Finn. Surely it will be embarrassing if Ricciardo jumps Raikkonen in the standings, considering the difference in the performance of the Ferrari and Red Bull Racing cars. Raikkonen really needs to up his game or may well become a scapegoat if the team fails to beat Mercedes this year.

The shoey returns

Ricciardo scored his third consecutive podium position while his teammate Verstappen had his second car issue in seven races — brakes and now power unit. Excitingly enough, Ricciardo did a double shoey on the podium, one drink for himself and one for a jovial Sir Patrick Stewart, who was in the mood to celebrate his first time on the podium. Guess that means that Ricciardo has no new party trick for 2017.

Force India battle

Force India bounced back after Monaco — which was their first no-score race this season — to finish strongly in P5 and P6. For a large part of the race, a podium looked within their reach. Williams and Force India were delivered a performance update for their power units this race by Mercedes, which clearly worked well enough.

Sergio Perez of Force India driving ahead of teammate Estaban Ocon during the Canadian Grand Prix. Getty

Sergio Perez of Force India driving ahead of teammate Estaban Ocon during the Canadian Grand Prix. Getty

Forget Hamilton vs Vettel — which never happened on track — the most interesting battle at the Canadian Grand Prix was between the Force India teammates, who were running closely in P4 and P5 for a large part of the race. The teammates battling internally on track made it easy for Vettel to pass both cars and prance into P4. One wonders if we could have had a different outcome to the race if Esteban Ocon had been allowed to get past Sergio Perez and attack Ricciardo for P3. It is helpful to remember that Ocon had 38-lap old tyres at the end, while Perez’s tyres had done 51 laps. That's 13 laps’ fresher tyres — I believe Ocon could have had a chance, but Force India didn't give it to him!

Surely Ocon is bitterly disappointed, but Canada allowed him to make a case for his skill and talent. It is surprising that Force India does not already have a swap/swap back policy in place for their drivers — the team was negotiating terms with Perez on the radio (awkward). Perez’s request, "Let us race man, please!" was obviously deceptively polite. Everything said and done, this incident was good news for Force India — they are having a problem that usually only the top teams have. Moreover, two ultra-competitive cars — Williams and Red Bull will take that any day.

Fernando Alonso — From zero to hero

Alonso had yet another engine failure that saw him retire from the race from a points-scoring position only a few laps before the finish. However, he turned the incident around to use the opportunity to step into the stands and interact with the fans. Surely, this fan walk is something he has learned from his Indy stint, where drivers are so open with the fans. Perhaps going forward, fans will buy seats basis where Alonso’s Honda engine is most likely to blow up! Alonso also had a radio ‘moment’ when he blasted his team for not supplying him with useful information about the cars in front.

The good, the bad, the ugly

The FIA had a shambolic day as far as Daniil Kvyat was concerned — the Toro Rosso driver was given two different penalties for the same breach early in the race when car problems saw him become the last driver to get off the grid ahead of the formation lap, despite being 11th on the grid. Kvyat blasted the FIA after the race, claiming that they were all sleeping in their office and needed to be given some coffee. He was not joking, but shouldn’t he have offered them a Red Bull? Toro Rosso ended up going home with no points.

Lance Stroll scored his first points ever as he brought home his Williams in — more valuable for the team since Felipe Massa did not score points. It was heartening to see him drive a solid, responsible race with none of the antics he has become notorious for.

All in all, it was an exciting race — and exactly the kind of race we as fans love. Unfortunately, there was no racing for the top step of the podium, but I feel F1 got everything else right. The next race up is Azerbaijan — a circuit at which Hamilton struggled last year while Nico Rosberg shone. Surely, Hamilton has a point to prove there, while trying to see if he can further cut down the points’ deficit to Vettel. But before that, we have the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans coming up next weekend — so stay tuned for our coverage!

Updated Date: Jun 12, 2017 20:47 PM

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