The empire strikes back
The empire strikes back
It could hardly have been in a less appropriate place. But in usually-madcap Montreal, normality returned.
It was the sort of track that had been tripping previously-imperious Mercedes in 2017 – low grip; slow turns; softest tyre compounds. But the silver team might be learning at last.
Practice running suggested it was at least in the game this time; unlike in Monaco its pace didn’t evaporate as the weekend went on. And in qualifying the story got more familiar, with the Mercs growing in potency as the hour went on.
And Lewis Hamilton – who’d especially struggled in the circumstances outlined – claimed pole position by acing the Montreal track. That last bit being something altogether more usual. Ever the showman he saved by far his best for last too.
It was tangible. For all of Merc’s step, and Lewis’s final pole cushion of upwards of three tenths over the perennial Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari next up, no one was in doubt as to the Englishman’s personal contribution when it really mattered this time. ‘Lewis had a mega lap today,’ said his similarly-equipped stable mate Valtteri Bottas. ‘The first lap in Q3 was exceptional, the second almost defied belief,’ explained an observing Will Buxton. ‘Not foreseeable – it was not expected that he could go that quick,’ Niki Lauda added. If the Merc is a diva (Toto Wolff’s words), Lewis this time made her dance. ‘It was a sexy lap,’ he concluded.
Appropriately also, in so doing he equalled the career tally of pole master, and hero of Lewis, Ayrton Senna, and was awarded one of the great Brazilian’s helmets on the track afterwards by the Senna family to mark the fact. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. And a few pointed out that even Ayrton would have been proud of that on-track effort.
‘It was a great lap,’ Lewis went on, ‘I can’t believe it came together so well. The first sector was fantastic, managed to be just a little bit up.
‘The team did a fantastic job to learn from our mistakes in the last race and really build up to this race, so I owe it all to them.’
Some, no doubt Lewis. But not all.
Even Vettel seemed a little shaken by Lewis’s time. ‘I’m not so happy with the last run I had in quali,’ the German said. ‘I would have loved to repeat that second run and just find a little bit. I lost it a bit here in turn two, then I tried a bit of ‘catch up”.
Bottas meanwhile, one with a good Montreal record himself, had a final mark a gaping seven tenths off Lewis’s. It was good enough for P3 nevertheless. ‘On the second run I tried to go faster,’ noted Bottas, ‘I went deep into turn ten…But the race is tomorrow.’ Seb also was bullish about his race prospects – ‘I think we have [the pace to win],’ he added. His launches usually are good of course. And he led at turn one here last year after starting even further back in third…
Kimi Raikkonen, who looked a reasonable pole shout for some of practice, sank to his usual slot of fourth by the end, albeit was within a tenth of Bottas’s best. ‘There was a lot of speed on the last lap, but I made a mistake in corner two,’ he explained.
The Red Bull pilots did what they could on a circuit that rewards power – ‘we knew that this track is not our favourite,’ noted Max Verstappen, ‘and in qualifying, especially Q3, Mercedes and Ferrari can turn up their engines a bit more, which we can’t.’
The car’s gradual improvement was still evidenced though as Max, who’ll start fifth, ended up a tenth-and-a-half only off Raikkonen’s time. Daniel Ricciardo was a similar amount off Max and will start sixth.
As expected the track was good to Force India and to Williams – or that in Felipe Massa’s hands at least – and all three got into the top ten. Massa led the trio in P7, three tenths off Ricciardo (Mark Gallagher for one reckoned though Fernando Alonso in a FW40 would be among the Red Bulls…). Then came the Force India pair, with Sergio Perez just pipping Esteban Ocon. Nico Hulkenberg completed the top ten.
There was a paradox around however. For all that Lewis’s claiming of pole felt important today Canada’s poles are, statistically at least, the least important of the season. Overtaking is possible here of course but moreover races at this venue tend to have a through-the-looking-glass quality. Although one prominent Montreal variable, rain, is expected to stay away.
But on today’s evidence it’ll take rather large helpings of local wackiness to deprive Lewis Hamilton.
Author: Graham Keilloh
Want to be a guest writer on VitalF1.com?