Lewis Hamilton led a dominant Mercedes 1-2 at the Canadian Grand Prix to redress the balance in the world championship.
After a dominant display by Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari in Monaco, Hamilton and Mercedes appeared lost, needing a solid weekend in Canada.
They certainly delivered with Hamilton winning in emphatic style and with a grand slam of pole position, race win and fastest lap for good measure. After what was a nightmare weekend in Monte Carlo, this was the perfect response from Hamilton that has certainly put him firmly back in contention for the title.
It wasn’t a nightmare weekend for Ferrari, but considering their early pace on Friday it was certainly a disappointment. Whilst it wasn’t massively successful, it could have been far worse for Vettel if it was not for a masterful recovery drive by the German.
Hamilton truly found his feet during qualifying, delivering two devastating laps to take pole position. Vettel put in a valiant effort to go just 0.004 behind Hamilton’s first attempt, but could not match the Brit’s second time in Q3. This has developed into a fascinating battle, with both drivers extracting every last ounce of talent they have to push each other even faster. One cannot help be reminded of Schumacher vs Hakkinen in 2000.
The run to the first corner in Canada is very short from the start, but there is still plenty of opportunity to lose ground. Hamilton nailed his start, avoiding the chaos that ensued behind. Vettel was rather swamped by the fast starting Verstappen and Bottas. The Dutchman in style reminiscent of Gilles Villeneuve swept around the Ferrari and Mercedes into Turn 1, clipping the right element of Vettel’s front wing in the process.
The pack was relatively clean and tidy heading through Turns 1 and 2. Carlos Sainz and Romain Grosjean were battling for 10th heading into Turn 3, the Spaniard seemingly not knowing that Grosjean was on his inside, edged across the front of the Haas. Perhaps as an inevitable consequence of the wider 2017 cars, Sainz was pitched into a spin, sliding his way down the inside of several cars, before collecting the innocent bystander Felipe Massa as the Brazilian was making his way through the right-left chicane. An inevitable Safety Car followed as the two cars were recovered.
At the end of lap 3 racing resumed. Hamilton led a very feisty Verstappen into the final chicane, having to defend somewhat from the Dutchman. Further back Vettel lost the loose elements of his front wing – with bits flying up in the air and underneath the car. This now marked him out of contention for the race win and relegated him into damage limitation mode. Falling back dramatically from the leading pack, Vettel pitted at the end of the lap 4 for a new front wing and supersoft tyres. In hindsight Ferrari should’ve done this when the damage was initially done, but it was unbeknown to them that the wing would continue to disintegrate.
Verstappen’s mighty start was reduced to nothing more than a cameo role, as a battery issue forced him to stop at the exit of Turn 3 at the beginning of lap 11, elevating Valtteri Bottas to second place. From there on in Mercedes’ race was straightforward. The Virtual Safety Car was deployed as Verstappen’s car was recovered. Only Renault opted to pit their drivers under the VSC. Both were switched to supersoft tyres, a basis on which Hulkenberg could provide a combative performance to eighth place, whilst his teammate Palmer would just miss out on points in 11th.
After four laps of VSC Hamilton led away with a 6 second gap over his teammate, the pair of them comfortably ahead of the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo who headed a train of the two Force Indias of Ocon and Perez who were split by the already ailing Raikkonen, dealing with damage having touched the wall on the exit of Turn 8.
Raikkonen was very much stuck behind the slippery Force India. Ferrari decided on an aggressive undercut on the Force India and Red Bull, bringing Kimi on lap 17. Red Bull responded by bringing Ricciardo in the lap after, and Perez pitted the lap after that. The undercut did not work and the order remained the same.
Force India split their strategies, leaving Ocon out on his ultra softs for a mammoth stint, with the idea that fresh supersofts would help him overcome the train he had been stuck in later in the race. It was this split strategy that resulted in mutiny in the ranks from Perez later in the race and threw away a possible podium, allowing Vettel to claim fourth.
Mercedes too split their strategy, putting Bottas on softs on lap 23, but pitting Hamilton a few laps later and fitting supersofts to the Briton’s car. Such was the advantage the Mercedes cars held; neither tyre strategy made a real difference and ensured that they covered all the bases.
Raikkonen’s frustrating afternoon continued, as he was still unable to find a way past Perez. Ferrari, with not a lot to lose, brought Kimi in for a fresh set of ultrasoft tyres on lap 41, knowing that they could re-catch up to Perez with several laps to go.
Vettel had climbed his way through the field using his car advantage as well as supreme skill to cut through an intense midfield battle between the likes of Alonso, Magnussen, Stroll and Hulkenberg. However, Vettel soon became stuck behind Ocon – who by now had finally made his stop – so Ferrari too brought him in for a fresh set of ultrasofts on lap 49. Once in clean air and on new tyres Vettel was flying, lapping 0.6 seconds quicker than his teammate in front. Just as he caught up to the other Ferrari, the Finn suffered a brake-by-wire failure as they entered the final chicane, gifting Vettel the position.
Vettel, very much enjoying the chase, had now ten laps to pick off Ocon, Perez and Ricciardo in third. Ocon was adamant over team radio that he could take Ricciardo if Perez allowed him to pass. Unsurprisingly Perez did not comply believing that he too could pass Ricciardo before the end of the race. This was a tough decision for the Force India team, perhaps not used to having both drivers so competitive. Whilst the inter-team domestic intensified at Force India, Vettel was charging up behind the pair of them.
At the end of the 66th lap, Ocon was slightly off line having tried to overtake Perez into the final chicane. Vettel used his extra momentum to draw alongside Ocon, who in turn drew alongside Perez as they flew into lap 67. It all became very tight as the three closed in the braking zone of Turn 1, the Ferrari squirming under braking on the dusty side of the track. Vettel judged the braking magnificently, just squeezing beneath the leading Force India, and edging Ocon to the side of the track, giving the Frenchman the option of the run off area or a collision. For the man leading the world championship this was a committed move, but certainly one of intent. After a couple of DRS assisted straights, Vettel soon overtook Perez. With only a couple of laps remaining Ricciardo’s third was just out of reach.
For Hamilton, it was perhaps one of his most straightforward wins. When the Mercedes hits that sweet spot, Hamilton is mighty. Its inconsistency in hitting it certainly still worries the likes of Toto Wolff, and many were certainly surprised at how dominant the Mercedes were.
A measured Prost like performance from Ricciardo gave him an excellent third and offered a counter style to Verstappen’s antics early on in the race. The two Force Indias held onto 5th and 6th in front of Raikkonen and Hulkenberg. Lance Stroll picked up his first ever points at his home event, whilst Alonso’s patience was tested once again by a failing Honda engine with two laps to go and the first points of the season in sight.
Hamilton certainly needed this weekend to go as well as it did. He was definitely helped by a car that found its sweet spot for once, and a young Red Bull driver compromising his main rival’s race. However he delivered a blinding qualifying lap and a controlled race run to reduce the gap to Sebastian Vettel in the championship.