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View from the Pit Lane: Canada

Karun was impressed by Max Verstappen's more controlled performance in Montreal.

By Karun Chandhok, C4F1 technical analyst

The unpredictable 2018 Formula One World Championship continues to throw up some very interesting curveballs.

Heading into Montreal, Sebastian Vettel was a chunk behind Lewis Hamilton and, with the Brit being an absolute master around the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, it would have taken a very brave person to bet against Lewis and Mercedes.

As things transpired, Sebastian and Ferrari did a brilliant job to not only take the win but also the lead in the world championship by a solitary point.

What has become clear is that this season is going to be all about marginal gains.

Mercedes had to delay the introduction of their upgraded engines this weekend due to a manufacturing issue while Ferrari, Renault and Honda all had upgrades. That certainly didn’t help the Silver Arrows but it wasn’t the only thing that hurt them.

Mercedes chose to bring three sets less of the hypersoft tyres to Montreal than either Red Bull and Ferrari. We all know that the Pirelli tyres are extremely temperamental and tricky to get into the right temperature window, especially for that one key lap in qualifying.

I noticed Mercedes, in fact, experimenting with taking the rear tyre blankets off before the fronts – hoping that those crucial few seconds of a temperature difference would help their warm-up.

Qualifying and track position seems to be a bit more critical for Mercedes than anyone else as their car is more sensitive to the ‘dirty air’ when following other people. This makes me wonder why they didn’t bring more of the hypersofts to try and give the drivers and engineers the best chance possible to dial the car in and also get the drivers better prepared for qualifying.

It’s so important for the drivers to get a good feel of the tyres and understand through their hands, feet and bum just how much to push on the warm-up lap and how hard to attack on their hot lap.

Overtaking in Montreal is easier than in Monaco, of course, but it’s still not easy. The braking distances are now shorter as the cars have more downforce. This means that outbraking someone is very tricky to do, making qualifying even more important.

I’m sure Mercedes are regretting that tyre choice for the weekend and I’ll be interested to see if they change their approach going forward.

I do enjoy watching trackside at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. You can really see which drivers are feeling confident over the big kerbs, and you get a good insight into their psychology from the outside.

Drivers like Vettel, Lewis and Fernando Alonso chose to leave a bit of a margin and just dial themselves in throughout the four hours of practice and wait for when we get to qualifying to really attack.

But right from the first session on Friday, Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas looked hooked up around this track. They had the cars dancing around, flirting with the walls but completely in control, which was brilliant to watch.

I was very impressed with Max this weekend. It seemed to me like this was a different Max to the one we saw in Monaco. He was still attacking, he still had the car moving around and looking edgy, but it all looked slightly more controlled than we’ve seen this season.

In Monaco, he looked like an accident waiting to happen on every lap and there was a certain desperation in his driving, but this weekend he seemed like he wasn’t trying as hard to force a result, and instead allowed his brilliant, inherent talent to come to the fore.

It seemed like this was Max driving at 95% and not 110%, which was exactly what he needed to do to deliver the result – nearly 12 seconds ahead of team-mate Daniel Ricciardo at the end, claiming his second podium placing this season, was a strong way to bounce back from Monaco.

Bottas also did a very good job in taking P2, and if you consider the wins he lost in Baku and China which weren’t really his fault, he would be ahead of Hamilton in the championship.

This was an important weekend for Bottas to show he deserves that Mercedes seat for 2019, and I think it’s now a matter of time before they sign him up.

All eyes are on Red Bull for the next fortnight. The decision on choosing an engine for 2019 and beyond is looming, and it was interesting to hear Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul’s comments over the weekend, where he said that they would prefer Red Bull to stay as a customer team, despite all the bad blood and public rowing between them over the last four years.

Cyril makes a very good point that Red Bull offer a great reference for the works team and a target for the chassis department at Enstone to aim for. In Montreal, the best Renault was a second away from the best Red Bull in qualifying, an eternity in F1 terms, especially on a short lap, so there certainly is merit in what Cyril says.

Honda introduced an upgrade this weekend that both Toro Rosso drivers seemed to believe offered a good step forward.

Brendon Hartley was really enjoying driving around this circuit and performed strongly in qualifying on Saturday. He was very unlucky to be in the wrong place at the wrong time alongside Lance Stroll when the Canadian lost the rear of his car on lap one, causing a fairly spectacular crash.

The Red Bull bosses will have the benefit of looking at all the Honda data from Toro Rosso, and they’ve got a big decision to make in the next few days.

There is, of course, a commercial element to the decision as well. Let’s keep in mind that Red Bull and their boss Dietrich Mateschitz have probably been F1’s biggest spender since 2005, with now two teams and a race being funded by them, plus a major young driver program (thanks for the support there Dietrich!).

At some stage, he’s going to think about winding that expenditure back, especially if they’re not winning championships like they used to, and perhaps a deal with Honda will help to tip a chunk of Japanese yen into the race team in Milton Keynes.

Off to Paul Ricard next for the first F1 race there since 1990. It’s a circuit I know very well from the thousands of laps of F1, GP2 and Sportscar testing.

It will certainly be interesting to see who’s going to be strong in qualifying there because once again, with lots of fast, long corners as in Barcelona, overtaking could be tricky.

The Mercedes engine upgrade should help the Silver Arrows, and the last time we ran the thinner depth tyres in Barcelona, they blitzed the opposition. But I wouldn’t want to be betting big against Vettel and Ferrari just yet!

Read more: Stat Wrap - Early flag costs Ricciardo in Canada

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