The Île Notre-Dame, on which Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve fits snugly, is known among other things for its inhabiting wildlife. Local groundhogs often make an appearance; sometimes they get involved in the action. Ask Anthony Davidson about that one (given that, for more reason than one, you cannot now ask the groundhog). It was therefore appropriate that the Canadian Grand Prix just passed had rather a lot of Groundhog Day about it.
Not least when compared with the round that came before it in Monaco. Again the race for victory was an intense one, between two fine drivers at the top of their form. Again it was Lewis Hamilton who prevailed after a largely flawless drive. Though again he was aided in so doing by his foe, or rather his foe’s team, scoring an own goal.
Hamilton vs. Vettel for the win
The identity of Lewis’s foe changed, as while Red Bull wasn’t quite on it down Montreal’s long straights, Ferrari with perfect timing stepped right back into the breach. The red cars had an upgraded turbo and its qualifying problems apparently solved. In Sebastian Vettel’s hands in particular it was formidable.
The echoes with recent past nevertheless were everywhere. Not for the first time in 2016 Seb’s start was a beaut, vaulting past the two Mercedes ahead on the grid. Then again not for the first time this season, the third time in seven rounds indeed, the two Merc pilots compromised each other on the first lap. This time Nico Rosberg was the one to miss out as he sunk down to P10 after running off the road.
It was down to a tough but (just about) fair defence from Lewis, though he said later it was in fact explained by “massive understeer”. Nico seemed to accept too that, while he was peeved at the time, it was what the parlance calls a racing incident. Lewis meanwhile set off after Vettel.
In another familiar theme Seb when out front looked near impossible to dislodge but, astonishingly, Ferrari willingly vacated its imperious position. Jenson Button parking his broken Honda after 10 laps heralded a Virtual Safety Car period. Ferrari therefore pitted Vettel in an attempt to save time, but it committed the car to two stops rather than the more standard one. It served also to give Lewis track position and clear air, which is all his Merc usually needs. Quickly observers concluded that Ferrari had thrown this one away, and so it proved.
This also was for the third time in seven rounds that a strategy error cost Ferrari a probable win. Unsurprisingly questions are being asked of the Scuderia, though all in the team insisted this time it simply had miscalculated likely tyre life and that a one-stopper was never on its radar.
Seb continued to pedal hard and looked at times like he might run Lewis close, but Lewis seemed to have enough in hand and in any case a couple of late-ish runs off the track by Seb put Lewis properly out of reach in first place.
As for Nico his day, tainted at source, was difficult and became more so by a later slow puncture and an even later spin. Fifth place was all he could get. And this plus the Monaco swing means that his fat 43-point championship lead of a fortnight ago is now a slender nine. Equally suddenly Lewis seems title favourite.
In another variation with Monaco the pair at the front were delighted afterwards with their battle. And continuing the wildlife theme they joked about a couple of seagulls that Seb had to swerve to avoid. There is a lot good about this sport. Sadly though that’s one point not said with nearly enough repetition.