Canadian Grand Prix 2016: Winners and Losers from Montreal Race
The three-time world champion has often excelled at the Montreal track, and after claiming his fourth pole position of the year on Saturday, he took the chequered flag after a tense strategic battle with Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel.
Joining Hamilton and Vettel on the podium was Valtteri Bottas, who registered Williams' first top-three finish of the season with a strong drive from seventh on the grid.
With a look at championship leader Nico Rosberg, Red Bull's Max Verstappen and more, here are the winners and losers from Canada.
Winner: Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton has now started from pole position in four of the opening seven races of 2016, but he has failed to emerge from the first corner in the lead of any of them.
That, as he later told the official F1 Twitter account, was perhaps the only blemish on a weekend the three-time world champion—with the misfortune of the early weeks of the season now a distant memory—drove as immaculately as he did throughout last year.
Visibly more relaxed following his first win of the season in Monaco—and, no doubt, thanks to his dramatically improving title chances—Hamilton was immediately comfortable at a place where he has won on four previous occasions, dominating Friday practice.
As he told Sky Sports' Pete Gill, he was unable to carry that pace into qualifying, but he still managed to secure pole in a session when doing just "enough" was more than enough due to the effect the low temperatures had on tyre warm up.
His latest untidy getaway from the front of the grid would have been more costly on a circuit with a longer run toward the first corner, but he minimised the pain by nudging Nico Rosberg wide at Turn 1 with a manoeuvre that, while robust, was no different to many of his defensive moves against the German in 2015.
With one challenger eliminated from race-winning contention at the first corner, Hamilton only had to keep Sebastian Vettel within his sight to be assured of a second successive victory.
Ferrari's mistake of switching Vettel to a two-stop strategy—not for the first time this season—handed the initiative back to Mercedes, and Hamilton's tyre management skills allowed him to utilise a one-stopper.
With Canada being the first of a series of six grands prix in the space of eight weeks, Hamilton—now just nine points adrift of Rosberg—has the opportunity to build plenty of momentum in the coming races.
Loser: Nico Rosberg
Even when he was claiming win after win during the opening four races of 2016, Nico Rosberg was well aware his luck would eventually change.
The key to his season, in his mind, was how he would respond to the inevitable loss of momentum.
"The sport is all about ups and downs, and the down will come at some point," he told Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble after extending his points advantage to 43 at the Russian Grand Prix. "You just need to mentally prepare for that to come straight back up when it happens."
Rosberg's "down" finally arrived in the wet Monaco GP, where—on a day the extra risk wasn't worth the reward—he settled for a race of damage limitation and paid the price by finishing a very distant seventh.
As such, he arrived in Canada, where Lewis Hamilton had won on four occasions in the past, with his lead sliced to 24 points and with a degree of pressure to retaliate in the style he had promised.
Yet the German was a step behind his team-mate throughout a weekend that ended in another rather desperate, unconvincing, 2015-esque race performance.
After missing out on pole position by 0.062 seconds, his naive attempted overtake around the outside of Hamilton at Turn 1 was an open invitation for his team-mate to push him wide and off the track in the same way he swatted his overtaking manoeuvres in Japan and the United States last year.
Forced to cut across the run-off area, Rosberg lost several positions as he rejoined the track and was again condemned to an afternoon of damage limitation.
He looked set to achieve that when he closed up to Valtteri Bottas' Williams in the fight for the final podium place in the closing stages, only for a slow puncture to drop him back down the order.
Even so, he still managed to recover through the field to challenge Max Verstappen for fourth on the penultimate lap—a reasonable result given the circumstances—but he half-spun after effectively completing the pass at the final chicane and was left to limp to a fifth-place finish.
All that good work over the first two months of the season is very quickly being undone.
Winner: Valtteri Bottas
Williams secured their first podium of the 2015 season in Canada, but a repeat result this weekend seemed highly unlikely after qualifying.
Seventh and eighth on the grid for Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa, respectively, acted as confirmation that Williams—so strong at high-speed, low-downforce circuits in recent years—now have the fourth-fastest car in F1.
Rob Smedley's admission to the team's official website that they "extracted what [they] could" from the FW38 suggested the days of Williams appearing on the podium were on hold once again.
But Bottas had other ideas.
While those around them were switching to two-stop strategies, Williams remained faithful to a one-stopper as Bottas produced what he felt was "definitely one of [his] best races," per the team's official website.
At a time the paddock is smitten with Max Verstappen and beginning to truly appreciate the talents of Daniel Ricciardo, Carlos Sainz Jr., Romain Grosjean and Sergio Perez, Bottas—rightly or wrongly—has been overlooked in the race to earn a switch to a leading team for next season.
Such a view is almost certainly linked to his failure to regularly reinforce his superiority over 35-year-old Massa, his struggles to build upon a promising breakthrough year in 2014 and his knack of producing performances more solid than spectacular.
Having run toward the front throughout the 70-lap Canadian GP, Bottas—with his ninth podium finish in less than two years—has offered a timely reminder of his qualities as a racing driver.
And he provided a well-timed boost for Williams, who have extended their advantage over Force India in the fight for fourth in the championship to 39 points.
For Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel, the start of the Canadian Grand Prix was a snapshot of how they expected their entire 2016 season to play out.
With Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg too busy staring at each other, Vettel appeared from nowhere and ambushed the two Mercedes drivers, surging into a convincing early lead.
The problem for Ferrari, however, is that hopes, dreams and bright ideas do not always translate onto the cold, hard, unforgiving surface of a racetrack.
And the Prancing Horse learned that the hard way yet again at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve as—just like in Australia and Spain—they threw away a potential win with an ill-advised strategy call.
As team principal Maurizio Arrivabene explained, per Motorsport.com's Charles Bradley, Ferrari "overestimated the degradation" of the ultrasoft tyres when switching Vettel to a two-stop strategy by pitting him from the lead as early as Lap 11.
From a position of strength, the four-time world champion was handed the challenge of coming from behind to catch and pass a driver as formidable as Hamilton—who remained faithful to a one-stopper—in a car as strong as the Mercedes W07.
Although the Ferrari SF16-H—fitted with a new turbo and rear suspension—seemed capable, that challenge was beyond Vettel, who was forced to settle for second when he ran wide at the final chicane twice in quick succession, having made the same mistake on the opening lap of the race.
As in Melbourne, where Vettel's late pursuit of Hamilton ended with a minor off-track adventure, his mistakes were another example of a driver pushing too hard to dig his own team out of a hole of their own making.
Winner: Max Verstappen
Max Verstappen endured the worst weekend of his fledgling F1 career in Monaco, where the teenager crashed three times in little more than 24 hours as Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo produced his best performance to date.
With the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve also lined with barriers, leaving little margin for error, there was a danger that Verstappen's wall-bashing exploits would continue in Canada. But his mature approach to the weekend meant a Monte Carlo hangover of some sort was unlikely to affect him.
Per Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble, the 18-year-old explained he was "over it" and "working ahead" just 72 hours after his retirement at Casino Square, suggesting his self-critical nature would ensure it wouldn't "happen again."
And, indeed, Verstappen made the events of Monaco seem like ancient history in Montreal, where he got back on track with a strong, stabilising drive to fourth place after qualifying 0.248 seconds behind Ricciardo.
Having spent much of his time in F1 on the offensive, we caught another glimpse of Verstappen's defensive capabilities in the closing laps when the No. 33 car was under increasing pressure from Nico Rosberg, who was recovering from a slow puncture.
Rather than accepting he, behind the wheel of a Renault-powered car, was fighting a losing battle against a Mercedes W07, Verstappen defended robustly without ever being overly aggressive in the way his fellow youngsters often are in wheel-to-wheel combat.
When Rosberg made his move under braking for the final chicane on the penultimate lap only to half-spin and immediately gift the position back, it was almost as if the boy wonder had been toying with the championship leader.
"After Monaco, it's nice to leave this race with a big smile on my face," Verstappen told the team's official website having made it through "the hardest ten laps of [his] life."
With points finishes in three consecutive races, McLaren-Honda have threatened to look like their old selves in recent weeks.
After enduring their worst season in 35 years in 2015, they have started to operate more effectively and demonstrate the kind of progress they have been promising for the best part of 18 months.
More progress was made in the buildup to the Canadian GP, where Honda brought a new turbocharger, ExxonMobil introduced a new fuel and Fernando Alonso reached the third segment of qualifying for the third race in succession.
All this happened at a circuit, lest we forget, that hardly plays to the strengths of the MP4-31 car and where the first signs of tension appeared a year ago.
But it all came tumbling down in the race as the memories of 2015 came flooding back.
After just nine laps, Jenson Button was forced to pull to the side of the track with flames spitting out of his car, with Alonso losing positions due to a slow pit stop—his only tyre change of the afternoon—on Lap 17.
Button's admission that he was "saving a lot of fuel at the time" of his retirement, per the team's official website, suggests Honda's power unit—for all the recent improvements—remains the least efficient of the 2016-specification engines.
McLaren's afternoon risked becoming a whole lot worse with five laps remaining when Alonso, over pit-to-car radio, asked the team if he could "stop," although he later explained he was requesting a pit stop rather than pleading with the team to put him out of his misery, per Motorsport.com's Pablo Elizalde.
It was, as racing director Eric Boullier told the team's official website, "a day to forget."
Winner: Carlos Sainz Jr.
Since Max Verstappen's promotion from Toro Rosso to Red Bull was announced ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix, Carlos Sainz Jr. has sensed a window of opportunity.
A career-best finish of sixth in his home race at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya was followed by a mature drive to eighth in Monaco as the Spaniard sought to prove why he too would be deserving of a place at Red Bull (or, for that matter, another leading team) in the coming years.
Sainz went some way toward spoiling all his recent good work in qualifying in Canada, however, where he hit the Wall of Champions and slid along the pit straight in the early stages of Q2.
The incident—a consequence of his spiky, high-energy driving style—was predictable at a track mostly lined with concrete walls and was a missed opportunity after he defied Toro Rosso's lack of straight-line speed to end final practice as the best of the rest behind the Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull drivers.
A five-place gearbox penalty only added insult to injury, yet Sainz recovered from 20th on the grid to finish ninth, more than making up for his error the previous day.
Central to that recovery was Toro Rosso's two-stop strategy, which saw the No. 55 car swap his ultrasoft tyres for softs as early as Lap 13.
With the benefit of fresh rubber, Sainz—as he later told the team's official website—produced a series of relentless, qualifying-style laps at the beginning of his second stint to pass "five or six cars" when the race settled back into a natural order.
After spending 35 laps on the yellow-striped tyre, Sainz switched back to the ultrasofts to complete a 21-lap final stint on the fastest compound, forcing his way into the top 10.
Having claimed three consecutive points finishes for the first time in his F1 career, Sainz is continuing to prove there is life after Max.