The Ferrari Owners’ Club
of Great Britain

GRAND PRIX : Canada : Vettel Hustles Hamilton

23-06-2016

Report by Alan Brown

Vettel had a dream start

With Rosberg’s F1 season suddenly engaging reverse after Spain and Monaco, and Red Bull’s form very much in the ascendency, we moved on to the intrigue the Circuit Gilles Villenueve in Canada often delivers. A circuit renowned for totally unpredictable weather, precious few run off areas and being murderous on brakes.

The two Ferraris crossed the Atlantic trying to erase recent poor qualifying memories, notably in Q3 shoot outs, and with only one pole position in the bag since the start of last season (Singapore) this is rightly a key focus for attention.

Jock Clear, the performance head at Ferrari, expressed confidence before the race that progress was being made with the SF16-H, but that no one factor was to blame. The team arrived in Montreal with a new turbo charger design. This engine upgrade cost the Scuderia three development tokens out of the ten it has available across the season. In tandem the rear suspension geometry was also revised to help improve overall stability and traction. Mastering tyre use and pressures is also believed to be a weakness leaving the SF16-H struggling for one lap pace and therefore qualifying poorly. As a consequence work on the airflow between the brake drum and wheel rim has been carried out in search of gains from the tyres.

Other teams including Renault and Honda also announced engine upgrades for Canada using some of their allocation of tokens. Mercedes, alas, have yet to use any of their seven engine development tokens available this season…

Tyre compounds on offer ranged from softs down to ultra softs with the customary green and blue edged rubber to cope with the wet stuff. Softs were the compulsory option assuming a dry race.

Friday weather conditions were dry for the start of the scheduled two free practice sessions. Monaco winner, Hamilton continued his form reversal, topping both sessions. Kimi was encountering less luck, grappling with handling problems, which led to experimentation with a number of set ups and the unfortunate Finn sitting out most of FP2, 8th quickest being the result. Over the other side of the red garage, Seb was enjoying a much better time. In FP1 he split the two Mercs and in FP2 slotted in just behind in 3rd place, only half a second behind the Brit. The first FP session was red flagged after the DRS on Massa’s FW38 Williams failed to close properly on his approach to T1 leaving the Brazilian a helpless passenger on his way backwards into the barriers.

In Saturday’s FP3 Vettel was in brilliant form bagging quickest time. Magnussen’s Renault though was another casualty of the notorious barriers having a heavy impact at T7. The resultant damage was bad enough to sideline the Dane’s car from any qualifying appearance later in the day. Vettel having been handed a five place grid penalty last year, after overtaking Mehri under red flags, doubtless wanted to ensure no recurrence this year when the FP3 session was stopped as well.

With the top teams deeply suspicious that the Red Bulls had been circling with their engines turned down in each of the three free practice sessions, there was an expectation we would see their true colours in qualifying. Certainly in Q1 Ricciardo outpaced Hamilton to take 3rd quickest. For Q2 the track was slightly damp after some light drizzle, which caught out Sainz at the infamous ‘Wall of Champions’. This led to more red flags and an eight minute delay as the stricken Toro Rosso was recovered. Hamilton went on to dominate the final two qualifying sessions finishing on pole with a time of 1.12.812, a staggering 1.6 seconds quicker than the pole position time he set here last year. Ferrari at last managed to overcome their Q3 gremlins, with Seb storming through just 0.178 of a second off the pole sitter’s time, to land third place on the grid. He breezily announced he could have squeezed even more out of the car, although it did look he was pushing to the limits with a brush against the car wrecking Wall of Champions at one point. Kimi had to settle for the third row behind the Red Bulls after his issues in free practice.

Whilst there was a suggestion of showers on race day none materialised. As the race started the tifosi worldwide would, for once, be out of their seats punching the air. Vettel made that dream start rounding the two front row Mercs before even hitting T1 and screaming off into the distance towards T3. So surprised were the German cars that Hamilton banged wheels with his team mate at T1 sending the Championship leader bouncing off over the grassy infield, to emerge back in 10th. Vettel continued to hang on to the lead in his first stint, despite missing the final chicane at one point.

With many teams opting initially to one stop, the Ferraris had other ideas and on lap 11 Seb pitted for fresh super softs. He re-joined to make light work of elbowing past the two Red Bulls to reclaim second, and then off after the leader Hamilton. At half distance the lead Ferrari made the final tyre change for softs and emerged still P2 which he held to the flag. Despite visibly wringing every last ounce of performance from the SF16-H on fresher tyres, Seb disappointingly was unable to close the gap down to Lewis who crossed the line just 5 seconds ahead to take his 5th Canadian victory.

Arrivabene’s gamble on Hamilton’s tyres going off before the end of the race didn’t exactly go to plan. Ferrari management later admitted their error but it must still be questionable whether they had the confidence to run Vettel for 46 laps or 125 miles on one set of tyres as Hamilton’s Mercedes did. On a positive note the Scuderia does appear to have made some real gains from all the development work going into the SF16-H. Baku next week could be very interesting. Kimi had a quieter race finishing in 6th after receiving fuel save instructions and encountering problems with tyre temperatures.

Rosberg still leads the championship on 116 points but on a much reduced 9 point gap to Hamilton with Vettel elevated to third place 38 points adrift.

In summary an entertaining race and with notable performances also from Bottas (3rd) and Verstappen (4th), the latter masterfully keeping at bay a hard charging Rosberg (5th) towards the end. How pleasing also for the F1 community to record an OBE being awarded to Claire Williams in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.