Pole sitter Lewis Hamilton claimed his second win of the season in Montreal on Sunday. The world champion was pursued across the line by Sebastian Vettel in a resurgent Ferrari, which had endured a troubled few races. Ferrari may take solace in being so close to Mercedes this race but will rue yet another strategic miscalculation which may have cost them victory for the third time this season.
Sebastian Vettel lined up behind the two Mercedes cars. Hamilton had a poor start, Rosberg an average one, while Vettle stormed off the line and was clean ahead of the Mercedes pair by the time he had completed the short run down to turn one. Rosberg challenged his team-mate into turn one, attempting to overtake Hamilton around the outside. Hamilton drifted wide, and whacked his front right tyre into Rosberg’s front left. The Briton was able to make the corner while Rosberg riccoched off the turn and had to clamber across the run-off area and over a speed bump, severely retarding the German’s momentum. He was quickly swallowed up by the chasing pack and was in tenth by the end of the first lap – a disastrous start for the championship leader.
Meanwhile, Vettel was streaking off into the lead, but locked up and ran wide coming into the final chicane. A strong opening lap was ruined and car 44 was looming large in his mirrors. Hamilton was unable to mount an overtaking offense in the coming laps and Vettel began to build his lead once more. On lap ten, Vettel had built up a lead of several seconds on the following Mercedes. On the same lap, the Honda in the back of Jenson Button’s McLaren MP4-31 expired in a plume of grey smoke while coming down the back straight. Button pulled to the side and in front of a gap in the Armco barriers. The virtual safety car was deployed. It was under this virtual safety car that the Ferrari strategists pulled the trigger on a strategy that they would come to regret. The top ten cars all started on the ultra-soft Pirelli tyre compound, and many questioned whether these fast but supposedly fragile tyres would be capable of lasting long enough into the race for a one stop strategy to work. A two stop strategy was theoretically quicker but would cede crucial track position to any rival drivers on a one stop strategy. The effectiveness of either strategy hinged on one vital unknown factor – the durability of the soft compound tyres, which as per the FIA, were mandated to be used in this race. If they were unable to last the thirty to forty laps necessary for a one stop to work, then those cars on the two stop would be able to easily leapfrog the one stopping cars ahead of them by virtue of their fresher, faster tyres.
Ferrari went for an early stop on lap 11, attempting to capitalise on the much smaller amount of time that would be lost to Hamilton by pitting under the virtual safety car, as each car on track had to circulate at a much slower speed while it was in effect. Super-soft tyres (the intermediate tyre compound between the ultra-soft and soft tyre compounds) were fitted to the Ferrari, locking the four-time champion into a two stop strategy. Hamilton continued on with his ultra-soft tyres. The virtual safety car did not last as long as Ferrari had anticipated, and ended as Vettel entered the pits. He emerged in fourth, behind the pair of Red Bulls. Vettel’s team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, further down the field also pitted on the same strategy.
The Red Bulls were unable to resist Vettel for long, suffering from degradation on their ultra-soft tyres. Hamilton pitted and Vettel regained the lead. However, Vettel was unable to extend his lead in the manner he had hoped, and instead Hamilton began to slowly reel him in. A gap that had been 13 seconds had diminished to 7.8 when Vettel made his second pit stop on lap 37. Vettel emerged once again behind Hamilton, and despite fresher tyres was unable to catch Hamilton quickly enough, chipping away at the lead by a handful of tenths each lap. The gap eventually was a little over 4 seconds with around 15 laps to go. Vettel once again locked up entering the final chicane and had to run wide. He lost almost three seconds and any glimmer of hope he had to challenge for the victory was extinguished. In truth his best chance at victory was lost the second Ferrari called him into the pits on lap 11. The soft tyres on Hamilton’s car did not degrade in any way to the extent the Ferrari tacticians had envisioned. Vettel too was surprised by the longevity of the rubber in Canada –
“We lost track position – we didn’t expect the tyres would last so long. I was surprised how long the super-soft lasted and then the soft lasted until the end – we could have kept going on it. Degradation wasn’t as high as expected, maybe that is where we lost the race.”
Valterri Bottas made the final step of the podium for Williams, once again showing a flair for the Circuit du Giles Villeneuve and giving a boost to the Williams team who had a torrid race in Monaco. His team-mate Felipe Massa had to retire with an engine failure. Max Verstappen was fourth, Rosberg fifth. Kimi Raikkonen, who had struggled with heating his tyres and getting tho grips with the circuit came home sixth. Daniel Ricciardo’s disappointing run continued as he finished seventh. Nico Hulkenberg was eighth for Force India and Carlos Sainz was a stunning ninth, after starting from the back of the grid. The final points scoring position was taken by Sergio Perez. It was a disappointing day for McLaren, with Button retiring and Alonso finishing outside the points in 11th.
Hamilton romped home to the chequered flag at the end of the 70th lap, while Ferrari once again was left to question their strategic calls after watching a third race victory slip through their grasp after Australia and Spain. Lewis Hamilton’s team-mate and title rival came in 5th, after suffering a slow puncture and being forced to make an extra stop, and then spinning spectacularly under breaking into the final chicane after attempting to overtake Max Verstappen, who showed grit and determination in his strong defence of 4th against the faster Mercedes. The gap in the world championship is now down to a mere nine points, and Nico Rosbergs’ once commanding lead has now evaporated.
The race continues this weekend for the first time on the streets of Baku, capital of Azerbaijan and host of the European Grand Prix.