Hamilton wins as Mercedes’ rivals slip up again

2016 Canadian Grand Prix review

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As lap 11 began at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve race leader Sebastian Vettel momentarily lose concentration as he spied a pair of seagulls as he braked for turn one.

The Ferrari driver locked up and Lewis Hamilton, 1.3 seconds behind and out of DRS range as the lap began, gained several car lengths on him. Vettel made light of the moment afterwards, joking that it cost him the race.

But it was six corners after his encounter with Montreal’s “suicidal” seagulls that Vettel’s chance of scoring his first victory this year were wrecked by his own team.

Vettel stuns Mercedes

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2016
Hamilton forcefully kept Rosberg behind him
Red Bull had put Mercedes on alert in Monaco but in Canada it was Ferrari’s turn to take the fight to the silver cars. Vettel had got within two-tenths of them in qualifying, and from third on the grid he launched into the lead with an astonishing getaway.

Pole sitter Hamilton had barely crossed the start/finish line when the Ferrari drew past him. Vettel was so much quicker than the Mercedes he was able to take a normal line through turn one.

So could Hamilton, and with Rosberg optimistically investigating the outside line he took the opportunity to give his team mate some payback for the 2014 race. The two W07s made wheel-to-wheel contact and Rosberg’s was turfed onto the run-off.

Behind them Ricciardo had run slightly deep into turn one allowing Max Verstappen to get alongside him. So when Rosberg stumbled back on-track in front of the Red Bulls Ricciardo had to move tight to the inside to avoid him, handing third to Verstappen.

Rosberg was demoted to tenth at turn six by a lunge from Nico Hulkenberg, leaving the championship leader with a day of damage limitation.

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Ferrari’s VSC error

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2016
Ferrari were caught out by the Virtual Safety Car
Vettel tore away from the Mercedes on lap one, but cold brakes caught him out at the final chicane and he took a trip across the run-off, allowing Hamilton back onto his tail. The Ferrari driver got his head down and edged clear again.

With all the drivers required to use a set of soft tyres under the rules, and with the leaders all starting the race on super-softs, tyre strategies appeared straightforward. If drivers could eke out the ultra-softs for long enough at the beginning they could get to the end after making a single pit stop.

However the confines of Montreal make Safety Car and Virtual Safety Car periods more likely. In these situations drivers lose much less time during pit stops, which then make a two-stop strategy more attractive.

Around the same time Vettel was having his encounter with the seagulls Jenson Button’s McLaren power unit, which had already seen action in several races, failed on the back straight. Although he pulled up close to an access point the Virtual Safety Car was deployed for the safety of the marshals moving his car.

Vettel’s team knew they had a chance to switch to a two-stop strategy and that if they didn’t Hamilton might do so in order to attack them. Surrendering Vettel’s hard-won advantage of track position was a questionable decision given the performance of the Mercedes, and it quickly turned out the decision was mis-timed.

The VSC period began as Vettel was accelerating out of turn seven, halfway around the track. By the time he passed Button’s car at turn 12 the McLaren had already been moved behind the barrier. The Ferrari crew should have been alert to the likelihood that the VSC period was about to end and remove the advantage gained by pitting, yet not only did they bring Vettel in but Kimi Raikkonen too.

“We tried to take advantage of the Virtual Safety car period,” confirmed team principal Maurizio Arrivabene, but it “lasted way less than expected”. It ended after 63 seconds, just as Vettel was pulling into the pits. The field came back up to racing speed so that when Vettel re-joined the track he had fallen to fourth place, 11 seconds behind Hamilton.

Where would Vettel have been had the VSC remained? Certainly several seconds closer to Hamilton and possibly still as high as second place.

Verstappen hangs on

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2016
Verstappen kept Rosberg behind
Hamilton now led followed by the two Red Bulls. Verstappen had been saving fuel in the opening laps but after being told not to delay his team mate he picked up the pace slightly.

However the Red Bulls were not able to make their ultra-softs last as long as the leaders. Verstappen came in one lap later, Ricciardo the lap after that, and the extra time lost by the latter dropped him behind Raikkonen.

Making matters worse, Ricciardo flat-spotted one of his tyres soon afterwards, dooming him to an early second pit stop. With Verstappen and Raikkonen also needing second stops, Rosberg potentially had a chance to salvage a podium place.

Following his setback at the start the Mercedes driver had easily passed Fernando Alonso’s McLaren in the DRS zone, then demoted Hulkenberg too. By lap 20 he was running sixth behind the Williams pair, and he was able to jump ahead of Felipe Massa by making an earlier pit stop.

Valtteri Bottas, however, was also one-stopping, and with the benefit of Mercedes power he was able to keep Rosberg behind. When Rosberg developed a right-rear puncture on lap 50, it secured the first podium finish of the season for Williams.

Rosberg reclaimed his positions from Ricciardo and Raikkonen with little difficulty. But Verstappen proved a tougher nut to crack and defended his position from a quicker car on fresher tyres which had the benefit of DRS. Rosberg’s final effort on lap 69 ended with a spin from which he was able to continue still in fifth place.

Vettel slips up

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2016
Vettel chased Hamilton in vain
Vettel continued his pursuit of Hamilton until the end. After his early pit stop he had passed the Red Bull drivers easily on consecutive laps with the benefit of fresh tyres and DRS.

He re-took the lead when Hamilton made his sole pit stop. But as the race passed half-distance Vettel’s lead dipped under ten seconds and it was clear he had no chance of staying ahead of Hamilton after his second pit stop. Sure enough he emerged 7.8 seconds behind after his final visit on lap 37.

Vettel gave it everything he had in his attempts to catch the Mercedes, but could only take a few tenths of a second per lap at most out of Hamilton’s lead. A few more slip-ups at the final chicane put paid to his victory hopes, but realistically they’d been dashed many laps before.

While Ferrari’s decision to pit twice was questionable, they were far from the only team to do so, many struggling to make the tyres work properly in the cool conditions. Hamilton and Bottas were the only points-scoring one-stoppers. Among the others to pit twice were both Force Indias and the recovering Carlos Sainz Jnr, who drove superbly to take ninth place having started on the penultimate row.

Jolyon Palmer and Felipe Massa joined Button in retirement. McLaren’s three-race run inside the points came to an end though Alonso passed Daniil Kvyat for 11th in the final laps.

The two Haas drivers were next and Marcus Ericsson followed them in his Sauber. Team mate Felipe Nasr fumed at a “very unfortunate and an unnecessary move” from Kevin Magnussen which put him in a spin on the first lap, but the stewards did not get involved.

Softer tyres, harder choices

Six years ago a breathtaking race in Canada changed the face of Formula One, bringing about the rise of the high-degradation tyre era. Last year’s processional one-stop affair prompted criticism and led Pirelli to lobby for rules allowing them to introduce a new, softer compound.

The availability of the ultra-soft compound this weekend made the strategy choice a closer decision for teams and it contributed to Ferrari’s dilemma which ultimately cost Vettel the race.

However as in Monaco, Mercedes and Hamilton could count themselves fortunate that their rivals were as incautious about relinquishing the lead and, ultimately, the victory.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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24 comments on “Hamilton wins as Mercedes’ rivals slip up again”

  1. Rosberg developed a right-rear puncture on lap 50, it secured the first podium finish of the season for Williams, that’s great.

  2. Interestingly, while the rapidly-degrading tires really have made the races more spectacular in general, the Canadian Grand Prix is one of the few exceptions. Bridgestone was actually better at producing fun tires in 2010 than Pirelli in the subsequent years.

    By the way, some information seems missing in the following paragraph:

    “Hamilton now led followed by the two Red Bulls. Verstappen had been saving fuel in the opening laps but after being told not to delay his team mate he picked up the pace slightly.
    However the Red Bulls were not able to make their ultra-softs last as long as the leaders. Verstappen came in one lap later, Ricciardo the lap after that, and the extra time lost by the latter dropped him behind Raikkonen.”

    Presumably the paragraph was switched with the Rosberg paragraph.

    1. Actually I think Canada is the only track where these fast degrading tyres work. It’s also the only track where DRS does not work. Or at least the track where DRS gives way too much advantage. On several occasions the overtake already happened halfway along the straight. Even in reasonably similarly powered cars. That’s not how it should work.

      1. Canada is by no means unique in that aspect. All tracks with long straights suffer from the same problem (remember China earlier this year). The problem is that in most battles the second car just can’t get close enough for DRS to have an effect, while in other cases it just sails past.

  3. There’s a major flaw in the claim that Ferrari messed up, which is that Vettel wasn’t getting away from Hamilton before Ferrari’s decision to pit early under the VSC. In fact Hamilton had more pace and was clearly backing off slightly after catching Vettel to conserve tyres and plan how they were going to attack. We also didn’t see Hamilton caught and tested by Vettel to see how much extra he had towards the end of the race. In sum, Hamilton was very possibly faster and would have won anyhow, whatever Ferrari’s strategy.

    1. Exactly correct.

    2. I am convinced that Ferrari ran the fastest race they could with the 2 stop. I also think they could have won the race by 1 stopping before Hamilton came in. He was not fast enough on the back straight, so a lunge into the hairpin would have been Hamilton’s best chance to pass. That’s not an easy task, but the undercut would have worked.

    3. Given the strategy they took we have to imagine that they couldn’t make a 1 stop work for them while maintaining pace and with just over a 1 second lead over Hamilton when pitting and Vettel slow gains in his second stint there is very little to show that Ferrari staying on a one stop would have led them to the win. Without the errors Vettel made in his final stint (around 3.5 seconds lost time iirc) he didn’t really make the gains most were expecting with tyres that were 13-15 laps newer I believe, and that was with Mercedes out in front protecting the tyres, Hamilton’s personal best came on lap 68, so the car still had pace and grip even 2 laps before the end. Also heard after the race from Pete Windsor that according to Mercedes, Hamilton could have gone longer on the ultrasoft than he did making his final sting even shorter but Mercedes decided to play it safe and pit.

      The mistake Ferrari made was putting Vettel on a 2 stop, but not for the race win but for the excitement of the race, both Vettel & Hamilton on a 1 stop would have lead to much closer fight between the 2 and a more exciting race.

      There is little evidence that this was a certain or even extreme likely race win thrown away by Ferrari. Just think they did their sums and choose a strategy that they thought was the fastest way to the flag for them against the rest, Mercedes did the same and this time the Mercedes came out on top.

    4. Absolutely correct David; infact, their strategy made it more interesting for us at least.

  4. Ferrari is not wrong on using 2 stop strategy, the mistake is why they come in so early in the race, especially (without hindsight) it’s expected:
    – Multiple SC / VSC periods according to history (which weirdly there was none after JB retirement this year)
    – A chance of rain

    Going by that, the most logical move actually to stay as long as possible and probably extend the stint, gambling to capitalize SC or rain. Even if they really want to prevent undercut by Hamilton (which at that time the threat is nonexistent because there still enough gap to Hamilton) putting Softs is better choice to extend 2nd stint and see how the race develops.

    1. Your logic doesn’t stack up, you want to know why they didn’t stay out for an event that was already occurring?

    2. “Even if they really want to prevent undercut by Hamilton (which at that time the threat is nonexistent because there still enough gap to Hamilton)”

      Hamilton was only a second behind Vettel, the undercut was a very real threat.

  5. Nice summary of the race. I do wonder how people say someone won a race based on someone’s cock-up and so owes his victory to so so and so.
    Every win in motor racing is a culmination of all the hard work put in and a massive dose of fortune. There will always be ifs and buts but those are only mentioned in hindsight.
    What is race strategy BTW? It is one’s race calculation based on the hope that the others will cock-up theirs. And if the plan works, it becomes the best stratagy of the race.
    So with all the science and data at play, race strategies and wins are hinged on a massive load of fortune or misfortune.
    It does not however, diminish the value of one’s victory except on the very race cases where the victory is tainted by unsporting actions RE Singapore ’08 and MS’ faked crash.
    One can also say some victories are not as spectacular when there is no one able to challenge the winner but a victory remains what it is no matter what.

    1. If you can come up with an explanation as to the nature of fortune or misfortune, I’ll go with your summary.

      As it stands it’s pure imagination.

  6. Atleast now you can say things like “Hamilton’s fightback has begun”. He drove an excellent race.

    I do feel Hamilton was too agressive in that first corner, just as Rosberg was in 2014 in the exact same spot. I think the growing animosity will lead to more crashes between the 2.

  7. In the same way Mercedes handed Red Bull four victories they now have one gifted back in Monaco and Ferrari did its part in Melbourne and Canada. It all evens out at some point.

  8. Just think about this though, we’re seven races in and weirdly enough had things gone a little different Vettel could’ve won three of them. They are not there yet but they certainly are close enought to keep Mercedes sharp because when they make a small mistake Vettel is there.

    1. I’m a big fan of Vettel and enjoy seeing him succeed but i don’t think this was gifted to Merc. Seb made an error on Q3 that might have cost pole, when he was trying to catch Hamilton he had to go across the chicane several times, and I’ve just got a feeling that Hamilton wouldn’t have stayed behind for long if there had been one pitstop.

      At least things are going in the right direction for a better fight.

    1. Nice, thanks for sharing @ericok.

  9. These are some photos of the new Baku City Circuit that the F1 will be heading to this weekend.

    http://media.f1i.com/seasons/13084-baku-city-circuit.html

    Looks very interesting, there are some tight parts of the circuit that’ll really test the drivers.

    I’m looking forward to this weekend.

  10. I like the dynamic that Verstappen brings to F1 nowadays and I think he is very good for the sport, but I just wanted to find out how many moves he made in defending the place to Rosberg when he spun? did he defend once and return to the racing line or was it two moves?

  11. For some reason, it’s easy to forget that Hamilton is a triple WC, and now the winner of 45 races.

    This kind of beautifully controlled performance is yet another reason why.

    Now to get those starts sorted!

  12. It’s easy to come after the race with the conclusions these one made a strategic mistake.

    But during the race at time, Who can confirm what hamilton would have done if vettel didn’t pit at that time? Even mercedes were planning a 2 stops race.
    Who knew at that point that RedBull wont be able to follow ferrari and mercedes pace?
    Who knew that it won’t rain anymore and they’ll be no safety car or that the vsc will be so short?

    I see indications that some are saving fuel. When did Hamilton and Vettel were saving fuel also? I think they were not pushing at full power all the race…

    Strategy it’s part of the game
    Let’s hope these kind of battles will be more and more close at each races…

    Few weeks ago it was all about the mighty redbull and just before it was the most ever dominant mercedes… And back to pre season the unbreakable mercedes.

    So let enjoy race by race what all these teams are doing because the season is long and it looks like we’ve not yet seen the outcome

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