Issue 57: 2015 Canadian Grand Prix Post-Race Analysis


16 June 2015

Race Summary: Lewis Hamilton won a narrow lights-to-flag victory ahead of team-mate Nico Rosberg at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. Williams driver Valtteri Bottas finished a distant third, some 40 seconds behind Hamilton. Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen took fourth place after a spin ahead of team-mate Sebastian Vettel. Felipe Massa and Pastor Maldonado, the only other two drivers to finish on the lead lap, claimed sixth and seventh respectively. McLaren endured a double retirement.

Scuderia falling?

As the 2015 season progresses, Ferrari’s defeat of Mercedes in a straight fight in the Malaysian Grand Prix is looking increasingly like an outlier event. In the Spanish Grand Prix, which was deemed to be critical to Ferrari’s chances in 2015, Vettel finished an alarming 45 seconds behind race-winner Rosberg. While in last weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix, where Ferrari raced with an upgraded powertrain, the Scuderia were no match for Mercedes. In truth, Ferrari had a scrappy weekend; Vettel’s chances were blighted by an Energy Recovery System-Heat (ERS-H) failure in Q1 and then a five-place grid drop after he overtook another car under red flag conditions. Meanwhile, in the race, the Finn in the second Ferrari spun at the hairpin (Turn 10) on Lap 27, a lap after his pitstop. And unfortunately for Ferrari, Pirelli’s Supersoft and Soft tyre compounds held up so well that they removed any gain Ferrari might have over Mercedes on tyre strategy. The season is not over for the tifosi, however. Vettel’s pace from Lap 37 onwards was a match for Hamilton’s, with the German posting quicker times than the world champion on 22 tours before the flag. But, given that Hamilton and Rosberg were in what appeared to be fairly aggressive fuel and brake management in the second half of the Grand Prix at least, Vettel’s impressive laptimes should be treated with caution.

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Indeed, without spending any development ‘tokens’ on their powertrain, Mercedes appear to have maintained or even stretched their technical lead over Ferrari and the rest of the field. The strong performance of the Mercedes customer teams in the race, especially Williams, confirmed as much. Moreover, seven out of the top 10 quickest times in Sector 3, the ‘power sector’, were set by Mercedes-powered cars.

Ferrari’s title challenge is teetering in the face of a resurgent Mercedes.

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Look! There’s a groundhog!

A thriller of a race, the Canadian Grand Prix was not. I don’t want to labour this point because it has been well-made and I do not like talking F1 down even though many fans and some pundits seem to enjoy doing so.

Not every Grand Prix can be a thriller in the same way that not every World Cup Final is exhilarating. This is the nature of sport. If every Grand Prix was as dramatic and thrilling as we wish for we would not experience the highs and lows that every sports fan knows so well. However, the reaction to the Canadian Grand Prix was overwhelmingly negative. The likely reason for this was that the race was unexpectedly poor. The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve has produced many a thriller over the years, which no doubt served to raise our pre-race expectations. But in this season’s event, the weather conditions were stable in qualifying and the race and the safety car did not take to the track as there were no big crashes or incidents. This immediately removed two wildcards that often cause mid-race drama in Canada. Furthermore, the durability of Pirelli’s Supersoft and Soft compounds enabled a one-stop strategy, which eliminated much variation in tyre strategies. Additionally, the seemingly endless brake and fuel management, most notably at Mercedes, served to interrupt challenges for position. Anytime Rosberg moved to within 1.5 seconds of Hamilton, his brake temperature soared and he could not press home his attack. Car management is nothing new in F1, but when it obstructs wheel-to-wheel combat, especially at the sharp end, F1 does not make for good viewing. Finally, Ferrari’s rather error-strewn weekend meant that neither Vettel or Raikkonen contributed much at the front of the race. The battle for third place between Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas caught the eye up until Raikkonen’s spin. But only Vettel and Felipe Massa were able to inject any excitement as they scythed their way through the field following a poor qualifying. Massa’s excellent pass on Marcus Ericsson for 11th place on Lap 9 was surely the pick of his overtakes.

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Rosberg’s advantage on the Supersoft tyre in 2014 appears not to have carried over to 2015

After the debacle at Monaco and a below-par weekend in Spain, the result in Canada re-confirmed that Hamilton still holds the advantage over Rosberg. But what I thought was particularly noteworthy in Canada was that Hamilton out-qualified and out-raced Rosberg on the Supersoft/Soft compound combination, something he rarely achieved in 2014. The Briton out-qualified Rosberg in Monaco too (where the same tyre compound combination was used) and out-raced him until that rather fateful pitstop. This indicates that the changes Pirelli made to its Supersoft tyre over the winter have probably removed or reduced any advantage that Rosberg previously enjoyed over Hamilton on this compound. It is well-known that Hamilton is more comfortable with oversteer than most drivers, including Rosberg. The grippier nature of the Supersoft tyre offers drivers more mechanical grip at the rear of the car thus minimising the effects of oversteer and with it Hamilton’s advantage. In 2014, Rosberg used this grip to challenge and beat Hamilton to pole position 5-1 and to race victories on 3-1 occasions, counting only races where they both finished.

Honda and Renault are powerless

Canada cruelly exposed Honda and Renault’s deficit to Mercedes. Even with engine development tokens available, one wonders just how long it will be before Renault and Honda close the gap in horsepower. In Canada, the fastest Renault-powered car and the fastest McLaren were 5mph slower through the speed trap than the quickest car of Romain Grosjean. And in Sector 3 of the lap, where horsepower is everything, the quickest Renault-powered car of Max Verstappen was only 10th fastest. The limitations on in-season testing and powertrain development means that these former giants of F1 are doing all of their development in public. It is painful to watch.