Feature: Talking points from the Canadian Grand Prix
With the fallout from Sebastian Vettel’s controversial penalty having already been looked at in great detail, Motorsport Week takes a look at the other talking points from the Canadian Grand Prix weekend...
Bottas loses ground
In order to beat a driver of Lewis Hamilton’s calibre, an opponent has to maximise their opportunities while also hope for misfortune on behalf of their rival. Valtteri Bottas arrived in Canada 17 points down on Hamilton and departed 12 points further in arrears, with a scruffy Q3 leaving him on the backfoot. Running with Mediums at the start left Bottas susceptible to the advances of Soft-shod Nico Hulkenberg and the Renault driver duly spent the first stint frustrating Bottas. He then had the other Renault to deal with and Daniel Ricciardo’s stellar defensive work denied Bottas the position for several laps, before the Mercedes man ultimately steered his way through to wind up fourth. It marked the first time since 2014 that Bottas failed to mount the podium in Montreal and came at the worst possible time for his title aspirations. “I have no pressure,” stressed Bottas. “I’m happy about the situation, how things have been going since the start of the year and really enjoying it. I made a mistake and at the end of qualifying I was maybe trying too much to recover, but that can happen. I wouldn’t say that anything from the last couple of races had anything to do with pressure, including this weekend, so I can’t confirm that. I don’t think that’s what happened and I can say there’s no pressure. One day I’ll explain it.”
Gasly under pressure
Pierre Gasly has not had a good Red Bull tenure so far and he angrily dismissed “bullshit” rumours suggesting that he was at risk of losing his seat for 2020. His performance in Canada did not help, even if there were several factors working against him. In trying to get the undercut on Ricciardo he was dropped behind the yet-to-pit Lance Stroll, which gave Nico Hulkenberg enough leeway to profit from the overcut. Overheating brakes also hindered Gasly’s progress. Eighth place, though, on a day in which his team-mate rose from ninth to fifth, did not reflect well.
Renault on the rise
Renault has had a challenging start to 2019 as big-money signing Ricciardo grappled to get accustomed to the R.S.19, which itself was hampered by engine problems (a conrod issue) and a so-so chassis, with a substantial upgrade package poised for its home event in France. Canada, therefore, was a good test of Renault’s progress and to have both cars solidly in the points, and running competitively throughout the weekend, was a boon. Ricciardo qualified a brilliant fourth and raced doggedly to sixth, putting up a fight against Bottas, while Hulkenberg had the tyre life to overhaul his team-mate but was informed to hold station. Renault’s first double points of 2019 should not have taken seven races to arrive, but the marque now appears to be on the rise.
Kubica all at sea
Montreal has been the scene of two of Kubica’s defining Formula 1 moments – the enormous accident in 2007 (which he quipped he wished was the lowest moment of his career) and the triumph in 2008. But 2019 was all about wretched hopelessness. Kubica’s Formula 1 comeback has been a fairytale shrouded in a nightmare. The FW42 is a recalcitrant car but so far Kubica has been embarrassed by team-mate George Russell, whose ultimate potential – given his rookie status – is still unknown. Russell spoke of tweaks to the FW42 making it more stable, albeit still very slow, but Kubica remained all at sea through the weekend. He was a minute behind Russell, struggled for grip, struggled for tyre life, and came home three laps down, bringing his deficit over the leader to 14 laps after seven races. “I was pointing the steering wheel and the car was turning without really turning the steering wheel,” he said disconsolately. “I don’t know what to say honestly. It was very difficult to keep it on track. Just overall grip is missing. I honestly don’t know what to say.” He still has 14 races in which to make progress but this feels like a desperately hopeless situation for both driver and team.
The new pits and paddock complex was met with general approval as the decades-old concrete structure has made way for a multi-million dollar three-storied building. Construction was completed in a quick turnaround time and it now gives the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve a standout monument and a definitive look to the future, as part of a contract signed through 2026. It remains a bit rough around the edges – with the interior (in which the media centre was located) still requiring some completion work, for example there was only one air conditioning setting for the whole area, toilet facilities were minimal, but it was at least largely fit for use. The exterior looked better than the interior, for obvious reasons. The aim was to have it ready for 2019 and that aim was met, meaning media and teams were no longer housed in large gazebos perched on the rowing basin. “It’s only taken the 13 years I’ve been here for them to put it together, being it’s one of the most attended races, I’m surprised they didn’t do it sooner but it’s great that they have,” laughed Lewis Hamilton. “It means that they’ve made a real investment, it means this track is going to be here for a long time, as it should be.” Hamilton then quickly turned his attention to the seemingly never-ending roadworks that blight Montreal. “They’re still working on the road works outside,” he quipped. “That bridge! I swear they’ve been working on that since I started in Formula 1! I don’t know if it’s every going to get done. Maybe they should hire the same people that did this building because they’ve done a good job.”
It's Groundhog Day again
The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is located on the man-made Ile Notre Dame, but the parkland setting means it has its own inhabitants of the four-legged variety. Groundhogs – or marmots as they are sometimes called – live around the island and they have occasionally come to grief after having a terminal meeting with a Formula 1 car. Haas’ Romain Grosjean spotted one on his Thursday track walk and it took just moments for one to become a screen star when it appeared on track on Friday morning. Williams tester Nicholas Latifi had to take evasive action as he rounded Turn 5 and he ensured that both the groundhog, and his own front wing, lived to fight another day. “It started off almost with a crash with the Groundhog – it had to happen to the Canadian of course,” laughed the Montreal-born Formula 2 title leader. “But I avoided him, avoided damaging the front wing, and it’s all good.” Daniel Ricciardo also had an encounter and wandered off on a tangent in a way that only he could. “I saw a few beavers as well that is always fun. Said hi. Can you get a pet beaver? Is it possible? I might get one. I saw one on pit entry, he had his back turned to me. I was not impressed.” But not everyone was completely enamoured by the creatures. “Yeah there’s an animal on track,” radioed Kimi Raikkonen in FP3. “I don’t know what they’re called…”
Montreal welcomes F1
Some places really get Formula 1. There are some cities and countries who view Formula 1 with suspicion or a nuisance, or others where the atmosphere is merely fake razzmatazz funded by oil-wealthy leaders. Montreal gets Formula 1, and in a big way. The city throws itself open to the event throughout the week, with the various districts putting on events, the roads decorated in chequered flags, and certain streets completely closed off in order to create mini-festivals. And it is the same year after year, with the event in Montreal now into its fifth decade, and renewed through at least 2026. Parts of the city are a little rough around the edges and the harsh winters combined with hot summers means it is in a perpetual state of construction – but that’s small fry. For Liberty Media, still keen to put its own stamp on the Formula 1 schedule, it could do much worse than to use Montreal as a blueprint.
Formula 1’s calendar has gradually increased in recent years and the 2019 schedule matches 2016 and 2018 in featuring a record 21 events. It is also not just the expansion of the calendar that has pushed teams and the Formula 1 paddock in general to its limits, but also the growth to new regions, meaning long haul flights and illogical ordering has become commonplace. An example: it is commonplace, due to price and logistics, to travel from Western Europe to Singapore, back to Western Europe, to Russia around 24 hours later, back to Western Europe for a few days, prior to returning East to Japan, in the space of around two weeks. It is tough, and takes a physical and mental toll. Teams are resistant to a further expansion though it is ultimately likely due to the financial structure of the sport and the eagerness to reduce grand prix weekend lengths in order to facilitate that growth. People regularly discuss the notion of Formula 1 reaching saturation point but, for many, they quietly believe 21 is already a tipping point – or even maybe too many, considering older paddock folk grew up with a 16-race schedule. But not everyone is that fussed. “I don’t care about the families,” said Toro Rosso boss Franz Tost. “If we have a lot of races… we have 52 weekends, we can have 26 races. Where’s the problem? If we get the money for all the races, that’s important. Then I don’t have a problem.” Most people in F1, at least, do care about the families that occasionally remember their existence…
Netflix and Merc
It’s official – Mercedes will be involved in the second season of the Netflix series on Formula 1, having not been a part of the documentary that covered the 2018 campaign. Mercedes will work with Netflix at one yet-to-be-determined grand prix, even though Toto Wolff has yet to be fully convinced of the series. He quipped that he wanted to take on Guenther Steiner in the personality ranks, after the Italian became a cult figure when fans were given the opportunity to see the Haas boss in action. Netflix’s crew have been present since pre-season and focused on Robert Kubica’s comeback race in Australia, and also were heavily involved with Renault in Azerbaijan, even though the contracts were only officially signed between the relevant parties in late April.
Charlie Whiting’s sudden passing at the Australian Grand Prix sent shockwaves through the paddock and his lengthy tenure as Formula 1’s Race Director was remembered at the Canadian Grand Prix. The new Race Control centre in the newly-constructed pits complex features a plaque dedicated to Whiting on the entrance, and a small ceremony was held on Saturday lunchtime, where FIA President Jean Todt, Formula 1 Managing Director Ross Brawn and Canadian Grand Prix President CEO Francois Dumontier unveiled the memorial to Whiting.