F1 Canadian GP: Summer Blockbuster

While Hollywood comes out with movies that are action packed from start to finish and full of crashes and smashes, the Formula One circus decided to stage their own summer blockbuster in Montreal. The Canadian Grand Prix is always a wild affair but this year’s seemed crazier than usual. There was more action crammed into the first seven laps of the race than the first seven races of the season combined.

It was a different weekend at a different track on a different continent and a different man on the third step of the podium but the same result for McLaren. Lewis Hamilton led a second consecutive one-two finish for McLaren-Mercedes as they stretched their lead atop the Constructors’ Championship and Hamilton took the lead of the Drivers’ Championship.

Hamilton led from pole but was hounded quickly by Sebastian Vettel who was on the hard tires as opposed to Hamilton’s soft tires. Hamilton changed tires on lap seven which dropped him back and allowed Fernando Alonso to pounce thanks to a lightning fast Ferrari pit stop. When Hamilton made his second tire change, he was able to get by Alonso’s Ferrari on the pit stop exchange.

Button ran a quiet race, just circulating the track and staying out of trouble as is the typical button way of doing things. He was able to get by Alonso late in the going to move up to the 2nd place.

Now I’ve mentioned both Maccas getting by Alonso without actually telling you how it happened. Well that’s because the twice World Champion was caught out twice by backmarkers which caused him to be passed. First, he was held up by one of the Lotuses on his in-lap before a pit stop which allowed Hamilton through despite the Spaniard setting what was then the fast lap of the race one lap prior. Then with 15 to go, he was blocked by Karun Chandhok’s HRT on the way out of a chicane which allowed Button to cruise by. If not for some bad luck with the new boys, Hamilton could easily have picked up the win and was the best driver of the day. It’ll be interesting to see at the next race if Ferrari is recovering or if it was just Alonso’s skill the pushed the Scuderia to the front.

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In all my previews for this race, I said how the safety cars fall would determine who won the race. Turns out that, despite the chaos of the first few laps, the safety car stayed parked all day. It was the first time since 2004 that the safety car hadn’t been deployed in the Canadian Grand Prix. Shockingly, it didn’t hurt the action at all.

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It was a tough day for the ex-tandem of Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa. Massa collided with Vitantonio Liuzzi twice in the first two corners and had to pit to repair the damage. He was able to speed his way back up to the pack but ran into the Force Indias again which led to a series of epic battles. Massa was eventually able to make his way through after forcing his way three-wide with Liuzzi and a Lotus in the Turn 5/6 chicane. His progress up the standings was abruptly halted when he caught up with Schumacher.

The seven-time World Drivers’ Champion had the toughest day in the field. He started 13th thanks to a lacklustre qualifying performance but was up to 8th by the end of the first sector. After the soft tire starters made their first round of pit stops, he was up to 4th. Then it started getting interesting. He came out of his first stop alongside Robert Kubica. The pair touched and cut the Turn 3/4 chicane. Schumacher came away apparently unscathed by Kubica’s front wing was banged up. (Despite that, the Pole finished 7th.) Shortly after that, the German stopped for tires, again staying on the hard tires for the third consecutive stint. Just before halfway, he switched to the super-softs and rode those to the finish. Late in the going, Sebastien Buemi passed Schumi for 8th. Next on the scene was Massa who looked around the outside into the final chicane. Schumacher squeezed into his ex-teammate and broke Massa’s front wing. This dropped Massa to 14th. Schumacher kept dropping back and was passed by Liuzzi and Adrian Sutil on the final lap which dropped him to 11th.

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Since I’m talking about collisions, here’s some of the more noteworthy ones off the top of my head. Vitaly Petrov jumped the start, was forced onto the grass, spun across the field and collected Pedro de la Rosa. Kamui Kobayashi hit the Wall of Champions after cutting the chicane while attempting to pass Nico Hulkenberg. It looked like Robert Kubica tagged Adrian Sutil which caused the German’s right-rear tire to let go. Sutil collided with Hulkenberg which caused the rookie to lose his front wing while his Williams teammate Rubens Barrichello had a small shunt with Jaime Alguersuari. Oh, and Schumacher banged into Liuzzi as the latter made it side-by-side in Turn 8 and scattered debris across the track. Was this an F1 race, a NASCAR race or a demolition derby?

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Some big news for the future of Canadians in F1 came down earlier in the week. Ferrari’s driver academy signed 11-year-old Lance Stroll. The young Canadian is the youngest person ever signed by the academy. He already has two Canadian championships in karting and Ferrari believe that he is “exceptionally talented.” We’ll have to see if he’ll be the first Canadian in F1 since Jacques Villeneuve left BMW Sauber in 2006.

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Speaking of Villeneuve, he spoke to the media this weekend at some road safety press conference and said that if he didn’t get an F1 ride next year, he’d retire. His best days are some seven or eight years behind him but could have contributed something to a team like Stefan GP or US F1 if either got off the ground. It’s unlikely that he’ll get back into Formula One so it’ll be interesting to see where he ends up. He’s dabbled in sports cars and NASCAR but it doesn’t look like he’s found a real full-time gig.

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The Formula One Teams Association have completely lost it this time. They’ve agreed on more changes to the cars for 2011. After banning double diffusers and F-Ducts, they will do away with adjustable front wings. They’ll replace that with rear wings that can adjust up to 50 mm. The kicker is that those wings can only be activated by trailing cars within a specified distance of a leading car. It sounds like a ridiculously contrived and video game-esque way of trying to improve the racing. Anyone that watched the Canadian GP will tell you that the cars are fine. The tracks on the other hand…

•••

The next race is the European Grand Prix in two weeks’ time. The race was in August for the last two years but high temperatures made it a torturous event for drivers and teams. There’s hope that the track will be cooler with the race moving to late June. This race is traditionally a snoozer but considering how racy everyone has been for the last two rounds, there’s a chance for something different. As it’s a street circuit, I’d figure that the high downforce of the Red Bulls would make them the favourites for this one but don’t count out the McLarens.

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