Bri­tish hero slashes Nico Ros­berg’s ti­tle ad­van­tage

Motor Sport News - - Canadian Gp Report - BY JAMES ROBERTS

Lewis Hamil­ton has punched a hole in Nico Ros­berg’s world cham­pi­onship lead with a com­fort­able vic­tory at the Cana­dian Grand Prix last Sun­day af­ter­noon.

Just two races ago the gap to his Mercedes team-mate was 43 points, but as the pair pre­pare to jet across the At­lantic and con­tinue their duel in the un­charted ter­ri­tory of Azer­bai­jan, the dif­fer­ence be­tween the top two is a mere nine points. Fol­low­ing his bril­liant win in Monaco a fort­night ago, Hamil­ton’s sec­ond vic­tory this year has closed the gap on Ros­berg, pri­mar­ily be­cause his team-mate could only man­age fifth at an un­usu­ally cold and sub­dued Cir­cuit Gilles Vil­leneuve. It’s a sucker punch that Hamil­ton’s hero Muham­mad Ali would have been proud of.

The Ger­man was play­ing catch-up af­ter he lost time cut­ting through the grass in­field at Turn 2 fol­low­ing con­tact with his team-mate around the first part of the left-han­der at Turn 1. The slight­est kiss of front wheels – with Nico on the out­side – was enough for the num­ber six Mercedes to turn away from the cor­ner and veer into the Tar­mac run-off, be­fore cut­ting across the grass and pulling back onto the track at the exit of Turn 2.

The con­tact left Ros­berg fum­ing and he fell to 10tb place at the end of the first lap. From there on, it was dam­age lim­i­ta­tion.

Ros­berg was along­side Hamil­ton as he had made an­other poor start and had al­ready been passed by the quicker Fer­rari of Se­bas­tian Vet­tel off the start­line. The Ger­man’s scar­let ma­chine scam­pered off into the dis­tance, but was the first of the lead­ers to pit for tyres. As the race panned out it was clear the Mercedes was able to look af­ter its rub­ber much bet­ter than Fer­rari were an­tic­i­pat­ing and in strate­gic terms Hamil­ton’s one stop was su­pe­rior than Vet­tel’s two. As a re­sult the Bri­tish driver was un­chal­lenged in the clos­ing stages. He took the che­quered flag five sec­onds ahead of Vet­tel and was joined on the podium by the Wil­liams of Valt­teri Bot­tas.


In the days lead­ing up to the an­nual trip to Mon­treal’s is­lands in the St Lawrence se­away, the cli­mate was un­usu­ally Arc­tic. Tem­per­a­tures on Thurs­day were as low as any­one of the reg­u­lar trav­el­ling press corps could re­mem­ber at a grand prix for at least a decade. A low, heavy cloud­base pre­vented any warmth from pen­e­trat­ing through to the Ile Notre Dame, so track tem­per­a­tures were un­sea­son­ably low. This had an im­pact on tyres, and in par­tic­u­lar with re­gards to warm-up. But one team had been work­ing on a so­lu­tion to get­ting its tyres to switch on – and it seemed to work.

But be­fore the sharp end of the grid was de­cided, the qual­i­fy­ing hour started with just 21 cars cir­cu­lat­ing. The ab­sen­tee was Re­nault’s Kevin Mag­nussen who had dam­aged his ma­chine af­ter an al­ter­ca­tion with the con­crete wall at the out­side of Turn 7 in the dy­ing min­utes of FP3 on Satur­day morn­ing.

“It was a pretty sig­nif­i­cant side im­pact which took out the wings, sus­pen­sion and floor as well as dam­ag­ing the gear­box and chas­sis,” said Alan Per­mane, Re­nault’s track­side op­er­a­tions di­rec­tor. It meant K-mag would start in a spare chas­sis, from the back of the grid.

His team-mate Jolyon Palmer was also prov­ing what a hand­ful the RS16 is, as he came oh-so-close to hit­ting the same piece of con­crete in the first part of Q1. In fact he did kiss the so-called ‘Wall of Cham­pi­ons’ in his bid to get into Q2. Sadly for Palmer, he was close, but missed out by just 0.015 sec­onds.

Less lucky was Rio Haryanto. He did clout the wall – at Turn 4 – and pirou­et­ted his Manor onto the grass. The In­done­sian was go­ing no fur­ther af­ter it be­came ap­par­ent he broke his right-rear sus­pen­sion with the knock. He was joined in the drop zone by his team-mate Pas­cal Wehrlein and the Saubers of Mar­cus Eric­s­son and Felipe Nasr (this was Sauber’s sixth dou­ble fail­ure to get into Q2 in seven races). Al­though Eric­s­son al­ready knew he would be struck with a three-place grid penalty for this race fol­low­ing his mis­de­meanour in Monaco.

When Q2 got un­der­way, most of the teams were out quickly as there con­tin­ued to be the threat the leaden skies would give way to rain. But no sooner had the ses­sion gone green then it was halted by a red-flag. Car­los Sainz had be­come the Wall of Cham­pi­ons’s lat­est vic­tim. His right-rear sus­pen­sion broke as he tapped the con­crete and his wrecked Toro Rosso came to a halt along the start/fin­ish straight – his Satur­day run­ning over. His car re­quired a re­place­ment gear­box so he wound up 20th on the start­ing grid.

At the restart the Wil­liams were the first to set times and it was close

be­tween the pair of them. Felipe Massa set a 1m 14.130s, frac­tion­ally quicker than Bot­tas’s 14.156s. But then we saw ex­actly what the Mercedes were ca­pa­ble of. Hamil­ton flew by the pits with a 1m 13.076s, nar­rowly chased by Ros­berg on a 1m 13.094s.

Fur­ther down the or­der, the bat­tle for who would start the top 10 qual­i­fy­ing shoot-out was heat­ing up. On their fi­nal run, the Mclarens were ey­ing a Q3 spot. Head­ing into the hair­pin, Jen­son But­ton locked up and that scup­pered his chance. Fer­nando Alonso made it, as did the Force In­dia of Nico Hülken­berg – while his team-mate Ser­gio Perez bailed out and pit­ted be­fore the end of the ses­sion. Ac­com­pa­ny­ing Sainz, But­ton and Perez at this stage was Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso – again the re­cip­i­ent of a three-place grid penalty car­ried over from Monaco) and the two Haas cars of Ro­main Gros­jean and Este­ban Gu­tier­rez.

At the com­mence­ment of Q3, the Mercedes were again the class of the field. Hamil­ton’s first lap was a 1m12.812s, with his team-mate frac­tion­ally slower – by just 0.062s. Be­hind them the Red Bulls and Fer­raris were snap­ping at their heels, but not close enough to chal­lenge – al­though Se­bas­tian Vet­tel came very close.

With these in­her­ently low track tem­per­a­tures, Fer­rari had found a way to gen­er­ate heat into their front tyres ahead of their runs by get­ting both driv­ers to fol­low a de­tailed pro­ce­dural in­struc­tion. It looked as though Vet­tel could al­most chal­lenge for pole, but he too made an er­ror at Turn 14. “I think I’ve brushed the Wall of Cham­pi­ons enough to take the lac­quer off the rims,” he said over the team ra­dio. It was close, but he was just 0.178s off Lewis Hamil­ton’s pole po­si­tion time in third place. Ros­berg was sec­ond with the two Red Bulls of Daniel Ric­cia­rdo and Max Ver­stap­pen in fourth and fifth. Round­ing out the top 10 was Raikko­nen, the Wil­liams of Bot­tas and Massa, Hulken­berg and Alonso.

But that Q3 time from Vet­tel gave the Scud­e­ria cause for op­ti­mism in the race…

Once again, the heav­ens were gloomy and over­cast on race­day. And de­spite the odd spot of driz­zle, the rains never came. If they had then we might have ex­pe­ri­enced a more chaotic race than the one that panned out.

As had been proved in qual­i­fy­ing, the Fer­rari of Se­bas­tian Vet­tel was the big­gest threat to the Mercedes this week­end and what the Ger­man needed was a good start. That’s ex­actly what he got, eas­ily pass­ing a slow-off-the-line Lewis well ahead of the brak­ing zone for Turn 1. Ros­berg also cap­i­talised, but found him­self on the out­side of the cor­ner as he ran wheel-to-wheel with his team-mate.

“Se­bas­tian had a great start and I had a de­cent one, and Lewis had a re­ally bad one and my po­si­tion was on the out­side,” said Ros­berg. “In Barcelona, I gave it a go around the out­side of Lewis and it worked out re­ally well. I went for the same to­day and he did a re­ally hard rac­ing ma­noeu­vre and we touched and I was off. I was very pissed off in that mo­ment, but that’s rac­ing and it’s my job to make sure I’m in front af­ter a bat­tle like that next time.”

Hamil­ton blamed a lack of front-end grip in the left-han­der for the in­ci­dent. “I got to Turn 1 and had un­der­steer. It was very close with me and Nico but it was not in­ten­tional,” he said.

As Ros­berg gath­ered him­self back onto the track he held up Ric­cia­rdo’s Red Bull and that al­lowed Ver­stap­pen to pass his team-mate. Af­ter such a promis­ing run in the last two races, it was the start of what turned out to be a dis­ap­point­ing af­ter­noon for Ric­cia­rdo. The out­come of the race was de­ter­mined by which cars were able to pre­serve their Pirellis the best and un­for­tu­nately for the Aus­tralian, the Red Bulls were prone to degra­da­tion. To com­pound the prob­lem, he badly locked up and flat-spot­ted a set of his tyres that forced an un­nec­es­sary stop and he fell down the or­der, ul­ti­mately fin­ish­ing sev­enth at the flag.

Up front, Vet­tel sprinted into an early lead de­spite a cou­ple of sig­nif­i­cant mo­ments where he locked up his fronts too. At the end of the first lap, he braked late and cut across the fi­nal chi­cane. And a few laps later locked up again at Turn 1 when he saw two seag­ulls sit­ting on the Tar­mac.

“I got a bit caught out by the wind to be hon­est, it was very gusty,” said Vet­tel. “Then I think there were a cou­ple of gulls that wanted to com­mit sui­cide. They were at the apex at Turn 1 and Lewis ob­vi­ously didn’t care as he made up a bit of time – about half a sec­ond. I brake for an­i­mals but Lewis doesn’t… then the Vir­tual Safety Car came out.”

The VSC had been ini­ti­ated af­ter Jen­son But­ton came out of the hair­pin on lap 11 and ra­dioed to his team that he was down on power. Be­fore he had time to fin­ish his trans­mis­sion, flames emerged from the ex­hausts of his Honda power unit and his race was over.

With Fer­rari plan­ning a two-stop strat­egy, the ar­rival of the VSC led to the team mak­ing the first stop for race leader Vet­tel. He peeled into the pits on lap 11 and switched from his ul­tra­soft to the su­per­soft. Lewis stayed out as Mercedes had switched to “plan B”. He made his one and only stop on lap 24 and went onto the soft tyre. Once Vet­tel had made his sec­ond stop, he had a six sec­ond deficit to try and make up to Hamil­ton in 33 laps, us­ing soft tyres that were 13 laps younger than those on the Mercedes. But it was to no avail. The Mercedes was kind to its rub­ber, and de­spite Vet­tel’s best ef­forts, he couldn’t get close enough.

Eight laps from the fin­ish Hamil­ton nailed a 1m 16.145s lap to un­der­line his su­pe­ri­or­ity and Vet­tel once again made a hash of the fi­nal chi­cane – for the sec­ond time in five laps. But de­spite fin­ish­ing sec­ond to Lewis, Vet­tel’s cheery de­meanour af­ter the race was re­flec­tive of the gains Fer­rari has made to close the gap to the Mercedes.

Be­hind the top two, Bot­tas took Wil­liams’s first podium of the sea­son us­ing a sim­i­lar strat­egy to Hamil­ton, while the re­main­der of the top 10 stopped twice. Ver­stap­pen was fourth in his Red Bull im­pres­sively re­pelling a late-charge from Ros­berg (who had made his last stop on lap 51 due to a slow punc­ture). On the penul­ti­mate lap it looked as if Ros­berg had made it past the Red Bull on the run down to the fi­nal chi­cane un­til he locked up and spun. Thank­fully he was able to keep the en­gine run­ning and came home a dispir­ited fifth, a frac­tion ahead of the sec­ond Fer­rari of Kimi Raikko­nen.

Be­hind Ric­cia­rdo, Hulken­berg was eighth and – most im­pres­sively – Car­los Sainz fin­ished ninth af­ter start­ing 20th on the grid. Perez en­sured it was a dou­ble points fin­ish for Force In­dia.

When Lewis Hamil­ton stepped out of his Mercedes, he boxed his fists to­wards the cam­era­man and wanted to ded­i­cate his vic­tory to his hero, the great Muham­mad Ali who was buried on Fri­day. You can be sure of one thing this sea­son. Lewis looked down and out af­ter the early rounds of this year’s ti­tle fight – but he’s back on his feet now. And round eight is just seven days away… ■

Hamil­ton drove a con­trolled race Brit takes sec­ond win in a row af­ter Monaco tri­umph

Se­bas­tian Vet­tel stormed ahead at the start of the grand prix

Valt­teri Bot­tas picked up his first podium of the 2016 sea­son

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