The spectacle that we witnessed at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve that was qualifying showed that it was not just about the warring pair of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg from Mercedes at the head of the field. Rosberg may have got the edge ahead of his British team-mate for tomorrow’s race, but that was not the major reason for celebrating what could have been business as usual to an extent. Alex Goldschmidt investigates.
Everyone in the field, with the notable exception of Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez, had a job this afternoon their hands to push their V6 power unit-propelled weapons of choice around the 4.361-km track to the limit, but some did find out to their detriment just how bad it can end within a split-second, such as Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson at the end of Q1 at Turn 9.
The team suffered a further blow shortly before, with the sister car of Kamui Kobayashi needing its gearbox replaced after pulling off track. Not the best way a team wants to go into a race with both cars needing repairs during a difficult weekend, which has further put them on the back foot against Marussia.
There is one notable point that pretty much all the drivers had a car that was a complete handful, especially with the increased accumulated torque being used when the foot is pressing the throttle down out of the corners. All cars were being pushed and seen to be sashaying their Pirelli-shod rear ends more times than a Strickly Come Dancing professional female dancer during a whole series.
The Montréal track is the first circuit that really brings out the true speed of the cars, as the likes of Sergio Perez and other Mercedes-powered drivers were hitting a top speed near to 340 km/h in the speed traps, but it was more than just who had the biggest cojones, especially when it came to going round the corners and negotiating the chicanes. Enter the Williams Martini Racing pair of Felipe Massa and Valterri Bottas, and there was a potential that either one of these two drivers could have upset the apple cart.
Both drivers were flying around the Canadian track, and were posting times around half a second slower than the leading pair, still engaged in their own personal battle to be number one, like an alpha male lion trying for bragging rights at the head of the pride. But it was another man in the form of Sebastian Vettel, who has had his fair share of issues so far, that showed that when he needed to, he could pull a ‘rabbit out of the hat’ and deliver that characteristic magical last-ditch effort. The defending champion eventually placed third ahead of Bottas, team-mate Daniel Ricciardo and Massa after the dust had settled, with the team happy with an improvement in true one-lap pace.
Lotus suffered another day that they would rather forget, with Romain Grosjean not able to get into Q3 and Pastor Maldonado possibly now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel that the decision he has made may not have been the best one after all. Q1 showed that the Venezuelan seems to not have ‘Lady Luck’ shining on him, as well as being given a reprimand for a loose steering wheel.
McLaren had a set of contrasting fortunes, with both drivers locking up tyres, or as Jenson Button found at the beginning of Q1, a lot of smoke coming from the brakes at all four corners. Canada gives the brakes one hell of a test every year, but they suffered when it came to the grip, as the track temperatures soared to 45 degrees celsius at one point.
The MP4-29 has not been at its very best apart from the first time out at Melbourne, which seems like a distant memory now, and the temperature did not help. Magnussen has come to another track that he has had to learn at an extreme learning curve, which will stand the young Dane in great stead for his future, but cut the guy some slack for a rookie that is doing the best he can. He would not be in the car otherwise, right?
Their pace will be a key to the strategy that they will employ in the race tomorrow, just like Perez and Hülkenberg at Force India who missed out on Q3. Perez bounced back quick and fast after his early spin and his team-mate both will look to make the best of it when the lights go out. Sauber’s weekend seems to be going nowhere pretty fast, having only one car that Adrian Sutil had been wrestling every session and qualifying was no different.
With Marussia soaring on “Cloud Nine” after Jules Bianchi’s points finish in Monaco, the team have been bolstered with increased motivation that could have seen Max Chilton get into Q2, but the red flag caused by Ericsson put that to bed rather quickly. Max’s efforts will not have been in vain, as the team will have made further strides forward to even getting closer to the midfield. You can bet that both drivers will want to make sure that lighting does strike twice tomorrow afternoon.
Toro Rosso also had a mixed bag when it came to the results they gathered, but Jéan-Eric Vergne had something to smile about after his car had been suffering from technical gremlins for most of Friday, but he got one up on rookie team-mate Daniil Kvyat, who got into Q2 again, but had a few moments that may have needed a potential change of fireproofs along the way.
Ferrari had both Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkonen get into the top ten, with the former showing that he was the one that is leading the team forward. The Flying Finn did not seem at one with his car, touching the wall at one point coming out of turn 4, but it may still be a case of the balance not being there. Even with a new engineer on his side of the garage, it has been a lot more testing for Kimi this year, with doubts already being cast on his future just a few races in.
There will always be doubters when it comes to who goes where in this sport, but that time is not yet upon us, as the grid has a race to compete in tomorrow. Pirelli may be predicting a potential one-stop or two-stop strategy for tomorrow, but it will depend on several factors, such as the weather, the setup and the driving style of the individual. The heat could force the hands of the teams to make lighting-quick strategy calls that could determine whether they get the win, points or make it to the end.
Slipstreaming will also be a factor if the drivers want to get the tow down the long back straights, but fuel will be the key that needs to be fully unlocked, as speeds of 340 km/h will be put on ice to make it to the finish. So, tomorrow will be a case of ‘balls to the wall’ and seeing who can make it count via strategy and staying between the lines. Could we see a new winner this season? After lights out, we’ll know soon enough…
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