This weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix saw a second straight one-two finish for the McLaren duo of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, putting them first and second respectively in the drivers standings. After the race, Hamilton acknowledged that the momentum is with the British outfit, and I doubt that there would be many around the F1 paddock that would dispute this. The question is whether they can maintain this form for the rest of the season and consequently, secure both Championships.
So far, the story of the season has been McLaren capitalising on the mistakes of the faster Red Bulls, however over the last couple of races there are signs that McLaren are able to match their pace and even outpace them at some points during the race. This is ominous not only for the Red Bull team, but for any other teams with designs on either the Drivers or Constructors Championships. McLaren showed last season that they are very adept at developing a car during the course of the season and they appear to be repeating that feat this time around.
However it would be a mistake to assume that McLaren now have the fastest car on the grid; they were helped by the nature of the tracks in Turkey and Canada and they may well struggle at tracks with less straights and more high and medium-speed corners. Most of the top teams believe that Red Bull’s advantage comes from the low position of their exhaust, which appears to channel air into the diffuser giving a large increase in downforce. Ferrari is looking to introduce its own version of this system for the next race in Valencia, and McLaren and the other teams will not be far behind. It is worth mentioning though that there is no guarantee that anyone will be able to make it work as efficiently as Red Bull, after all no team has managed to create an F-duct that works as well as McLaren’s.
If McLaren can keep improving their car at the same rate then they may well dominate the rest of the season, but there are still many potential stumbling blocks that they will have to overcome. Chief among these is the rivalry between Button and Hamilton, who are now only separated by three points in the Championship. Although things seemed fairly harmonious this weekend, this was probably due to the fact that they were never really that close to each other during the race; when they do race each other, such as in Turkey, the tensions are bound to rise.
Ferrari is also likely to close the gap to Red Bull; Fernando Alonso’s performance in Canada demonstrates that perhaps they already have because, but for a few unlucky encounters with traffic, Alonso could well have come away from Canada with his second win of the season. If this form continues, then Alonso should have a good shot at the Drivers’ title, however, Ferrari will need Felipe Massa’s pace to improve if they are to have a realistic chance of winning the Constructors’.
Another factor that may play a crucial role in the title decision that came to the fore in Canada is the tyres. Canada was really the first race this season where the tyres have played their intended role of causing overtaking and tactical uncertainty and it made for a great spectacle. Hopefully we will see more races like this over the course of the season. If we do, then how hard the cars are on their tyres will be of vital importance. In Canada, there didn’t seem to be one team that had significantly less tyre wear than any other, so it may come down to the drivers and the teams’ tactical choices; McLaren appeared to have the upper hand on this front this weekend, but this could easily change.
Although it is difficult to say for sure that McLaren will continue dominating results, what is certain is that Red Bull are now being punished for not making the most of their early season dominance. Last season the title was won because Button was able to turn the dominant, early-season pace of his car into victories; this time around Red Bull have failed to do the same and it looks like it will cost them.
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