The general consensus ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix was that only a failure to the Mercedes package would have robbed the team of another win. And alas, the Montreal circuit – historically known to throw up a few surprises – did not disappoint this time, by delivering the first winner of the season from outside the Silver Arrow squad.
The first, albeit minor, surprise of the Canadian GP weekend came on the Saturday, when despite his seeming dominance Lewis Hamilton missed out on the pole position to his team-mate Nico Rosberg; while Sebastian Vettel, who was set to once more be the slower of the two Red Bulls landed himself the third spot start, leaving his junior Daniel Ricciardo back in sixth.
The Aussie cursed himself for a substandard qualifying while the team celebrated Vettel’s prospective podium chances – without fooling themselves anything higher than third was possible.
And third it was indeed for Vettel – but not without a fight, which formed part of a hugely dramatic event that saw half of the gird wiped off the circuit before they managed to cross the finish line.
Trouble started as early as lap one when two Marussias collided in a spectacular style on Turn Four, leaving both cars wrecked on track and calling for a safety car period for the first seven laps to clear the debris and the oil spills off the track. That was good enough for the rest of the field to settle into their positions and think of their tactics on the one of the most fuel-demanding circuits of the calendar. Among them was Lewis Hamilton, who – after a brave attempt at claiming the lead on the first stint – had to back off and run over the grass when the feat proved unachievable, to then end up behind Vettel.
But it was only a matter of post-safety-car minutes (two laps to be precise) for the Brit to reclaim his starting position, in an eye-watering showcase of Mercedes domination over the previous four year constructors’ champions Red Bull, as the Silver Arrow zoomed past the German. From there it was all relentless charge from Hamilton as lap after lap he gained on his team-mate threatening the leader’s position. The pressure took the best of Rosberg as he locked up on lap 26 and had to cut a corner to keep his car pointing in the right direction – a move which also gained him split seconds advantage over Hamilton. The iffy situation was investigated by stewards who decided to let this one pass as the Brit was not challenging for position at the time of the manoeuvre; so the game was still on.
Up to the mid-point of the race it all looked like another one-two for Mercedes – but then a broadcast radio message from Hamilton rocked the afternoon and turned it upside down.
The Brit reported a loss of power in his car… and soon after Rosberg tuned into the garage, asking what was happening with his own machine.
“We’re looking into it Nico, the other car has the same problem,” was the response, and then followed:
“OK Nico both cars have a power problem – we don’t think we can solve it.”
As it turned out, the Silver Arrows were experiencing power issues at the highest speeds, requiring rebooting the system while the cars were still running, which was not a straight forward task for any driver at the front of the grid, regardless the lead distance. The two went in for their second pit-stops; but Rosberg, who pitted first, came out limping, hurt by the team’s delay in putting on a front left tyre. He ended up behind Hamilton, who pitted faster on the following lap – but they were both left behind Felipe Massa who became a race leader for several laps, as Williams envisaged for him a one-stop strategy. Eventually the Brazilian could not squeeze any more performance out from his degrading tyres and had to take the second stop, which painfully put him far off the lead, and – even more painfully – once again behind his junior team-mate Valteri Bottas, in eighth.
For a short run Hamilton took the lead over his team-mate – to then run wide on a hairpin which forced the Brit to lock the breaks and cut a corner to give the place back to Rosberg. It only went from bad to worse as he realised the breaking system got damaged so badly in the confrontation, he was forced to retire.
With Hamilton out of the picture Roberg should have had an easy cruise to victory – but the car issue did not resolve itself and the German had to rely on pure throttle power without any of the gadgets that so far made Mercedes invincible. He clung onto the lead with a string of cars lining atypically close behind him – and eventually gave way to Daniel Ricciardo, who played all the cards served by Montreal to perfection and stormed to the front to claim his first ever grand prix win.
“…. Ha. Well!” was the Aussie’s response to his team principal Christian Horner announcing his win over the team radio.
The current championship leader Rosberg did not lose too much points that afternoon as he didn’t lose any more positions – despite a tough competition right at his doorstep.
Force India’s Sergio Perez was enjoying a great race, keeping onto second for a considerable amount of laps – until, oh the irony, reporting a breaking system issue. He was then overtaken by Ricciardo on lap 66, virtually opening the door to victory for the Aussie. The Mexican bravely fought for the last podium spot but gave way on the penultimate lap to Vettel, storming past him. A few seconds later Perez was defending from Massa who, supported by some team-orders that forced Bottas to clear the way for the Brazilian, still had his own podium hopes in mind, and was determined to make it stick. And then in a flash it was all over for both, as the two collided in spectacular fashion. Only by the narrowest margin did Vettel escape a crash himself, left in the cross fire of the two cars flying across the track on either end of his Red Bull, before hitting the wall at full force.
The shocking turnaround landed McLaren’s Jenson Button an unexpected fourth place finish; feeding the team’s points draught together with team-mate Kevin Magnssen, who finished ninth. Apart from them the two Ferraris and the remaining Force India of Nico Hulkenberg and Williams of Valteri Bottas racked up some points for their teams; Sauber’s Adrian Sutil was the only driver in Montreal who crossed the line pointless.
As the memories of Bahrain disappeared well an truly in the back of the collective Formula 1 mind, the Canadian Grand Prix brought a breath of fresh air into the 2014 season – albeit via a heavy cost to a number of teams and driver’s egos. Although Nico Rosberg retained his championship lead, for the first time the glorified Mercedes package has demonstrated a flaw – and as Montreal has shown, there are a few teams on standby, ready to take advantage when a similar opportunity arises.