Sebastian’s performance in the Canadian Grand Prix was eerily similar to those of his dominating championship season in 2011. The signature Vettel start made an appearance, the German making a 2 second gap to second place by the end of the second lap. All the talk was of tires and the split between one, two and three-stop strategies. In the end, all three of those scenarios played out in what was an interesting, if slightly underwhelming Grand Prix.
With Valtteri Bottas valiantly, if slightly artificially in third place on the grid, the opening stint of the race would be all about getting around the Finn in the Williams. He made a better start than most would expect, but didn’t put up much of a fight when defending for position. It was probably for the best; why put off the inevitable, really? After about 10 laps, it was apparent that this race would be a lot like many of Sebastian’s past, where a sprint at the start set the stage for a controlled and calculated win. The pace at which his competitors fell behind, though, was astonishing. There were times when Sebastian would set a string of five of more fastest laps in a row. This type of consistency was not apparent during practice when, quite visibly, the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso was the fastest man in the field.
As the laps ticked away, so did Vettel’s lead increase. Fernando Alonso, from 6th on the grid, found himself stuck behind Valtteri’s Williams for a few laps, the Finn defending hard once he got settled down after the start. The Spaniard eventually got past, but he had significant time to make up in order to catch the two Red Bulls and Mercedes at the front. Once in clean air, though, the going was much smoother.
Jean Eric Vergne made a good start to hold position in the opening laps. The pressure to impress Red Bull acting as impetus to finally pass the struggling Williams after several attempts. These two initial passes on Valtteri were just the start of a disappointing day in which points seemed very likely. The Finn will have to wait another day to jump in a body of water for his team.
As all of this happened, though, triple world champion, Sebastian Vettel, cruised serenely off into the diastase, leaving the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Mark Webber scrambling for the last podium positions.
Nico Rosberg and Daniel Ricciardo were the first to blink as they hit the pits before the 20 lap mark. A two stop strategy would be the way for them. As they were the first to pit, it looked to be that one and two stop strategies would be the only options for success, barring any disaster. Nico was able to hold position after his stop to Mark Webber, despite all the signs that the German was struggling for pace. When his teammate emerged from the pits two laps later, the gap between them was bigger than he would have liked.
By this stage, Sebastian had about a 10 second lead. When he made his first stop after the three drivers behind him, he was able to increase this further. For the rest of the race, the gap to the second placed driver remained in the 14-18 second range. Any sign of the lead disappearing came when Vettel had a slight off-track excursion.
In the midfield, things were getting dicey between the Saubers, Williams, Mclarens, Toro Rossos and Lotuses. The latter were hoping to make much more ground in the opening laps with Kimi Raikkonen, instead getting caught up in the train behind Valtteri Bottas.
Pastor Maldonado and Adrian Sutil had a wild moment after slight contact between the two caused the German to spin in the middle of the track. To avoid a major incident in this narrow part of the track, avoiding drivers had to take to the grass. Adrian came away form this incident with worrying rear wing damage which, at high speeds, caused the left side of the wing to lean awkwardly at one side. The wind seemed to be structurally sound, though, and Adrian carried on.
Back at the front, Vettel was maintaining his huge advantage. At this stage in the race, it became apparent that the only fighting left in the race was for the final two steps on the podium. It wasn’t only between Lewis, Nico and Mark, though. Fernando Alonso relentlessly closed the gap to the frontrunners to put himself in contention. All the while as well, Paul di Resta and Romian Grosjean, who started from 17th and 22nd respectively, were pounding around on the Medium tire. The two were in serious contention for a top-5 position until the reality of running for so long on one set of tires kicked in. Romain Grosjean lasted for nearly 50 laps on the harder tire while, more impressively, di Resta managed even more. Romain Grosjean had a terrible time on the Supersoft tires, though, and made a second, unplanned stop after just 8 laps. His bid for points was over for the day.
Nico Rosberg was also having tire issues. The Mercedes tire gremlins were here to stay for at least one driver. After his second stop, Nico was unable to keep pace with the leaders and his two challengers from behind. The German had to make an unscheduled third stop towards the end of the race, ending his bid for a podium.
After their second and final stops, Lewis Hamilton, Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso were set for a great battle for the podium. Mark was further back than he would have liked, but his deficit was not insurmountable. Fernando Alonso was able to get ahead of the Australian while Rosberg was struggling with his tires. After his second stop, Fernando’s gap to Lewis Hamilton was just small enough to overcome. In the dying laps of the Grand Prix, the Spaniard made his move on the Mercedes driver for second place. He was successful, but Lewis was right behind him on the next lap and made an unsuccessful attempt to regain the place. In this battle, however, was Adrian Sutil. He was given a blue flag warning to slow down for the leaders but failed to do so to the satisfaction of the stewards. He was given a drive-through penalty, thus putting him in danger of not scoring. The German emerged from the pits in 10th place, but was under threat from Sergio Perez in the Mclaren. Both he and teammate Button had races, and weekends for that matter, to forget. Sutil was able to hold 10th at the drop of the checkered flag in the end, just behind the disappointed Kimi Raikkonen.
At the front, though, we had hardly seen anything of Sebastian Vettel. He managed his tires to perfection, pushing when he needed to and scaling back when necessary. It was a brillliantly calculated drive, one a perfect representation of his talent. Sebastian even resisted the urge to set fastest lap on the last lap of the race, much to the relief of everyone in the Red Bull garage. This was also Sebastian’s first win in Canada, and leaves only three tracks on the current calendar for him to master, the first of which, his home race, coming up in less than two months.
What does this dominance mean for the rest of the season? We certainly expected him to dominate in Spain after his performance in Bahrain, but that didn’t happen. Will the same happen this time? I get the distinct feeling, much to my annoyance, that Sebastian’s form his here to stay. Who knows, though? Formula One is impossible to predict.
Be on the lookout for “Canada: The Aftermath” where I will discuss the implications of Sebastian’s win and why Mercedes’ good result in Canada will only fuel the fire that is ‘Testgate’.