Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 28° Track 41° Humidity 45% Wind 2.5 m/s
Brutal heat shimmered off the tarmac at the famed Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve as the mistral wind keened across the Ile Notre-Dame, hoping to upset the delicate balance of the skittish creatures about to race and draw the keening cry of the Safety Car.
Melting brakes, empty tanks and shredded tyres all waited for the increasingly tense teams, with T1 and it’s driver shunting design beckoned cruelly to the over optimistic pilot. Pit lane for Pascal as his shunt in qualifying earned him a new gearbox and different spec rear wing. Panic at Renault as a cross-threaded wheel nut during pit stop practice necessitated a last minute corner change that saw him barely ready to hit the track with less than 30 minutes to the start.
Thus the stage was set as the celebrities held forth on the grid, shilling for their movies and albums as increasingly tense engineers set about their tasks. The increasing heat was not what Mercedes wanted, as in the past they had shown extra vulnerability in the heat. On the other hand, it was new spec engines for all the Merc customers an upgrade mainly for reliability, or so we are told.
Given he’s a full race behind, the pressure flows very much towards Hamilton and Mercedes and the magic Ferrari starts always have to be half a concern as the gaping maw of T1 awaited, ever hungry…
Formation lap and already trouble for Kvyat as he was stuck to the tarmac as the rest of the field thundered by. The mechanics eventually got him rolling but it was going to be an issue as he wasn’t going to make it back to his grid spot in time. But never mind, as he ignored that rule and gridded up in his original start position. Fairly sure that won’t come back to haunt him…
Lights Out!!!! Brilliant start from Vettel!! Lewis covered him off into T1 though and then the streaking Verstappen got round the outside of the Ferrari whilst Bottas slid up the inside and suddenly it was P4 for Vettel. No time to celebrate as the yellows were out in S1 T3. It was Sainz into the wall and the SC making an early and merciless appearance. Lost in the carnage as well was the Williams of Massa. It all kicked off with Sainz trying to come over on Grosjean and there was indeed an investigation into the incident to come post race.
L3 Verstappen went viciously for Hamilton on restart and suddenly there’s bodywork flying about as Lewis kept it in shape. In a blink it was Verstappen on the defense from Bottas. Vettel trailed with a chunk of his FW missing entirely and further back it was Raikkonen onto the grass and losing a spot.
Lap 6 and it was in for Vettel before he got black flagged for his floppy Front Wing and back out on the SuperSoft in P18 but good to go for the rest of the race. The following lap saw Lewis set fast lap as the championship fight was suddenly back with a vengeance and even from NYC you could hear the champagne corks popping in Liberty’s VIP suite in Montreal.
Lap 10 saw Lewis setting laps roughly a second faster than Vettel which promised to be immense later in the race. Closer to the front, it was Verstappen completely unable to keep up with Lewis, perhaps because his car was moments from stopping with a mechanical fault.
As he rolled to a stop out of T1 the VSC was deployed and Red Bull’s chance at a podium now rested entirely on the shoulders of Danny Ric, now rocking around in P3 with Bottas promoted to P2 by the failure.
The VSC was going to help Vettel as it would limit his time losses on the slower tyre to Hamilton and it was Ericsson and the lads from Renault using the VSC on lap 13 to reduce time loss on pit stop, tossing their hats into long and strong ring for race strategy.
Lap 14 saw the VSC lifted and it was homeboy Stroll on the following lap making the pass for P10 and points for Williams, if he could maintain the position. Kvyat was dinged with a drive thru for not regaining his grid position in time. This tossed him back out behind Hulkenberg and Stroll.
But Stroll was on the move on the following lap having a go at Magnussen which made for an interesting threesome that thankfully sorted it all out before any real damage was done.
Raikkonen was in lap 18 from P7 as their strategists attempted to snatch some victory from the large heaping of defeat that they were currently being served.
Ricciardo was in for a pair of Softs lap 20 to cover Raikkonen and Force India then played the joker and quelle surprise decided to go long and the opposite of Ferrari whose heels race they were now seriously complicating.
Perez was in lap 21 however as he was used to cover off Ricciardo and this left Ocon in P3 trailing Hamilton and Bottas. Further back Vettel finally got the job done on Stroll, who had been defending against the WDC rather robustly. Alonso was next up in Raikkonen’s sights but at the moment the top 3 were thoroughly out of reach for the Ferarri man.
No worries for Vettel slightly further back as he sailed past Magnussen P8 and the two Ferrari’s sailed about P6 and P8. Lap 24 saw Bottas in for Soft tyres and at the front Hamilton again set fast lap. Lap 25 then had Ocon running P2 and with a stop in hand over him Hamilton P1.
Stroll’s P10 was under serious threat as Hulkenberg was just a few tenths adrift of the young Canadian, whose F1 education curve had suddenly tilted drastically upwards. Lap 26 saw the Hulk make the move and Stroll bail for the pits as it was announced that Magnussen would receive a 5s penalty for overtaking under the VSC. Stroll was out on SuperSofts and the fact that Magnussen hadn’t pitted meant he would have to sit it out in the pitlane when he changed his tyres.
Good data from Alonso as he negotiated with his engineers over which tyre to switch to, with Fernando reporting the Ferrari’s looked slow on the SuperSofts and he would prefer the Softs.
Lap 29 as Hulkenberg ascended to P9, getting around Magnussen before the HAAS driver had to serve his penalty. The following lap saw Kvyat make a hair-raising effort to also get by the HAAS of K-Mag and now the sharp end was starting to look promising as Perez began to worry about being stuck behind Ricciardo as Ocon suddenly looked like he might be able to outpoint the Mexican.
Bottas was attempting to force the issue with DRS but the Force India youngster maintained his resolve and used his engine to stay effortlessly ahead of the Finn.
Lap 33 and the game was up with Hamilton and Ocon in. Lewis was out in P1 with the SuperSoft tyre and Ocon was out in P6, also out on the SuperSofts and just ahead of Vettel, putting him into a Scuderia sandwich.
Hamilton’s lead over Bottas was roughly 10s as things settled from his pitstop but it was Ocon slightly further back who had already tracked down Kimi and was hovering just in DRS range of the Iceman.
Halfway through the race and it was Mercedes in full control but the battle for the podium spot was far from done, with Ricciardo in the catbird’s seat and Perez, Raikkonen and Ocon in that order within 4 seconds of the Red Bull driver. Vettel was just 2s astern of Ocon with reported damage to his floor, which would not be making his life any easier. Of the top 10 only Alonso had yet to pit as lap 38 rolled into the history books.
Ocon continued his harassment of Raikkonen and Red Bull announced that it was a battery problem that put paid to Verstappen’s day. Of course the more pressure that Ocon applied the slower Kimi went, backing his rival up into Vettel’s wheelhouse. Kvyat got some worse news to go with his bad as an additional 10s was going to be applied for his hijinks at the start. One might guess they looked at the wrong column for punishing his naughtiness originally.
Lap 40 and 12s clear was Lewis and running roughly 0.2s faster than his teammate, slowly, inexorably stretching his lead.
Lap 42 and it was an experiment that brought Kimi in for another set of Ultrasofts and miraculously he was now out of the way of Vettel as well. Raikkonen slotted in directly behind Vettel P7 and it was Hulkenberg immediately making life rather difficult for Kimi. Stroll meanwhile continued to make steady, if unspectacular, progress up the grid and lap 42 saw him get round Grosjean for P13 and directly on the gearbox of Vandoorne he was. Vandoorne was holding him up for the benefit of Alonso but the speed differential was such that it was not going to be too long before the young Canadian made the pass.
The Ferrari train was bearing down on steadily but surely on Ocon but with Raikkonen on much faster, fresher tyres the denouement of that story promised some tears down the road should he catch his teammate. First they would both have to catch and clear Ocon who was stuck behind Perez as they rocketed round the circuit. Both Ocon and Vettel had DRS and it was Perez at the disadvantage as the podium spot beckoned for the first driver that could get ahead of Sergio.
Lap 48 saw Stroll easily overpower Alonso and with the Magnussen into the pits it was once again into the points for Stroll, who had that set as his marker by team boss Claire Williams in pre-race interviews.
Lap 50 and Vettel was in and out of the pits for a set of Ultra’s the experiment with Raikkonen having apparently provided the missing puzzle piece for the Ferrari strategists. Released, Raikkonen began lapping nearly a second a lap faster than those around him and with 19 laps to go even Ricciardo suddenly looked vulnerable if Ferrari could maintain the pace in the tyres.
Sure enough, Ferrari promised Seb that he would catch the Force India’s and Raikkonen with 8 laps to go. Sergio was given the message that he should let Ocon through to let Esteban have a proper go at Ricciardo, who was not liking the tyres he had been sent forth on, lo those many laps ago.
Lap 53 and Perez did not seem to be all that helpful as the pair lapped behind Ricciardo. Kvyat reported a strange vibration and was told to box. A pair of Ultra’s were prepped for him and despite the vibration he was thrown back into the fray, 10s penalty served. Or he would’ve been, had there not been utter confusion about which tyre to fit. It was such a hot mess he actually had to kill the engine before it melted.
Perez continued his special pleadings and eventually the team grew tired and explained to him that if Ocon could not get round, he’d get the place back. AS the Ferrari’s thundered down, the team elected to give Perez 3 laps to get it done, but it would be far too late for Ocon as Raikkonen’s nosecone was growing ever larger in his mirror.
Kvyat eventually proved unable to retake the field and he was officially retired lap 59, crushing blow for Toro Rosso who started the day looking for double points. Lap 60 saw Perez check the an attempt was made box having a proper go at Ricciardo. Vettel snaked it by Raikkonen who was suddenly 4s slower, having missed the final chicane and gone straight.
Vettel obligingly dropped it into the 1:14s and set fast lap as Kimi complained that his brakes were going off. Rears it was and an ongoing problem as he was hemorrhaging 6-7s a lap as the engineers desperately scrambled to solve his problem.
Trouble free Vettel, was into the DRS on Ocon and Perez’ filibuster appeared to have succeeded. Ocon sent it wide to menace his teammate as Vettel hung back and looked for his opportunity lap 65. Perez had lost DRS and now it was bad news for the recalcitrant driver. Vettel was facing a bit of a problem with the power of the Merc. Into T2 the following lap and again the attempt bu Ocon failed leaving the door open for Vettel who forced him wideand into p6. Perez had nothing to celebrate and it would be the management of Force India with the real problem as they could’ve been attacking Ricciardo for a podium spot the last 20 laps instead of slowly bleeding to death to Ferrari.
Lap 69 and it was Alonso out of the race and bringing out a local yellow. Late on the brakes into T1 and it was Vettel by Perez. Alonso climbed into the grandstand to give autographs. Ocon was all over Perez but not quite enough into T1 and through the entire lap dogged him and through the last turns had one more go but Perez covered him of to the inside and it was done.
At which point one could be forgiven for not noticing that Hamilton had actually already won the race, with a grand chelem no less, and slashed 12 points from his rivals lead. Bottas and Ricciardo rounded out the podium and it was a mostly flawless weekend from the Death Star, desperate for redemption after Monaco and having demonstrated they hadn’t yet lost all their tricks.
Savage disappointment for Toro Rosso with both cars out and as well for Verstappen, whose day was short circuited with a balky Energy Store. The salve for that wound was of course the podium by Ricciardo, Red Bull being forced to scavenge what they can while Renault continues to chase horesepower and reliability.
It was also the best of times and worst of times for Force India, whose double points showed just how well developed their chassis is but whose balky driver may well have cost them a podium today, as well as harmony in the team as it seemed rather clear that Ocon may well be the faster of that driver pairing. Also less than happy will be Mercedes, as their internecine battle allowed Vettel to gain 2 positions he might otherwise have been denied. Ocon himself was a sheer delight and his attempt coming round Perez on the last lap was everything that F1 needs going forward.
Another youngster making good was Lance Stroll, who with the hopes of the Williams team firmly pinned upon him after Massa’s untimely exit, drove a vaguely tentative but still effective race to go P9 and the first points of his nascent career.
A good strategic comeback from Ferrari, but it’s clear that the racing gods felt it was time to strew some obstacles in the path of the Scuderia. This is good news for Liberty and F1 as it is now officially game on. Baku is a bogey track for Lewis and with a little luck, the seesaw will still be going come Abu Dhabi and the end of the season.
Also looking at the silver lining was Alonso who took advantage of his late race retirement (in the points no less) to climb directly into the grandstands and drive the fans mental. Well done to the Macca driver for his intuitive sense of playing to the audience.
Thanks, as always, for stopping by.
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