2010 Canadian Grand Prix (Montreal, Round 8, June 11th-13th)

Map of the Montreal circuit ©FIA
2009 was the first time in over twenty years that Formula 1 did not visit North America and for all concerned, it was a mistake – not only did it leave the teams and manufacturers worried about an increasingly ignored market, it left the many fans in North America without a race in a 2000-mile radius.  If you were an F1 fan in Canada or the United States in 2009, your nearest race was in either Japan or Brazil…
This year, the popular Canadian Grand Prix returned to the calendar and the race promoters commented that not only was the race easily sold out, but even the Friday morning practice sessions were nearly completely full. In a bizarre twist on modern Formula 1, Canada produces some fantastic races on a fairly regular basis and the tentative crowd had hopes that 2010 would be no different – they were not disappointed.  With the fall out at Red Bull following the Turkish event and the rumblings over at McLaren, a sense of tension and apprehension ran through the Montreal air.  The McLaren team arrived in Montreal as early favourites; their F-duct device most likely to greatly help Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton on the long straights, however the Red Bull squad decided not to have it for Canada – something the Austrian team may regret come season end.

Throughout the opening session, a new track surface mixed with an incredibly dusty and dirty road meant very little track activity took place and with little other racing action going on over the course of the whole weekend, conditions would not improve greatly. It resulted in very few drivers venturing on track for first part of session and it would be over 45 minutes before a front runner, Jenson Button, left the pits. For the first 90 minutes, Button swapped the fastest lap with Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton; however it was the reigning Champion that firmly secures the top position.
The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve has had a habit of catching drivers out over the years and the difficult circuit conditions only add to the lack of grip on track. In fact, there would be 54 off-track excursions reported on Friday, with the Ferrari’s being the most notable offroader’s. Lucas di Grassi was the only failure of the session as his Virgin machine ground to a halt in turn 6 – an assembly issue with his left-front brakes ends his session prematurely.

Second practice saw the Red Bull duo step up to the mark; although the Ferrari’s left it a while to emerge from the garages and clock up fast laps – with Alonso the faster of the two red cars and Vettel leading the Red Bull charge.  By the finish of the 90 minute session, Vettel is quickest of all with Alonso, Rosberg and Webber not far behind.   McLaren were somewhat further down the order, notching up a 7th and 11th finish in the process – the Woking team will be hoping to be back up to speed come qualifying and the race.  Sadly for Jarno Trulli, the Italian had little chance to get any significant running during second practice – an electrical issue ultimately caused a gearbox problem, meaning it is some 75 minutes before the Lotus driver was out on track.  Throughout the day, complains of excessive tyre wear on the option (soft) rain in – particularly with regards to the left front and right rear Bridgestone rubber.

Overnight rain left the only a very narrow line on circuit – the track once again became quite slippery and there were multiple offs to prove it.  Not all had the opportunity to crash though as Karun Chandhok’s Hispania machine ground to halt with hydraulic failure just prior to joining the track at the session start – a dreadful moment for the Spanish squad and something they did not need.  Another driver with mechanical problems was Nico Rosberg; his Mercedes car suffering a clutch failure and only clocking up three minutes of running.  Felipe Massa and Hamilton were living life dangerously though as both have minor altercations with the Montreal concrete.  Lucas di Grassi was not so fortunate – approaching the hairpin at the far end of the track, his Virgin car destabilised under braking and spun into the gravel trap.  The backmarker found himself beached and his session was done.  Once again, the session would be dominated by the usual suspects with Hamilton slotting ahead of Webber, Alonso and Schumacher.

For the first time this year, Red Bull were beaten fair and square in qualifying – Montreal’s high speed straights and minimal corners swung the advantage toward McLaren, but it was Lewis Hamilton that grabbed the momentum.  Deciding what tyre to go with for the final stint would be crucial for the race – a harder tyre will give more race endurance, but a slower time, while the softer tyre rewards higher speed, but with quicker degradation.
Unfortunately for Hispania Racing, Karun Chandhok’s morning mechanical issues fed into qualifying.  Needing to change their gearbox, the Spanish squad sent Chandhok out to secure a slow banker lap, but that was all.  While the Q1 regulars were dropped following the first 20 minute run – led by Heikki Kovalainen in his Lotus T127; they were also joined by Kamui Kobayashi, a disappointing position for the Sauber driver, especially considering he qualified very well at Istanbul only two weeks ago.

It was clear the frontrunners had stepped up a gear in Qualifying 2 and almost predictably, the McLaren’s and Red Bull’s stamp their authority on the session.  As expected both Williams’ and Toro Rosso’s along with Petrov and de la Rosa fill out the Q2 drop-outs, but no one expected them to be joined by Schumacher, whose dreadful run in the Mercedes saw him well off his team mate.  Undoubtedly, Nico Rosberg will take some pleasure from the struggles of the 7-time World Champion, but in truth it could very easily have been Felipe Massa, Vitantonio Liuzzi or even Button in that 11th position.
In the final qualifying session, Hamilton chose the softer tyre and picked up pole position with it, but it was a hard fought Qualifying 3 as Alonso, Vettel and then Webber pushed the McLaren driver hard as all four swapped fast time after fast time.  Hamilton’s first benchmark was a 1.15.500, but by the end of the session, that time had skimmed down to a rather more slender 1.15.105; however the drama did not end there for the Englishman.   As Hamilton celebrated in his cockpit, a message from the pitwall warned 25 year-old of dangerously low levels of fuel on board and the Englishman switched the engine off on the back straight.  As the McLaren ground to a halt to be pushed down the straight towards the pits, the crowd grew ecstatic knowing they may have just witnessed the turning point of the season.
Finally someone broke Red Bull’s run of top spots in qualifying and come Sunday, Hamilton would be the one with a clear road ahead.

Things got a little easier on raceday; Hamilton had his front row compatriot removed as Webber was found to have a faulty gearbox at the back of his Red Bull.  The necessary gearbox change would cost the Australian five places on the grid as a result and Sebastian Vettel would take his place on the front row.  Despite the change of challenger, the 2008 Champion still surged ahead on a chaotic opening lap and while Hamilton was able to keep Vettel and Alonso safely behind his rear wing, a carbon fibre melee was unfolding in the midpack.  Though the opening turns the field meshed together – Massa, Liuzzi, Vitaly Petrov, Pedro de la Rosa and Rosberg were all involved in incidents and all needed replacement parts; meanwhile Petrov would pick up two penalties – one for a jump start and a second for ramming de la Rosa.  Sadly Kobayashi finished a nightmare weekend early as he planted his sponsorless Sauber into the wall on the exit of the final turn – instantly out and with shrunk shoulders, the Japanese driver walked solemnly back to the Sauber garage.  The day would get worse for the Swiss team later in the event – a blown engine would curtail de la Rosa’s race on the 30th lap.

It wasn’t all gloom though – Robert Kubica found himself in a much better position off the line; starting from 8th, the Pole finished the opening lap in 6th and for a time layered pressure on the (also) fast starting Webber.  The Australian also chased the second McLaren of Jenson Button, but none had the pace of the front three.  Hamilton pulled out a gap of a few seconds only to see it disappear as his soft tyres began to fade away, while at the same time worry lines forge across the brow of many McLaren engineer, as Button also battles degrading rubber early on.  Vettel closed in on the leader and pushed the Englishman – always looking, always searching, but not getting by, the second Red Bull/McLaren dogfight unfolds in a different way.  A clearly more confident Webber looks down the inside, around the outside, before sweeping passed the reigning Champion by the fifth Montreal tour.  Behind them, Schumacher forces a way by the Force India of Sutil as both Mercedes powered machines wilfully ignore the track boundaries and take to the run off area – no penalty for either German in this instance.  With graining beginning to take its toll on the Bridgestone rubber, Schumacher’s Mercedes teammate – Nico Rosberg – dives into his pitbox and soon is joined Button; both change to the harder compound.

They would be followed by Hamilton and Alonso on lap 7 and while Hamilton lead the Spaniard on the way in, they were wheel-to-wheel upon exit, but Alonso edged ahead of his rival and lead the duo as they returned to racing.  Vettel meanwhile, maintained the race lead ahead of Webber for several laps – the gap never less than one second, but while the race unfolds nicely for the Red Bull squad, those at Williams would certainly appreciate a touch of Austrian luck.  On the 8th lap, Nico Hulkenberg challenged Adrian Sutil and lost, while Rubens Barrichello damaged his nose in a battle with the already battle scarred Petrov shortly afterward – both would pit for wings.
Pitting not after the Williams duo, Schumacher – so used to controversy during his initial career – added a touch of old form to his new run; the famous German exited the pit lane to a short, but fierce battle with Kubica.  Both men approached the turn 3/4 chicane fast and side-by-side, each unwilling to give way – Schumacher drifted to the right, forcing Kubica on to the grass, but as both entered the corner there was only ever going to be enough room for 1 car and while the Renault man held the tarmac, Schumacher rally crosses across the grass patch and holds his position.  It was a pointless battle for the former-Ferrari pilot; Schumacher was back in one lap later to replace his scuffed Bridgestone’s.
While that battle unfolded, both Red Bull drivers pitted for new rubber with Webber first (lap 13) and Vettel one lap later; although his crew got Vettel in and out quickly, he still emerged behind Button; however a Red Bull-type car now lead the race.  With his stop not scheduled until the fifteenth lap, Sebastien Buemi guided Alonso and Hamilton around with confidence and in desperation to find a way around the Swiss driver at the hairpin, Alonso left himself in a weakened position coming up the backstraight.  Instantly on the Spaniard’s tail, Hamilton picked up a draft approaching the final corner and swept down the inside of the Ferrari just as Buemi entered pit lane.  It took only a few laps, but the Ferrari stayed close and manged a draft to pass Hamilton into the final turn, but just as Alonso is about to make his move, the glory is stolen – the McLaren stays straight and dives into the pits.  For the McLaren driver, the stop is clean and brief and Hamilton rejoins.

Not content with a battle for the front of the pack, a slightly hurting Kubica found himself in a battle – this time for 6th place – with another German driver as the race reached the end of the first-third.  Adrian Sutil suddenly gave Force India a voice as he latched onto the back of the Renault upon exiting the final corner, yet the drive from the powerful Mercedes engine at the back of his car is not enough to get him by the Pole as Sutil finds himself squeezed to the outside in turn 1.  Kubica by now was definitely struggling with battered tyres and his lap times betrayed that fact – left with no choice, Kubica pitted for four new Bridgestone’s; however the manner of Kubica’s pit lane entry raised some questions of conduct.  Sutil had found a nice draft down the back straight and pulled ever so slightly ahead, yet as the Force India man broke for the final turn, Kubica aimed his car squarely for the pits swept across the front of Sutil at speed.  It is clearly a dangerous move and the stewards found fit to give Kubica a reprimand after the race.

Alonso and Vettel were next in, yet whereas Alonso’s first stop got him out ahead of the McLaren, the second kept him behind his arch-rival, Hamilton – a disaster for the Maranello team, as the advantage fully swapped around to the team from Woking. Webber meanwhile, was gifted the lead as the 30 lap marker passed, had spent much of the Grand Prix in silent mode, simply biding his time and putting in quick laps and staying in contention. He had yet to put on the soft tyres and was due one more stop.  At first, Webber’s lead was seven seconds, then up to 9.7 a few laps later and soon it would be 11 seconds, but just as the Australian hit that sweet spot, the Bridgestone’s gave up and like a yo-yo, Webber drifted backwards toward the contending pack.
Sensing the race coming back to him, Hamilton registered the fastest lap and then another and then another, before the second Red Bull of Vettel upped his own pace too. Webber’s risky strategy was now beginning to fall apart – much like his rear tyres. The gap, at one point 11 seconds, was halved by the 43rd lap and just as Hamilton, Alonso and Vettel began to loom large in the Australian’s mirrors, he hit a solid four-way block of traffic.

Headed by the struggling Hulkenberg, the pack also contained both Force India’s and the recovering Felipe Massa with all places ranging from 11th-14th; while Sutil charges at the Williams, Massa busies himself with (many) looks at Liuzzi.  The nature of the Massa/Liuzzi and Sutil/Hulkenberg battles are very different.  On one hand, a charging Sutil picked up slipstream on a number of occasions from Hulkenberg, yet the reigning GP2 Champion would repeatedly weave and chop across the young German – a disgraceful display indeed.  However, when the second Ferrari challenged Liuzzi into turn 1, the Force India driver went off line, only to regain momentum through the slow second bend and continued to hold off his more powerful attacker for some time – Liuzzi clearly did well to fend off Massa and doing so without resorting to questionable means.  Unwilling to give up, Massa eventually forced the issue and moved passed Liuzzi (lap 49), before wedging his red Ferrari bulk down the inside of Sutil (lap 54); the Brazilian now precariously on the edge of the points.

As Webber watches, the Australian loses more and more pace and as the race approached the final stages, any chances of the his national anthem ringing out and the end of the race were disappearing; at best, Webber was locked to fifth position.  With his advantage gone, both Hamilton and Alonso waltzed up to the back of the Red Bull; their Canadian dream was about to turn to a Montreal disaster as first Hamilton sprinted passed Webber in turn 1 and Alonso made his move two laps later – webber went straight down the pitlane looking for new rubber.  The other Red Bull was struggling too – with Montreal is notoriously hard on brakes, Vettel was short on brakes in the hard stopping areas for the final 15 laps.  In the space of a few short tours, the Austrian squad find themselves neutered and confined to 4th and 5th spots.

Further down the field, positions were anything but neutered. Schumacher, whose tyres had given up found himself under pressure from Buemi before the Toro Rosso driver sailed by – this may rank as one of the German driver’s most disappointing races of his career; as soon as Buemi was by, Schumacher’s former teammate Felipe Massa was on the tail of the Mercedes.  The Ferrari closed in until Schumacher, approaching the pitlane entrance, swept across the track and crippled Massa’s front wing.
As a defensive move, it was deeply cynical and ill-judged, but also told the story of Schumacher’s race – his own car picked up some minor damage and before the flag, both Force India’s passed the German leaving the silver and turquoise machine out of the points. Massa – the real victim in the carbon fibre tap dance – needed a further pitstop for a wing and broke the pitlane speed limit as he crossed the white line entering the pits. His final blow would come post-race, when he was handed a 20 second penalty and 15th position.  The Brazilian just ahead of him in the finishing standings – Rubens Barrichello, had been virtually invisible throughout the day, but on completion of his 59th lap, the Williams driver registered his 15,000th competitive Formula 1 lap.

At the head of the field, all things had yet to be decided.  Determined to make this a McLaren 1-2 finish, Button reeled in Alonso lap by lap.  Just as the double-world Champion found himself baulked when lapping Karun Chandhok on the 56th lap, Button seized the opportunity, the momentum and eventually second place with a stellar move around the Ferrari into turn 8. Now running in second, Button eyed up a potential victory and chased down Hamilton; yet as if sensing the new threat, the race leader firmly put his foot down and equalised the race lead.  As the race reached its end point, the Red Bull duo also held station, having decided that on this occasion that a double-points finish is more advantageous than one retirement and one wounded machine.  Unfortunately for Webber, 5th place loses the World Championship lead to the eventual race winner, Lewis Hamilton.

Hamilton may not have won flag-to-flag, but he always appeared quite comfortable; as soon as Webber and Alonso were ahead, their individual frailties were exposed soon afterward.  Alonso did eventually remain in third with both Red Bull’s behind and Rosberg crossed the line in 6th – the first of the two Mercedes cars.  Rosberg was lucky to a degree – Kubica ahd a late pitstop forced upon him which awarded Rosberg the extra spot; however the Pole stayed comfortably ahead of Buemi in 8th and the two Force India’s – headed by Liuzzi in 9th.
This Montreal victory for Hamilton now places him 3 points ahead of Button in the title hunt, although Webber is still close, only a further 3 points behind Button.  Two weeks from now, Formula 1 returns to Europe and a date with the streets of Valencia.  The Spanish city – while itself rather nice – attracts much criticism for poor processional racing and to be frankly honest, it faces an uphill battle to match the quality that Montreal delivers.
Formula 1 is back in Canada and the sport is so much better for it.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Montreal, Canadian Grand Prix (Round 8, June 13th)
1  HAMILTON     McLaren      1h33m53.5s
2  BUTTON       McLaren      +2.3s
3  ALONSO       Ferrari      +9.2s
4  VETTEL       Red Bull     +37.8s
5  WEBBER       Red Bull     +39.3s
6  ROSBERG      Mercedes     +56.1s
7  KUBICA       Renault      +57.3s
8  BUEMI        Toro Rosso   +1 lap
9  LIUZZI       Force India  +1 lap
10 SUTIL        Force India  +1 lap
11 SCHUMACHER   Mercedes     +1 lap
12 ALGUERSUARI  Toro Rosso   +1 lap
13 HULKENBERG   Williams     +1 lap
14 BARRICHELLO  Williams     +1 lap
15 MASSA        Ferrari      +1 lap
16 KOVALAINEN   Lotus        +2 laps
17 PETROV       Renault      +2 laps
18 CHANDHOK     HRT          +4 laps
19 DI GRASSI    Virgin       +5 laps
R  GLOCK        Virgin       +20 laps
R  TRULLI       Lotus        +27 laps
R  DE LA ROSA   Sauber       +39 laps
R  SENNA        HRT          +56 laps
R  KOBAYASHI    Sauber       +68 laps

Canada, Qualifying (June 12th)
3rd Session
1  HAMILTON      McLaren       1m15.105s
2  WEBBER        Red Bull      1m15.373s
3  VETTEL        Red Bull      1m15.420s
4  ALONSO        Ferrari       1m15.435s
5  BUTTON        McLaren       1m15.520s
6  LIUZZI        Force India   1m15.648s
7  MASSA         Ferrari       1m15.688s
8  KUBICA        Renault       1m15.715s
9  SUTIL         Force India   1m15.881s
10 ROSBERG       Mercedes      1m16.071s
2nd Session
11 BARRICHELLO   Williams      1m16.434s
12 HULKENBERG    Williams      1m16.438s
13 SCHUMACHER    Mercedes      1m16.492s
14 PETROV        Renault       1m16.844s
15 BUEMI         Toro Rosso    1m16.928s
16 ALGUERSUARI   Toro Rosso    1m17.029s
17 DE LA ROSA    Sauber        1m17.384s
1st Session
18 KOBAYASHI     Sauber        1m18.019s
19 KOVALAINEN    Lotus         1m18.237s
20 TRULLI        Lotus         1m18.698s
21 GLOCK         Virgin        1m18.941s
22 SENNA         HRT           1m19.484s
23 DI GRASSI     Virgin        1m19.675s
24 CHANDHOK      HRT           1m27.757s

Canada, 3rd Free Practice (June 12th)
1  HAMILTON      McLaren       1m16.058s
2  WEBBER        Red Bull      1m16.340s
3  ALONSO        Ferrari       1m16.495s
4  SCHUMACHER    Mercedes      1m16.536s
5  VETTEL        Red Bull      1m16.582s
6  KUBICA        Renault       1m16.653s
7  SUTIL         Force India   1m16.673s
8  BUTTON        McLaren       1m16.699s
9  LIUZZI        Force India   1m16.814s
10 PETROV        Renault       1m16.982s
11 HULKENBERG    Williams      1m17.121s
12 MASSA         Ferrari       1m17.231s
13 ALGUERSUARI   Toro Rosso    1m17.331s
14 KOBAYASHI     Sauber        1m17.548s
15 DE LA ROSA    Sauber        1m17.609s
16 BUEMI         Toro Rosso    1m17.633s
17 BARRICHELLO   Williams      1m17.789s
18 ROSBERG       Mercedes      1m17.979s
19 TRULLI        Lotus         1m19.013s
20 KOVALAINEN    Lotus         1m19.447s
21 GLOCK         Virgin        1m19.536s
22 DI GRASSI     Virgin        1m19.844s
23 SENNA         HRT           1m20.325s
24 CHANDHOK      HRT           no time

Canada, 2nd Free Practice (June 11th)
1  VETTEL        Red Bull      1m16.877s
2  ALONSO        Ferrari       1m16.963s
3  ROSBERG       Mercedes      1m17.151s
4  WEBBER        Red Bull      1m17.273s
5  MASSA         Ferrari       1m17.401s
6  SUTIL         Force India   1m17.415s
7  HAMILTON      McLaren       1m17.522s
8  KUBICA        Renault       1m17.529s
9  SCHUMACHER    Mercedes      1m17.688s
10 LIUZZI        Force India   1m17.903s
11 BUTTON        McLaren       1m17.961s
12 BARRICHELLO   Williams      1m18.385s
13 HULKENBERG    Williams      1m18.447s
14 PETROV        Renault       1m18.582s
15 DE LA ROSA    Sauber        1m18.658s
16 KOBAYASHI     Sauber        1m19.142s
17 BUEMI         Toro Rosso    1m19.168s
18 ALGUERSUARI   Toro Rosso    1m19.274s
19 KOVALAINEN    Lotus         1m19.969s
20 CHANDHOK      HRT           1m20.879s
21 SENNA         HRT           1m21.097s
22 TRULLI        Lotus         1m21.346s
23 GLOCK         Virgin        1m21.488s
24 DI GRASSI     Virgin        1m21.577s

Canada, 1st Free Practice (June 11th)
1  BUTTON        McLaren       1m18.127s
2  SCHUMACHER    Mercedes      1m18.285s
3  HAMILTON      McLaren       1m18.352s
4  ROSBERG       Mercedes      1m18.356s
5  VETTEL        Red Bull      1m18.549s
6  KUBICA        Renault       1m18.662s
7  ALONSO        Ferrari       1m18.726s
8  LIUZZI        Force India   1m19.097s
9  HULKENBERG    Williams      1m19.282s
10 BARRICHELLO   Williams      1m19.313s
11 SUTIL         Force India   1m19.373s
12 MASSA         Ferrari       1m19.511s
13 PETROV        Renault       1m19.549s
14 WEBBER        Red Bull      1m19.609s
15 KOBAYASHI     Sauber        1m20.186s
16 BUEMI         Toro Rosso    1m20.320s
17 DE LA ROSA    Sauber        1m20.584s
18 ALGUERSUARI   Toro Rosso    1m20.823s
19 KOVALAINEN    Lotus         1m21.869s
20 CHANDHOK      HRT           1m21.977s
21 TRULLI        Lotus         1m22.543s
22 SENNA         HRT           1m22.701s
23 GLOCK         Virgin        1m22.713s
24 DI GRASSI     Virgin        no time

Driver Team Points
1. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 109
2. Jenson Button McLaren 106
3. Mark Webber Red Bull Racing 103
4. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 94
5. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing 90
6. Nico Rosberg Mercedes GP 74
7. Robert Kubica Renault 73
8. Felipe Massa Ferrari 67
9. Michael Schumacher Mercedes GP 34
10. Adrian Sutil Force India 23
11. Vitantonio Liuzzi Force India 12
12. Rubens Barrichello Williams 7
13. Vitaly Petrov Renault 6
14. Sebastien Buemi Scuderia Toro Rosso 5
15. Jaime Alguersuari Scuderia Toro Rosso 3
16. Nico Hulkenberg Williams 1
17. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1
Constructor Team Points
1. McLaren 215
2. Red Bull Racing 193
3. Ferrari 161
4. Mercedes GP 108
5. Renault 79
6. Force India 35
7. Scuderia Toro Rosso 8
8. Williams 8
9. Sauber 1

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