Canadian Grand Prix: Sebastian Vettel's victory spices up Drivers’ Championship despite boring race

Formula 1 could be in trouble. After Monaco, we were some of those few who defended the race – one that most fans and almost every driver labelled as ‘boring’. But after the fiasco in Canada, we have little option but to join those legion of fans in agreeing that Formula 1 could be back to its boring ways. But this train of thought leads us to many questions; one that it seems Formula 1 might not have immediate answers to.

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany celebrates after winning the Canadian Grand Prix. AP

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany celebrates after winning the Canadian Grand Prix. AP

Monaco and Canada are two circuits with different characteristics. While Monaco is easier to label as a one-off, Canada isn’t. After all, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve has thrown up some really exciting races in the 40 years it has been around. The long straights have certainly helped the circuit deliver the one thing that Formula 1 believes fans are always seeking a fix of from the sport – overtaking. However, the 2018 edition was bereft of wheel-to-wheel racing, let alone much overtaking. This is despite the FIA’s efforts to deploy an additional DRS zone in Canada too, a weapon that they have started deploying with much hope from the start of this season.

The point about two different circuits delivering two races that are relatively similar in nature is actually an indicator that the problem might not lie with circuit layouts alone, if at all, this confirms the current formula of the sport being a step in the wrong direction. This also makes us wonder if the early season unpredictability that raised everyone’s hopes was a fluke. After all, how can the sport still be boring despite (finally!) having three teams that are equally matched?

The faulty formula of Formula 1

But where does the problem lie? Cars? Tyres? Power units? Well, the answer isn’t as straightforward, but it wouldn’t be too hard to disagree that almost every aspect of the current formula is a problem and the team of people who wrote the current formula should definitely be questioned in their wisdom, if not their intent. The faster and wider cars that were introduced last year have certainly scorched the circuits. We’ve seen new lap records be created at almost every venue this season, but is that really what excites the fans? The outright speed has cost us wheel-to-wheel racing; with drivers being forced to follow rather than challenge each other.

For 2018, Pirelli expanded their range of tyres. In fact, in the opening few races, Pirelli and Formula 1 almost had us convinced that after years of struggles, the sport’s tyre supplier finally got its range of compounds right. However, the races in Spain, Monaco and Canada have made us (and hopefully Pirelli) realise that their tyres are far from ideal. While re-engineering the compounds for this season would be next to impossible now, it is still the tyres that could be the easier fix to Formula 1’s woes. First, Pirelli could skip immediate compounds when it comes to selection for each race and second, try and re-work on their tyres to increase the difference between two compounds.

Formula 1’s reasons to pursue the complex and expensive hybrid-turbo power units is well documented. In its fifth season in the running (of the hybrid-turbo era), teams are yet facing reliability gremlins. But that’s not the only problem when it comes to the power units. The sport’s seemingly silly desire to keep reducing the number of power units available per driver per season is already playing a part in just the seventh race this season. All-in-all, Formula 1 needs to take a hard look at itself and 2021 seems too far away for a complete overhaul of the sport. For now, attempting quick but sensible fixes could be Liberty Media’s best solution.

Boring race, exciting championship outcome

At Canada, Sebastian Vettel took a pole to flag win, his 50th career victory and Ferrari’s first win here since 2004. In fact, in the hybrid-turbo era, this was the first instance when we had a non-Mercedes pole position and a race winner. In Vettel’s case, the German would have heaved a sigh of relief after dominating this weekend, his first podium appearance in the last four races. Maybe this explains his un-Vettel-like (read: excited) post-race celebrations in the paddock. While the race was boring, its outcome definitely spiced up the Drivers’ Championship; Vettel leads Hamilton by one point.

Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas claimed second after brilliantly fending off Max Verstappen’s moves on the opening lap. There were a few times in the race when Bottas teased us by picking up pace and closing the gap to Vettel, but there was a only slim chance that the there would be a change in the lead of the race unless something unfortunate happened to Vettel’s car. In Bottas’ case, the Finnish driver was saving fuel in the closing stages of the race and he crossed the chequered flag just a tenth ahead of a charging Verstappen.

After qualifying, Red Bull Racing’s choice of an alternate tyre strategy raised hopes (yet again) that we could see Ferrari and Mercedes be challenged in the race. However, third and fourth (Ricciardo) was the best they could manage. Although Ricciardo’s pit-stop was perfectly planned and executed, it got him to finish ahead of Lewis Hamilton (fifth). Hamilton, who many thought would be in contention to claim his seventh win in Canada (equalling Schumacher’s record), seemed lacklustre for most parts of the weekend. The reigning world champion had power unit issues throughout the race; this being the seventh race for his current power unit.

Kimi Raikkonen’s sixth place was a result of his error in qualifying, while Nico Hulkenberg claimed the ‘best of the rest’ (seventh) thanks to a delayed pit-stop by Force India for Esteban Ocon (ninth). Carlos Sainz Jr. did well to follow Hulkenberg to the flag in eighth, while Sauber’s Charles Leclerc drove yet another fantastic race to finish 10th and claim the last championship point. Leclerc has scored points in three out of the last four races; let’s hope Ferrari is already working on his progression plan in Formula 1. Will he be in a Haas car in 2019?

Implications of Brendon Hartley’s Crash

After the early season promise, the Haas F1 Team has seemed to lose out to his mid-field rivals, neither of their drivers scored in Canada. All eyes were to be on Brendon Hartley’s Toro Rosso, the car that was running the upgraded Honda power unit. However, an opening lap crash with Williams’ Lance Stroll saw both drivers out of the race. Hartley’s retirement could mean that the race performance of Honda’s upgraded power unit remains an unknown entity. This will further confuse Red Bull Racing as they near the deadline to choose between Renault or Honda power for 2019. Also, the Toro Rosso driver’s crash saw his helmet bang into his halo, an impact that resulted in multiple scans in the medical centre. Will this force a change in the halo design?

Finally, for the second race in succession, neither Mclaren finished in the points. In fact, both Mclarens were out-qualified by a Sauber (Leclerc) and a Toro Rosso (Hartley) in qualifying. While the team is making news about a possible entry in other racing series, let’s hope they are able to fix their Formula 1 woes. The benchmarks of Red Bull Racing and Renault are proof enough that Mclaren have much work to do on their chassis side too.

As for Formula 1, the French Grand Prix marks a return to the calendar after a decade (next fortnight). Let’s hope that a new venue (Paul Ricard) throws up unexpected challenges for the teams and drivers adding much-needed spice to the sport. But of course, waving the chequered flag a lap earlier isn’t the sort of spicy stuff we’re talking about.

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Updated Date: Jun 11, 2018 13:40:11 IST