Conclusions from the Canadian GP
Lewis maintains daylight ahead of Nico, McLaren and Red Bull reach new lows, and the big question F1 must answer
By Pete Gill
Last Updated: 12/10/15 2:27pm
Hamilton keeps his distance from Rosberg
After the fiasco, the formality. Lewis Hamilton’s victory in Montreal was straightforward serenity of unflustered progress, a controlled performance of commanding superiority. The absence of any drama or genuine tension was the inevitable trade-off for a victorious sportsman's best trick: making it look easy.
The dogged Nico Rosberg certainly gave it a good go and a good chase. Ironically, Rosberg actually proved more of a match for his Mercedes team-mate this weekend than he was two weeks ago in Monaco when aberration rather than attacking vigour earned him victory. But just as Hamilton was kept honest but never truly troubled, Rosberg was always thereabouts but never quite there; if Hamilton does claim a third world title later this year, ‘the two-tenths’ champion' would be a fitting epithet such has been the consistency of his usual advantage over Rosberg this term.
Canada 2015 itself will not live long in the memory. The fuse may have been lit but the race never ignited. Mercedes were simply, once again, too good for the rest of the field and McLaren, the only other stand-out protagonists, too bad. The joy – although ‘appreciation’ may be a better description – of Mercedes’ ongoing success is that their racers’ mentality continues to manifest itself with a refusal to ease off no matter the size of their advantage and the vulnerability of their lead. Despite being 30 seconds clear of the third-placed Valtteri Bottas, the team's hierarchy still stayed mute even as Hamilton and Rosberg nursed fuel and brake issues while continuing to lap within two seconds of each other. Other teams, one suspects, would surely have told their drivers to back off and hold station. Not Mercedes – and for that, they deserve our applause as well as our admiration.
A red card for a red-flag offence
Good luck explaining this one to an F1 layman: while Sebastian Vettel was sent to the back of the grid this weekend due to a five-place demotion for overtaking under a red flag, Jenson Button was demoted 15 positions for the heinous crime of using fifth power unit parts which had already ruled him out of qualifyng.
If the layman struggles to comprehend such warped priorities they are unlikely to be lonely. If the complexity of the punishments meted out to Button and Max Verstappen – part served before the race, part served during the thing itself – was an absurdity, the leniency applied to Vettel was downright dangerous. At a conservative estimate, the former world champion passed through four red flags before deliberately overtaking the Manor-Marussia of Roberto Merhi along the backstraight at 200mph, an unacceptable act of recklessness that was deserved the ultimate sanction from the stewards. A red card for a red-flag offence is something that everyone could understand, isn’t it?
McLaren discover a new television star
No more interview requests for Boullier and Dennis, please; from now on we’ll stick with Jonathan Neale, the unexpected star of the post-race fallout in Montreal as he fronted up to the cameras in the wake of McLaren’s most embarrassing day of the season – and let’s face it, there are plenty of ugly contenders for that particular moniker – and delivered arguably the team’s best performance since reuniting with Honda - although, again, that’s not saying much.
Faced with the overwhelming evidence that a calamity is unfolding at McLaren this year, Neale gave as good as he got even before his public approval rating went through the roof when he suggested that McLaren had been “too corporate”. What next, Ferrari admitting they are a little bit too much in love with the colour red?
The red faces at McLaren-Honda are, however, no laughing matter. The difficult but unignorable fact remains that but for Manor-Marussia’s resurrection they would be bottom of the Constructors’ Championship. Already slow, already unreliable, the plea for fuel saving was the straw which broke Fernando Alonso’s back. “We are looking amateur,” wailed the outraged Spaniard. Even Neale struggled to explain that one.
But the fact also remains, as Neale highlighted, that nobody else is close to beating Mercedes either. Williams’ 40-second defeat to the Silver Arrows even with a Mercedes V6 packed in under the bodywork was compelling endorsement of McLaren’s belief that a customer team will not win the world championship in the foreseeable future. Nor is Alonso’s worst nightmare – a Ferrari driver winning the championship in 2015 – any closer to being realised even after the Scuderia’s early-season ‘breakthrough’.
Both sides of the McLaren argument, in other words, are right. But McLaren’s insistence that they are still on the right path would feel altogether more convincing if only they could deliver compelling evidence of progress in the next couple of races. “All the things I see for future races make sense, I see some positive signs that everything that is coming makes sense,” said Alonso on Sunday night. What, though, if the new parts don’t make sense on track? McLaren’s belief in Honda might currently be an ingrained article of faith, but without supporting evidence faith can be a fickle thing.
Now or never for Audi-Red Bull
The smile is still in place but even Daniel Ricciardo, driving at the back of the field just two years ago with Toro Rosso, is beginning to sound tired of Red Bull’s regression. "I thought we had reached the lowest point,” complained the Aussie on Sunday, “but today was a new one.” Hardly the ideal precursor to the team’s home race in Austria in two weeks’ time.
Provided Mercedes don’t drop the ball and remain out front in a class of their own, Red Bull are likely to be the story of Austria. Just where are the team heading? The hills are alive with discontent; Red Bull are exasperated with Renault, Renault are fed up with Red Bull, and now Ricciardo, the eternal optimist, has started to sound defeatist. "I don't think we really know what we need right now or where to find it,” he told reporters after a dismal qualifying performance.
The impression persists that everyone wants out at Red Bull; the brand owners from the team, the team from the engine supplier, and the engine supplier from the team. If Audi, or indeed anybody else, are serious about coming in to F1 as the saviours of a fallen superpower, now’s the time.
F1's battle with identity
F1 does love a meeting. Everywhere you look in the paddock, sometimes even when there is track action underway, there is someone of importance hunkered down in negotiations and persuasions. Just this weekend, qualifying was overshadowed by a summit meeting between F1’s ‘big four’ in the McLaren motorhome, while the build-up to the grand prix itself was interrupted by sermons from the bosses of Ferrari and Red Bull about F1’s future. It was a bit like the managers of the two teams in the FA Cup final discussing whether next year’s final should also kick off at 5.30pm just as their players lined up for the game – except, of course, that would never happen.
There is surely no other sport in existence quite like F1, mainly because there’s no other sport so unsure that it is indeed a sport. F1 just doesn’t seem to know itself and specifically whether it is a sporting enterprise, a business or just a piece of entertainment. The general gist on Sunday, as Ferrari hit on the concept of putting the fans first, was that F1 has become too complex. Once it stops trying to be everything to everyone, clarity may be surprisingly achievable – and race day might be all about the race again.
Don’t miss the F1 Midweek Report for all the analysis of the Canadian GP. Former F1 driver Mark Blundell and F1 tech expert Craig Scarborough join Natalie Pinkham in the studio. Catch it at 8:30pm on Wednesday June 10 on Sky Sports F1.