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Stat Wrap: Canadian Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton celebrates his sixth victory in Canada

Sean Kelly, C4F1 Statistician

A quite sensational result in Montreal saw McLaren return to winning ways for the first time since the 2012 Brazilian GP, with Toro Rosso and Sauber adding their first podium finishes for years as the favoured runners fell by the wayside.

Yes, the return of the traditional Canadian GP raft race on Saturday was much enjoyed by all and sundry, but when it came to the serious business on the track the following afternoon, nobody could stop Lewis Hamilton powering his way to yet more Grand Prix records.

Hamilton, of course, equalled the 65 career pole positions of his great idol Ayrton Senna in qualifying.  This had been widely anticipated – partly explaining how the Senna family were able to gift Lewis a helmet from their personal collection – and it moves Hamilton to within three poles of Michael Schumacher’s all-time F1 record, one which he established with pole in the 2006 French GP.

Drilling deeper into the numbers, Hamilton won from pole position for the 35th time his career, 5 short of Schumacher’s F1 record benchmark, and by somehow snagging the fastest lap late on, he claimed the fourth “grand slam” of his career (a win from pole, with the fastest lap, and leading every lap).

It was Hamilton’s second-such race in 2017, having also done this in China.  The record in a single year is three, set by Alberto Ascari (1952), Jim Clark (twice, in 1963 and 1965) and Nigel Mansell (1992).  In all of those instances the driver went on to win the title that year, and Hamilton has another 13 races to match them!

By leading every lap, Hamilton pushed Mercedes past 4,000 laps led in their constructor history, a mark only previously attained by Ferrari, McLaren, Williams and Lotus. For a team that had scored 31 one-two finishes in the previous seasons, it was a little surprising that Canada was their first one-two of 2017, but Valtteri Bottas ably backed up his victorious teammate – although Hamilton’s winning margin of 19.783s was the largest in any race for over a year (Nico Rosberg won Sochi 2016 by 25 seconds).

Trailing in third was Daniel Ricciardo, who extracted the most from a weekend in which he could only qualify sixth. It was the Australian’s third consecutive podium finish this season, after starting the year podium-less in opening four Grands Prix.  Behind him was a feisty Sebastian Vettel, who took advantage of a very daring two-stop strategy from Ferrari to recover fourth from a race that looked to be falling apart after a front wing change had left him in 18th place on lap 10.

Vettel’s seven-race streak of podium finishes might be at an end, but by gambling on new tyres late in the race he was able to jump both Force Indias and keep his championship lead at 12 points, rather than 16 points if he had remained in the sixth place he occupied prior to the pitstop.

The Force India story was one of the flashpoints of the race.  When Esteban Ocon pitted from second on lap 31 he looked to have an outside shot at a podium finish, but he spent most of the last 30 laps stuck behind teammate Sergio Perez (on much older tyres) – and then saw Sebastian Vettel sweep past late on.  Even so, fifth place for Perez was a 37th consecutive race finish, four short of Nick Heidfeld’s all-time record, while sixth for Ocon meant there were two Force Indias in the top six for the second time in the last three races, having also been there in Spain.

Kimi Raikkonen’s performance in Monaco had served to raise his profile once again, but in Canada he rather returned to his average form of late, being the slowest qualifier of the Mercedes/Ferrari cartel for the fifth time this season.  Although he finished 7th in the race, he now barely has half the points (73) of his championship-leading teammate Vettel (141).

The metronomic Nico Hulkenberg managed to finish eighth in Canada for the third consecutive year, as the clock continues to tick down to an unenviable record for the German – he sits 6 Grands Prix short of Adrian Sutil’s 128 starts without ever finishing on the podium.  Montreal was the 70th time Hulkenberg has finished in the points, and he still awaits a first top-three finish.

Sunday’s race took place at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, a venue named after Canada’s most revered racing son and winner of the inaugural Montreal F1 event in 1978.  A generation later, his son Jacques finished second here in 1996, and went on to become the world champion the following season.  The Villeneuves were the only Canadians to ever score points in the first 66 ½ years (and 962 races) of world championship history until Sunday, when Lance Stroll added his name to the list.

In doing so, Stroll became the second-youngest points scorer in history at 18 years 225 days, beaten only by the inevitable Max Verstappen (who was 17 at the 2015 Malaysia GP).  It was an impressive drive from the teenager in his home city, after being eliminated in Q1 for the third consecutive race.

The final point went to Romain Grosjean, and despite his perennial grumpiness on the team radio, the Frenchman has scored in almost as many races this season (four) as he did in the entire 2016 season (five). He has now also scored in three consecutive Grands Prix with Haas for the first time.

Honorable mention goes to Jolyon Palmer, who has scored consecutive 11th place finishes in Monaco and Canada, making him easily the highest driver in the championship without a point, while the similarly pointless Stoffel Vandoorne at least managed to finish for the first time in three races.

His teammate Fernando Alonso – late of the IndyCar scene for this past month – was running in tenth place when his engine cried enough with only three laps remaining. A first point of the year would have been every bit as much of a boost for McLaren as their dominant raft race triumph proved to be on Saturday evening.

There’s no doubting that Alonso’s complaints about lack of power are valid:  He was as much as 16mph slower than Sebastian Vettel in the speed trap.  The fact that Alonso was able to set the fourth-fastest race lap in spite of this shows that his lack of success is not down to lack of effort.

Red Bull were everyone’s dark horse pick prior to pre-season testing, but this season has not worked for them so far.  They are still yet to even led a lap, let alone win a race.  Worse still, Max Verstappen suffered his third retirement in the last five races on Sunday, after a sensational start saw him running second to Lewis Hamilton early on.  There is much to be done in Milton Keynes this summer.

There remains every indicator that this championship will go down to the wire, with Vettel only 12 points clear in the drivers’ standings, but his rivals from Mercedes are eight points to the good in the constructors’ equivalent.  Baku is but a fortnight away….