By Sean Kelly, C4F1 statistician
It’s been a while since Formula 1 saw a finish as controversial and contentious as the one that unfolded in Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix here in Montreal.
After a race that looked set to be a battle to the finish between Formula 1’s two most successful active drivers, spectators were instead left with a flatter feeling as Lewis Hamilton diligently followed Sebastian Vettel across the line, aware that Vettel would lose victory as soon as his five-second penalty was applied for what the stewards defined as an unsafe return to the track after running wide.
Until that point, the Canadian Grand Prix had been the first proper battle between Vettel and Hamilton all season, a battle that began in qualifying, when Vettel pipped Hamilton to claim what was remarkably his first pole since Hockenheim last season, ending a 17-race wait. He probably didn’t need the reminder that he crashed out of the lead in that race, and hasn’t led the championship since….
Knowing that Mercedes had exhibited superior pace on the hard compound Pirelli tyre during free practice, Vettel controlled the first stint of the race before Hamilton began to stalk him after the pitstops, forcing the mistake which ultimately cost Vettel victory by way of the stewards’ decision. It means that while Vettel is a two-time Canadian GP winner, he’s now seen two further victories slip through his fingers at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
“I was trying to build the pressure on Sebastian to push him into an error and he made one. I still wanted to win the right way and overtake him on the track... but my tyres were gone.”— Mercedes-AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) June 9, 2019
Lewis on Canada https://t.co/eDS4HX531Z #CanadianGP pic.twitter.com/401ty84a9t
The German led 63 of the 70 laps on Sunday without winning, and back in 2011 he led 68 of the first 69 laps, only to lose victory on the final lap when he ran wide, instead handing a famous win to Jenson Button.
Ultimately the man who DID win on Sunday was Lewis Hamilton, his fifth win of the year and extended what was already the best-ever start to any season of his career. Hamilton’s victory was his seventh in Montreal, the first time he has ever reached that total at any racetrack. Coincidentally, Montreal was where Michael Schumacher became the first man to win at any venue seven times back in 2004.
Hamilton became the first man to win a Grand Prix without being the first man across the finish line in almost eleven years. He may consider it to have been payback for the previous occurrence, as back at Spa in 2008 it was Hamilton who controversially lost victory after a post-race penalty for exceeding track limits.
P3 today. Happy with my performance today. Quick all race long, feeling for the team and Seb though, our time will come pic.twitter.com/BNmQvEmach— Charles Leclerc (@Charles_Leclerc) June 9, 2019
Away from the controversy at the front, Charles Leclerc finished a relatively unimpeded third to collect his second podium finish of 2019 – but he had to be careful to avoid a diplomatic incident of his own at the end of the race.
The bonus point for the fastest lap has seen many drivers put in a late charge in order to claim it, and Leclerc was holding the best time with as little as two laps remaining. He had to drop any further pursuit because had it continued he would have moved within five seconds of Vettel, making his teammate even more irate by demoting him to third!
With the Monegasque driver being paced to the finish, Ferrari did at least leave Montreal with the consolation of having both cars on the podium for the first time in 2019, and for the first time in Montreal since the final year of the Schumacher/Barrichello era back in 2005.
Leclerc was able to hold off the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas, whose problems on raceday were due in part to his mistakes in Q3 – spinning on his first flying lap, and then locking up and running wide on his second. Starting a relatively-lowly sixth, Bottas found himself lagging on the medium tyre, before Mercedes’ superiority on the hard compound came to the fore.
Faced with no further forward movement, the team pitted Bottas late on to put on soft tyres and go for the fastest lap, which was duly achieved. The Finn’s fourth place was the first time he was off the podium in Montreal since 2014, a blow on a circuit that has been statistically among his best.
Another driver to hit trouble in qualifying was Max Verstappen, although not totally of his own making. The Dutchman had tried an initial run on the medium compound in Q2 (as did Mercedes and Ferrari, successfully), but as it became clear Verstappen’s time would not be sufficient to progress to Q3 the team put him back on softs to ensure his progression to Q3. All would have been well until the red flag came out for Kevin Magnussen’s hefty accident, leaving Verstappen ultimately ninth on the grid.
As usual, the Dutchman didn’t let a low starting position dictate his day – his last Q2 elimination had been in Austin last year, where he had finished on the podium. Montreal was not quite as successful, and fifth place on Sunday represented Verstappen’s worst result in a race since Sochi last September!
Conversely, Verstappen’s former Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo had by far his best weekend since joining Renault at the beginning of the year. In qualifying he’d put his car fourth on the grid, the best by the French manufacturer since Robert Kubica lined up third at the Japanese Grand Prix almost nine years ago.
The Aussie star backed that up with his best result of 2019 by coming home sixth in the race, Renault’s best in Montreal since 2011. He beat out teammate Nico Hulkenberg, who was at least able to end a nightmare run of five consecutive scoreless races (worse than any driver on the grid outside of the Williams duo). The German has been super consistent down the years in Canada, and Sunday was the sixth consecutive year that Hulkenberg has bagged a top-eight finish at the Ile Notre Dame.
Pierre Gasly had a very successful Saturday, lining up fifth and tying his career-best performance from last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix – and outqualifying Max Verstappen for the first time. Therefore Sunday had to be considered mildly disappointing, as although he was in the points for the third consecutive race, he was three places and 31 seconds behind his teammate.
The Racing Point team were competing in their first Canadian Grand Prix since they rose from the ashes of the Force India team, directly thanks to the intervention of Canadian Lawrence Stroll. On Sunday, his son Lance rewarded the considerable parental support by bringing his car home in ninth place, to claim points in his hometown for the second time in three years.
Stroll has become an expert in bouncing back from poor qualifying performances. Both his Montreal points finishes have come after Q1 eliminations, and the 20-year-old is currently on a run of 11 consecutive Q1 knockouts, yet he has scored on three occasions this year (the others being Australia and Azerbaijan, so clearly he likes temporary circuits).
The last point on Sunday went to Daniil Kvyat in the Russian’s 58th start for Toro Rosso, tying the team’s all-time record held by Jean-Eric Vergne. With his third consecutive points finish, Kvyat is now on his best run since the final three Grands Prix of 2015, his only full season at Red Bull.
Next up is a rapid return to the Cote d’Azur, as the teams head for Paul Ricard. Sebastian Vettel was penalized for a first corner crash there in 2018. He’s probably seen enough of the stewards’ office for now.