Canadian Grand Prix 2014


 

Aussie Rules!


A non-Mercedes winner (for the first time this season) – check
A maiden Grand Prix winner – check 
Race leader changes unexpectedly in closing stages of the race – check
Safety car – check
Another safety car – check
Opening lap crash – check
Final lap crash – check  
Canada, you did it again. Against staggeringly high odds, you stuck two fingers up at this most metronomically predictable of seasons (the triptych of joy that has been 6 wins out of 6 and 5 consecutive one-twos for Mercedes) and gave us all a race of breathtaking excitement, drama, controversy, heart-stopping moments and a maiden race win for the enormously lovely and talented Daniel Ricciardo as the wheels finally came off the Mercedes juggernaut. I can’t think of a more deserving driver to take the race win and break the Mercedes stranglehold on victories. He is having a phenomenal season and doing something quite astounding. He is making Sebastian Vettel look a little bit like Rubens Barrichello.

Jean Alesi hitching a ride off Schumacher after winning the 1995 Canadian Grand Prix!

What is it about Montreal and first race wins? Gilles Villeneuve in 1978, Thierry Boutsen in 1989, Jean Alesi in 1995, Lewis Hamilton in 2007 and Robert Kubica in 2008. And now Daniel Ricciardo in 2014.
Straight up this was the best Formula 1 race that I have watched in bloody years. Definitely since the season finale at Interlagos in 2012 and its almost up there with the Canadian Grand Prix in 2011, a race that single-handedly shredded my nerves into a billion pieces. If we’d have had some rain on Sunday, we’d have had the complete package of perfect F1 race ingredients!

Hamilton vs Rosberg – Part 7

Naturally after escape road-gate in Monaco and “you’re not my friend anymore” playground spats, all eyes were on Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. Quite interestingly it appears from Twitter and forums (that I very occasionally venture onto to escape the mundanity of life in a town that apparently was not ready for sushi – see here) that people’s allegiances seem to be polarising behind either Rosberg or Hamilton. Unless of course you’re a Ferrari fan (and I have enormous affection still for them) and you’re reaching for the gin to make It All Just Stop.
Messrs Damon Hill and Johnny Herbert did a feature on the curse of the Wall of Champions (which has claimed victims such as Michael Schumacher, Jacques Villeneuve x2, Damon Hill, Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel as well as a whole host of other drivers). Quite reasonably, they wondered aloud whether a similar error there by Hamilton or Rosberg could end up being title-defining given the incredibly tight battle at the top.

Another Canadian GP to forget for Jacques Villeneuve

Damon and Johnny could end up being right in pinpointing Canada as a possible turning point. The Wall of Champions had an unusually quiet day but the fabled reliability of the Mercedes deserted them almost totally in the 7thrace of the season. With both drivers utterly dominant and in control for the first half of the race, we were settling down to a classic humdinger of a scrap between Lewis and Nico. Until disaster struck when both cars were suddenly crippled by a loss of power. Hamilton’s was the first car to be struck down then Rosberg’s. But the German somehow managed to nurse his car home with some brilliant defensive driving and to finish 2nd and add a potentially very significant 18 points to his tally. Without for one moment suggesting Rosberg is in the same league in terms of pure racing ability, it was a very Senna-esque thing to pull off.
Lewis Hamilton, meanwhile, was forced to retire with brake failure on lap 47 and he now trails his team-mate by 22 points. Admittedly that only leaves him one race win and a DNF for Rosberg away from leading the championship but momentum is a powerful thing. And the other big relevation from the weekend is that the Mercedes car is not infallible or bullet-proof. While there was Hamilton’s retirement in Australia (back in the history of forever), its fair to say we were all beginning to wonder what could derail the Silver Arrows. Admittedly it is telling that Rosberg clung onto second in an ailing car but there is a small glimmer of hope that the best of the rest (Red Bull and Williams – if only Williams had one stand-out driver to deliver the goods) might be within touching distance soon.
The start of the Canadian GP 2014

But this race was so much more than the story of Mercedes. It was cram-packed with drama and incident right from the very start. Coming out of turn one, Hamilton edged his nose ever so slightly ahead of Rosberg. But Rosberg was having none of it and he held firm, forcing Hamilton to take evasive action and lose a place to Vettel in the process.
The real drama of the opening lap meanwhile was the carnage unfolding down at the back of the field. Max Chilton lost control of his Marussia through turn three/four and caught the side of his teammate’s car sending it spinning into a wall. The rear of Bianchi’s car pretty much disintegrated while Chilton himself struck a different wall resulting in his first retirement in 26 F1 races. What a contrast in emotions for poor old Marussia after the euphoria of securing their first points in Monaco.
The remains of Jules Bianchi’s Marussia

Its good to know that despite enormous technological and engineering development and innovation in F1 over the years, the designated procedure for clearing up debris and oil after a crash involves men pushing brooms around. Racing in anger resumed seven laps later. Hamilton was able to dispatch Vettel with depressing ease within three laps and it was game on in the quest to reel in Rosberg. After the first round of pitstops, Rosberg still had a moderately comfortable 2 second lead over Hamilton but he (Rosberg) was having a strangely twitchy race, nearly clattering into Bianchi’s Wall of Doom when under no real pressure. Except, of course, the pressure of the title race. Only another 12 races to go folks.
By lap 25, Hamilton was right up behind Rosberg and the F1 equivalent of DEFCON 1 was about to be deployed. Rosberg was forced to cut the chicane after locking up and managed to put a fraction more breathing space between him and his teammate. Controversially some might say Nico received a warning for ‘exceeding track limits’ but crucially was given no penalty. Another footnote to recall when telling the story of the 2014 championship?
And then it was as you were until reliability issues struck both Mercedes cars. One managed to make it to the chequered flag and the other didn’t. Nico Rosberg is living dangerously at the moment but is riding his luck brilliantly.

Lewis retires from the race
A very frustrated Lewis Hamilton

The final laps of the race were (appropriately enough given the name of the circuit) reminscent of the great Gilles Villeneuve drive in Jarama, 1981. For highlights of that tremendous race – click here. Sergio Perez was somehow quite incredibly in 2nd place with Ricciardo, Vettel, Hulkenberg, Bottas, Massa, Alonso, Button and Vergne all swarming in his wake, just separated by tenths of seconds.

With 2 laps to go, Daniel Ricciardo made his decisive move on Rosberg who simply could not find enough power on the long, blistering straights of Montreal. But even then the drama was not yet over. On the final lap, with Massa dicing and battling with Perez for 4th place, the Williams smashed into the left-rear of the Force India at high speed. Endless slow-mo replays showed that as Massa pulled out to pass the Force India, Perez moved very slightly to his left. Perez rammed into a barrier to his right and Massa hurtled head-on into a tyre wall. It was a mammoth crash but thankfully both drivers were uninjured. It’s a very tough one to apportion blame for (although Perez has been officially held responsible and slapped with a 5 place grid penalty). It really looked like one driver moved right just as the other driver moved left. One could have shown a little more spatial awareness and the other could have used a little more racecraft. In my opinion, it was probably just a racing incident, however dramatic the impact. Still it must have been just devastating for Force India and Williams to miss out on a hefty haul of points so close to the end of the race.

The aftermath of the Massa-Perez crash (1 of 2)
Massa-Perez crash (2 of 2)

The lucky beneficiary of all the last lap fireworks was Sebastian Vettel. He just made it through all the carnage by the narrowest of margins to collect the final space on the podium. And to be fair that big slice of luck was long overdue for him this season. Behind the leading trio, Jenson Button (with all the drama I’ve still not managed to work out how Jenson managed this!) managed to claim fourth in his McLaren, with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg coming home in fifth and Fernando Alonso in sixth.
If God made F1 races, they would look a whole lot like Canada. Austria, you have a very tough act to follow but it might just manage it at the newly restored Austrian Grand Prix in the beautiful Styrian mountains. A second Red Bull win of the season at the Red Bull Ring anyone?!!
And the final word goes to the happiest man in the whole of Canada on Sunday:


“I’m a Grand Prix winner”

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