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The Grand Prix of Canada, which takes place at the circuit renamed after Enzo Ferrari’s favorite driver, Gilles Villenueve, has been on the Formula 1 calendar for forty years (there are a three exceptions). It has a rich history in F1 and through its tenure has continued to bring F1 to North America even when the United States did not have a race.

Most recently Lewis Hamilton was a first time winner on the track that circles the Ile Notre Dame. This year continued that tradition. Here’s what I am liking, and also not liking, for the top ten drivers and their teams after the Canadian Grand Prix.

Red Bull Renault – Daniel Ricciardo 1st, Sebastian Vettel 3rd

Well, well, well, the kid from Perth at the tender age of twenty-four in just his seventh outing as a Red Bull driver has done it. Daniel Ricciardo won the Canadian Grand Prix. And not only did he claim his first Formula 1 victory he did it at the expense of the mighty Silver Arrows. You know those race cars, a mile and a half in front of everyone else plus bulletproof reliability throughout winter testing and the season-to-date except for some three-dollar spark plug thing-a-mabob that told Hamilton’s ECU to shut down the engine and made him retire.

Oh, and by the way did I forget to mention it was also at the expense of Ricciardo’s four-time world champion teammate, Sebastian Vettel?

Everyone loves a first time Grand Prix winner and the response from the crowd while Ricciardo collected his nice trophy (it was so cool that he poured some champagne in it and took a swig, wouldn’t you agree?) and during the Jean Alesi interview was awesome. The F1 community really showed the love for what was a perfect drive on a perfect day doing what only few drivers can claim. As Ricciardo stated himself, he is now a Grand Prix winner. And I am definitely liking this.

So far this season the Aussie has out-driven his more accomplished teammate Vettel. I was under the impression this was due to the fact Ricciardo adapted more seamlessly to the new engine formula and the lower downforce rear-end. Could I have been mistaken? I was expecting Sebastian Vettel to outperform Ricciardo on a track with characteristics very different than the six that have come before. Translation: no high speed or medium speed corners, which is where the Ricciardo has had the measure of Vettel.

Guess what, it would appear this is not the case. Daniel Ricciardo just might be faster than Vettel in all track conditions. Or at the very least, equally fast. This year is shaping up to be quite a ride for the Aussie and I have a feeling it will just get better for him.

Sebastian Vettel. Let’s start with qualifying. A very nice lap on Saturday to put his RB10 in P3 on the grid and get one back from his teammate as far as that battle is concerned, but a so-so race and an error while trying to pass Sergio Perez’s Force India in the last stint of the race indicates that Vettel is still not driving at his previous level.

Adrian Newey recently said that he is doing everything to design a car that will give his four-time world champion what he needs, but he also said Vettel needs to drive faster. I think everyone can agree, fan or critic; Sebastian Vettel needs to drive faster–not only because if he doesn’t, his many trophies will lose a little bit of their shine, but because the new kid with wings and with the million dollar smile is starting to have quite a luster of his own.

Petronas Mercedes AMG – Nico Rosberg 2nd, Lewis Hamilton DNF

What is the saying, just when you think it’s all going your way … ?
Steve Matchett, one-fourth of NBCSN’s F1 crew, went out of his way during the pre-race show and the race telecast to let everyone know Mercedes left no stone unturned in the two weeks prior to the Canadian GP.

Well, I guess they forgot to turn over the stone with the brakes underneath it. About halfway through the race Lewis Hamilton suffered a rear-brake failure and teammate Nico Rosberg, while not completely succumbing to his brakes, had to drive at a reduced rate of speed and nurse his car to the finish line.

What was looking like a real chance for a perfect season, something never achieved in F1, will stay that way. Oh, what could have been. My guess is the new brake by wire system that we have heard many of the drivers talk about could not handle the loads at this particular circuit. But in regards to this issue causing Hamilton to retire while Rosberg was able to drive around the issue, could this be a result of Rosberg’s smoother driving style as well? This issue will make not just Mercedes but all the teams take a closer look at that part of the car responsible for bringing a body in motion to rest.

Canada was supposed to be where Hamilton got the better of Rosberg. Some payback for what went down in Monaco. Hamilton, at a track that he loves to drive on and win, was supposed to be on pole at the end of Saturday. That did not happen. On Sunday, Hamilton was supposed to pass Rosberg and take the checkered flag first. That didn’t happen either. Instead, Rosberg cut a chicane to stay in front of Hamilton. When Hamilton finally looked like he would complete the pass on his teammate, he had to retire his car while Rosberg salvaged second.

So maybe Hamilton is not going to run away with this year’s championship the way I and so many others have predicted. And I am liking that as well. Add another layer to the rivalry between the two Merc boys, that being the one of luck. Right now Hamilton seems unlucky and Rosberg lucky. But Lady Luck is fickle, so how long until this trend is reversed? Let’s not count Hamilton out just yet.

McLaren Mercedes – Jenson Button 4th, Kevin Magnussen 9th

Can someone please tell me how the hell Jenson Button came fourth in a race where not once did I see any real competitive racing from the McLaren driver? I have now watched the race twice and still have no idea how that result came to be.

Clearly the final lap melee had something to do with it, not to mention the non-finishing cars of Felipe Massa and Sergio Perez, but I still can’t make out how Button managed to get past Hulkenberg, Alonso and Bottas.

Although the Briton’s result on paper is good, somehow I don’t think the guys at Woking will be that encouraged by it. And if it was me I would stop development on the MP4 – 29 immediately and shift all focus to 2015 when Honda is due to come aboard.

McLaren need to pull a Mercedes and call this season over, consolidate whatever benefits can be salvaged throughout the year in the form of testing new parts that will make their way on to the MP4 – 30, and really hit the ground running next March.

Similar to the team, Jenson Button will not be that excited to have finished one place off the podium and Kevin Magnussen did not have a race worth writing home about. In earlier posts I had all but thrown in the towel on Button. Last year he was for the most part out-raced by Sergio Perez and this is how it looked in the beginning of this year’s season. However, the results speak for themselves. In regards to qualification, it is Button six to Magnussen one and I stand corrected. No shame in Button making me eat my words yet again.

In regards to Button’s rookie teammate, the talent is there, the speed is there, Eric Boullier says that the input is there. After such an incredible start in Australia and then out-qualifying his veteran teammate on three occasions, Magnussen really looked to be on a trajectory similar to Hamilton’s entry into the sport albeit without the race wins due to his machinery. But it has not all gone to plan. I think Magnussen is the real deal, I think he will find his feet again. If anything, this period will make him a better driver. I expect much more to come from the Dane.

Sahara Force India Mercedes – Nico Hulkenberg 5th, Sergio Perez DNF

Force India usually goes for an alternate strategy, and commonly makes it work for both cars. It might be stretching it a bit to say that on Sunday it almost worked the for the win; but if any of the cars around Perez had encountered an issue Force India would have been the one grabbing the headlines as a first time winner instead of Ricciardo.

I want so badly for some of the midfielders to finish on Sunday with a result other than fifth, six, or seventh down to whatever, but aside from Sergio Perez’s podium back at Bahrain it just doesn’t ever seem to happen.

As far as the coming together with Felipe Massa, well, what can one say besides it looked like Perez for some reason took a weird line into the left-hander and maybe Massa should have set up his move in a less complex part of the track even though he was running out of laps.

Last year I wrote that I liked the way Perez drove aggressively and made passes. Does everyone remember Monaco a year ago? Yes, he crashed Kimi Raikkonen out but sometimes these things happen. However, I am not liking that Perez is still making rookie mistakes especially at a track where the speed is such an issue throughout the lap and I am definitely not liking that while making these mistakes he is taking other drivers with him.

As usual Nico Hulkenberg drove an error-free race and just keeps adding to his world championship points tally. As of today he is sitting on fifty-seven. That’s sixth, with Alonso and Vettel just in front of him. Not bad company I would say.

Scuderia Ferrari – Fernando Alonso 6th, Kimi Raikkonen 10th

It must be like a bad dream that you cannot wake up from for everyone in the Ferrari garage especially Fernando Alonso (I will get to Kimi Raikkonen in a minute).

The weekend started well enough and the Ferrari looked like it had made a step forward in performance. In all three free practices Alonso was close with the leaders and even put the F-14T on top of the time sheets in FP1.

Then qualifying happened and the Ferrari was back to where it usually is. A fifth or sixth placing car. This is what Alonso had to say post race:

“I reached the group with the front cars but then we were too slow in the straights, which was frustrating as we were unable to pass. We stopped more or less in the laps we would liked to have stopped and put ourselves in the position in the end to have quite a fresh set of tyres to overtake if we had the pace and the top speed necessary to overtake, which we didn’t have. That is a shame but I think we did the maximum with what we have. Without the DNFs our positions were ninth and 14th, I think, and that is not enough.”

Did you hear that? Ninth and fourteenth. I am definitely not liking that. Not liking that at all. Prior to the race Alonso stated that maybe Ferrari should start devoting its resources to next year’s car. I have already mentioned that McLaren should do this and as much as I don’t want to see the Spaniard driving around in a car that would drop further off the pace as development ceased on the F-14T, sadly that might be the best thing for the guys in red and the driver which I favor most.

Ok, a few lines dedicated to Kimi Raikkonen. I did not happen to see a so-called spin by Raikkonen late in the race but I have now read about it several times and each time I do the line is preceded by or followed up with this line: ” … and on the slowest corner of the track Kimi …”.

What has happened to this former world champion? As of writing this review here is a headline concerning Raikkonen’s troubles: “Raikkonen: Very Difficult To Understand What Is Going On…” With the car, I am presuming.

Apparently no one knows what is going on. I don’t want to sound insensitive, but come on Raikkonen and company this is starting to look like the blind leading the blind. One, two, three races I can understand, but seven? Two shy of the halfway mark? Something needs to change and it needs to have started yesterday. Enough said.

Martini Williams Racing – Valtteri Bottas 7th, Felipe Massa DNF

Let’s concentrate on Felipe Massa since Valtteri Bottas faded in the closing laps of the race. Heartbreak is the only word I can think of to describe what it must have felt like in the Williams garage with just a few laps to go. Well maybe relief that everyone was ok, then heartbreak, and then probably some anger.

From my vantage point it looked like Perez slowed down as he approached the left hand turn, moved off line and then back on. Of course Perez has a different view of the matter and it seems both he and Massa are making their case for who’s to blame via social media and particularly on Twitter.

I am not that interested in whose fault it was, simply put the onus is always on the driver behind, who is making the pass, to ensure that the pass is successful and if not then they should not have passed no matter the circumstances at the time. That being said it looked like Perez’s fault no question and to that effect the stewards have handed Perez a five spot grid penalty for the next race. Massa thinks it should be more.

What I am more interested in is Martini Williams’ performance which at the very least did yield another top ten result with the sister car. However, they were set to achieve a more fantastic result with Massa’s car before Perez met up with it. All that hard work the team put in over the race weekend resulting in the team’s best qualifying to date, and in an instant, all gone, just like that. Formula 1 is not for the faint of heart.

Scuderia Toro Rosso – Jean-Eric Vergne 8th, Daniil Kvyat DNF

While I would not go so far as to say it is official, I will say STR is definitely not a back marker anymore. A top ten team? Not quite yet, but they have had a car in the top ten at least four times this season which is more than fifty percent of the time and those are numbers that a team can be proud of and build upon. Here are their results over the last few races when they have actually finished a race. 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 10th, 14th and 8th. I like it and even though Daniil Kvyat spun out and then retired out of the most recent race he is the point of interest in this team for me.

Conclusion

There are three story-lines which are starting to take center stage and while there are definitely others that warrant our attention it is plain to see that none will be as interesting as Lewis vs. Nico, Daniel vs. Sebastian and by default, Sebastian vs. the RB10.

What was looking like a foregone conclusion, Hamilton running away with this championship, has now been jettisoned by the constant ebb and flow between the Mercedes boys with some mistakes by both drivers, some ill will, some great racing and the one thing that all drivers need while competing in F1, a little bit of luck.

In the case of Ricciardo and his brilliant coming out this year against Sebastian Vettel, the question that must be on everyone’s mind is, can he sustain this momentum? Is he truly out-performing his four-time champion teammate or is it a case of Vettel not yet driving at his true level, the level we have seen the last four years, regardless of the reasons?

Lastly, why has Sebastian Vettel had such a difficult time driving an Adrian Newey-penned car? It does not make any sense. Each and every driver this year has a car with less downforce and more torque. Each of today’s drivers are experiencing the same set of problems and from what I can see each and every driver has had no issues in adapting to the car or in adapting their driving style to the car – Kimi Raikkonen being the only other exception. This just might be the most interesting storyline of the three.

The A1 Ring, now called the Red Bull Ring, will be the eighth meeting of the season in a week’s time. Formula 1 has not been there since 2003. No team has any data to go by so who will be on top is really at this stage a crap shoot, but a quick look at the track and layout, it seems to me to be right up Mercedes’ alley. It also looks to me like a track Red Bull might be able to get a few more tenths out of and as we now know, although Mercedes still has the fastest cars out there by many seconds, the silver arrows can not always dodge a silver bullet. Just ask Lewis and Nico…

  • … cue Rikki Lake like chant…

    Go Ricci. Go Ricci. Go Ricci. :-0