2016 Canadian Grand Prix Recap: Hamilton Wins, Vettel Avoids Seagulls
Ah, Montreal. A city where anything can happen, especially at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. The 2011 Canadian Grand Prix, for instance, was one of the most chaotic races in Formula 1 history. It holds the record for longest race, after a two-hour red flag period brought upon by extreme wet weather extended its length to just over four hours, and also the record for most safety cars, at six. Jenson Button, who crashed twice, pit six times, and who was even dead last at one point in that race, somehow managed to come back and win it by passing Sebastian Vettel on the very last lap. With potential like that, surely the 2016 Canadian Grand Prix would be an exciting one.
Well—yes and no. As seems almost common of late, the first half of the race was a nail biter, and the second half was a bit droll. But let’s recap the weekend in chronological order.
Qualifying: Vettel and Ferrari Get Close
The qualifying session turned out to be the closest of the year. Hamilton once again took pole position, but only just: Rosberg was a mere 0.062 seconds behind and Vettel another 0.116 further down. That’s the closest anyone has been all year to Mercedes in qualifying and it bode well for the race, though it was hard to know if Ferrari’s performance should have been attributed to its new turbo upgrade or to Vettel’s phenomenal performance, as his teammate was significantly slower than he was.
In any case, it put Ferrari right where it needed to be to seize an opportunity should anything go wrong at the very front of the grid.
Race: Indestructible Tires Thwart Ferrari’s Strategy
The race was off to a familiar start: with Hamilton getting a bad launch, Rosberg getting a better one, and Vettel simply flying ahead of the two. The distance from the starting line to the first corner is one of the shortest on the calendar, yet Vettel was already solidly in the lead by the time he reached it. Rosberg got himself alongside Hamilton and probably should have been entitled to the corner exit, but seeing as that would have put him behind his championship rival, Hamilton rather rudely bumped him onto the grass instead and ruined Rosberg’s race.
Given how often this has happened—last year’s Japanese and United States Grand Prix come to mind—I’m a little surprised Hamilton keeps getting away with such aggressive behavior toward his own teammate, especially since it cost his team a few points this time.
A lovely helicopter shot of the race start.
Nonetheless, racing is all about making the most of your situation. Vettel was flying in the lead, followed by Hamilton who now had to find a way past. Rosberg had dropped all the way down to 10th and has his work cut out for him. As far as strategy went, there was only one real question: do the cars stop once for tires, or twice?
Ferrari opted for two stops while Mercedes went for just one, and that turned out to be the right choice for the Silver Arrows. Race day weather was cooler and damper than it had been during the rest of the weekend, which meant the tires could last longer. Ferrari didn’t want to take the gamble—or perhaps took a strategy gamble believing they couldn’t stay ahead of Mercedes on pace alone—and had Vettel stop twice, hoping that he would be able to catch up and overtake Hamilton by the end of the race thanks to fresher tires.
Ultimately, he never caught up. Hamilton’s tires were nigh indestructible, and Vettel made a few mistakes that prevented him from getting too close anyway—including a lockup which he claimed he had to make to avoid running into seagulls that were hanging out on the track. Tires lasting longer than expected is becoming somewhat of a pattern this season, so it might be smarter for teams to stop counting on their opponents to suffer from excessive wear.
Nico was forced off the track and lost several positions.
Meanwhile, Rosberg had made his way back up to 5th place despite nursing some fuel and temperature problems. At the very end of the race, he tried to overtake Verstappen for 4th, but the young Dutchman made several brilliant defensive maneuvers that kept him in front. Rosberg almost got past on the penultimate lap, but lost control of the rear under braking and was lucky to be able to finish the race.
While all of that took place, Williams snuck in a 3rd place finish with Bottas at the wheel, who raced fast and stayed out of trouble, and even showed some unusual Finn enthusiasm on the radio after crossing the finish line.
Post-Race Thoughts: Oh, How Fortunes Change
After the first four races, Rosberg had earned the maximum 100 points and was leading the championship by 43 points. Three races after that, he has only gained 16 more and finds his lead down to just nine points. Such is the way it goes in Formula 1, though I should point out that he might have been the one to stand at the top of the 2016 Canadian Grand Prix podium had his teammate not forced him off the track at the start of the race.
And yes, I’m aware Rosberg supposedly pulled the same move on Hamilton back in 2014, except that he didn’t. In 2014, Hamilton was slightly trailing his teammate when coming into the corner, while this time Rosberg was completely alongside or even a bit ahead. Furthermore, Rosberg locked up right before the apex in 2014, which would have compromised his entry, whereas Hamilton’s move looked more deliberate (especially given his history of pushing his teammate off-track). Finally, there was no contact in 2014, while this time Hamilton actually bumped his teammate—which made a world of difference, since it caused Rosberg to lose eight places instead of just the one that Hamilton lost in 2014.
It’s hard racing, true, and one can hardly expect Hamilton to just let his championship rival by—but teammates should usually be granted a bit of extra courtesy, shouldn’t they?
Kurt Verlin was born in France and lives in the United States. Throughout his life he was always told French was the language of romance, but it was English he fell in love with. He likes cats, music, cars, 30 Rock, Formula 1, and pretending to be a race car driver in simulators; but most of all, he just likes to write about it all. See more articles by Kurt.