It promised oh-so-much and delivered oh-so-little but the 2018 Canadian Grand Prix was hugely significant, if uncharacteristically dull.
Pretty much all the big talking points happened at the beginning and end of the event, and even three DRS zones couldn’t inject any sort of mid-race drama to the affair.
There was plenty of fun to be had – it’s just that disappointingly little of that was on track.
Ferrari finally do it right
Sebastian Vettel’s victory in Canada showed what Ferrari can do when they forget to shoot themselves in the foot.
From the moment he took pole position, Vettel was unstoppable. With Hamilton neutered, a lot of pressure was lifted from Ferrari and they did exactly what was necessary for that win, which popped the German back into the lead in the race for the 2018 title.
Tempting though it is to say that Ferrari simply did what any decent race team would be expected to do, it’s fair to say fans of the Prancing Horse have endured more than their fair share of blunders of late. In both China and Azerbaijan, for example, a combination of unfortunate circumstances and tactical bloopers denied Vettel a heap of points.
The German could have been 30-plus points ahead in the championship but, with almost two-thirds of this long season still to go, it’s becoming clear that the potential for a titanic title battle is there.
As for the other Ferrari, Kimi Raikkonen chugged around for a less-than-stellar sixth place, then described the race as ‘pretty boring’.
He was right. And, while Kimi has to shoulder much of the blame for coming so far down the points in what was potentially a race-winning car (he killed off his chances with yet another qualifying disappointment), the fact that even he couldn’t get close enough to those ahead to make overtakes is a stark reminder of just how much damage is being caused to F1 by those aero regulations, amongst other things … more of which below.
The Mercedes mojo is gone, gone, gone
A second place for Valtteri Bottas and a fifth place for Lewis Hamilton look pretty disappointing on paper but surely they’ll bounce back?
The truth is that Merc’s 2018 problems are deep-rooted – remember, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve has been Hamilton’s happiest hunting ground, a power circuit which the Brit loves.
But they couldn’t even get new engines ready, leaving their men with cars that were 25hp down on the power – as rivals brought new engines that upped their power by a similar amount.
And then there were those tyre problems. Mercedes decided to do almost no pre-season testing on the hypersofts, deeming them to be a poor race tyre … oops.
Finally, Hamilton’s aged engine was hit with cooling problems and Merc had to open up extra ducts to stop the thing cooking itself.
Little wonder Lewis was having another of his ‘off’ weekends.
Assuming Mercedes’ new engines do pass the dyno tests at some stage, they should bring some advantage as the season progresses but it’s fair to say there are signs of storm clouds gathering over the Silver Arrows.
Which is bad news for Toto Wolff and good news for the championship race.
How the mighty Canadian Grand Prix was neutered
The Canadian GP is, generally, a cracker. As a fan, you’re usually guaranteed drama – the Wall of Champions, groundhogs and seagulls, overtaking even (DRS-assisted), stuff to talk about. Y’know, racing.
As a bonus, Montreal is a hell of a place to visit on race weekend – it parties hard into the night, the circuit is always close by, the whole place is an extended F1 party.
For those of us who miss the din of the old F1 engines, the racket of dozens of Lambos, Ferraris, McLarens, Zondas and other supercars blipping their throttles throughout the city into the wee small hours is a (frequently irritating) reminder of how cars can sound with a bit of thought. And a bald rich guy behind the wheel, usually.
The race itself is a genuine highlight, a punishing circuit in a beautiful setting.
But not this year. F1’s many problems were brought into stark focus here.
The aero problems that stop cars getting close enough to overtake – on a circuit with three DRS zones, for pity’s sake – killed this as a spectacle.
The ever-present nannying of tyres, with everyone lapping to conserve rubber rather than racing, didn’t help. It really frustrates fans when drivers decide to stick in a fast lap – Daniel Ricciardo in the dying moments, for example – and remind us just how fast these cars can really go when pushed.
And there were fuel-saving issues at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve too (notably for Bottas), despite an early safety car that should have helped everyone conserve a little petrol for a late blast.
Yes, as Vettel said, there have been plenty of exciting races this season already, but for those who paid dollar to come to the Montreal gathering in the expectation of, that’s of little consequence.
And no amount of celebrity endorsement or interactive technology is going to make that ok.
If F1 can break the Canadian Grand Prix, then F1 can break any grand prix. And, this year, the Canadian Grand Prix was badly broken.
F1 struggles to understand the chequered flag
Look, my mum knows that a chequered flag comes out at the end of a race, and she is blind.
When model Winnie Harlow was told to wave the flag a lap early – due to a simple misunderstanding between race officials, according to Race Director Charlie Whiting – we at least all got to jump on Twitter to make the same joke about F1 bosses wanting to end this dull race early.
But I’m struggling to work out why, in a sport where timing is down to a thousandth of a second, and where drivers can be penalised for tiny speed infractions, an entire lap went missing. Actually, when you look at the photo above, it’s perfectly obvious what went wrong – the photo opp was more important than the race.
As a guide to future chequered flaggery, a good rule of thumb is to have the flag waver facing the track. And her F1 handlers facing the timing screens.
There was a serious side to all this – marshalls started celebrations a lap early, while cars were still hammering around the track. And Daniel Ricciardo was denied his fastest lap, as officials were forced to declare the race ended on lap 68, not 70.
The question is, should Charlie Whiting be hit with a grid penalty at the next race…?
And that other piece of F1 drama
Sorry Canada. You really tried hard to make this race weekend special.
Local boy Lance Stroll had an entire stand named after him, just for turning up.
I ended up behind the lesser-spotted Jacques Villeneuve in one of Montreal’s Portuguese restaurants and can confirm that his mad hair hasn’t made him any less popular in these parts, though his barber might want to start using clippers rather than his teeth.
You sorted the weather out, you helped launch a major drink-driving initiative with Heineken (more about that to come in another article … it involves Nico Rosberg narrowly avoiding arrest) and you even deployed Grosjean-seeking groundhogs to brighten up the weekend.
Then Stroll decided that five corners were all he fancied completing, and crashed out on the first lap, taking Brendon Hartley with him and landing both drivers in hospital for check-ups.
For local fans, it was a double blow – their Canadian representative was out and there was no more action scheduled until that premature flag-waving incident.
Actually, there was some other stuff happening, but you had to be paying attention to spot it.
Max Verstappen started to put the squeeze on Bottas in the closing ten laps, though you wouldn’t have know it until the last minute if you were relying on the telly to tell you.
McLaren and Williams continued their battle to be the saddest team on the grid, each getting just the one car home … in the final two positions.
So a dull race, but a great weekend if you were in Montreal, and a reminder that F1 isn’t just about what happens on the track. Next up, F1 returns to France… pray for action.