While the celebrities, socialites and sponsors trill with excitement over Monaco, the racing fraternity get excited when the grand prix circus rolls into Montreal.
The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve provides all the ingredients for a thrilling race; high speeds, unforgiving walls, tyre-destroying tarmac and several high-gee braking zones. It’s an overtaking paradise but nowhere is the knife-edge between heroic and reckless quite so keenly honed: fortune favours the brave and punishes the over-eager. And that’s when it’s dry…
Having dominated the first third of a marathon season, Red Bull Racing find the unusual characteristics of the Canadian Grand Prix make them underdogs.
“Hopefully we can be competitive again… though, for sure, on paper it’s one of our weaker circuits.”
Christian Horner – team principal, Red Bull Racing
“It’s been a circuit where our car and engine package has traditionally excelled.”
Martin Whitmarsh – team principal, McLaren
Friday practice is notable for a series of red flags as drivers learn just how the small the margin between quick and crash really is. First off is Sebastian Vettel, making his own mark on the Wall of Champions.
“We’re here to drive the car on the limit and mistakes can happen – but it’s better when they happen on a Friday than on a Saturday or Sunday. Still, it’s not nice when you come back to the garage without the car.”
Saturday morning and Mark Webber is stuck in the garage after his KERS package failed again. Seb took pole in the afternoon while KERS-less Mark finishes in fourth behind the Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa.
“I think up to now we had a great weekend and did our homework. It is a bit of a shame for Mark obviously. He was not able to run this morning, and it’s difficult to find that rhythm straight away – but I think both of us should have a good race tomorrow.”
“Do I want to have a race like Barcelona or Monaco. Well, in both cases I overtook one Red Bull at the start, so it’s OK.”
Fernando Alonso – Ferrari
“It’s tough for the guys and they’re doing everything they can, but it isn’t like changing a spark plug. When you lose KERS, it’s a major job to repair it and you miss a session and the car is down for two or three hours. I think we were pretty confident of having it fixed for quali, but as I drove down the pitlane they said ‘no KERS’. I thought Fuck! How do they know that? I haven’t even pressed the button yet!”
…despite their lowly placings, rumours suggest Mercedes and McLaren are gambling on the weather and have set their cars up for rain.
“Personally, I was very happy with my lap: I don’t think I’ve ever driven a car as hard in my life as I did this afternoon. I was right on the ragged edge and I think I even touched the wall at one stage.”
Lewis Hamilton – McLaren
“We’ve got a long seventh gear – a bit too long for qualifying perhaps – but that should be good for overtaking and will help when I’m slipstreaming. That should enable me to challenge the guys in front of me.”
Jenson Button – McLaren
“If it rains tomorrow, which is what the weather forecast tells us it will probably do, then we should be in good shape.”
"We can be quite happy with today's qualifying… We should be OK in the race."
Michael Schumacher – Mercedes
“As for us… we bought some rain tyres and I bought a coat and an umbrella.”
The race starts behind the safety car. When it pulls in, Sebastian Vettel leads. Behind him Lewis Hamilton tangles with Mark Webber. Hamilton recovers swiftly, but Mark spins and is relegated to somewhere near the back.
“I think Lewis thought the checquered flag was in turn three… I think it was a bit clumsy that early in the race. I lost a lot of positions.”
Hamilton has his second collision on L9, hitting his team-mate. Lewis is out, Button limps to the pits and the safety car appears. Somewhat harshly, Button gets a drive-through penalty for going too slowly under the safety car. He’s down in 15th but on the intermediate tyre and going very quickly – which signals a charge for inters.
“It felt like I spent more time in the pitlane than on the pit-straight.”
Rain starts falling heavily and cars come back for wet tyres again, including Vettel from the lead and Webber from seventh. The safety car comes out again, the rain gets worse and the race is red flagged on L28.
“I think they (the officials) deserve huge credit. When they get it wrong, everyone kills them but today they did everything perfectly.”
…several hours pass. The race restarts under the safety car, which leads for five laps before peeling in, and Vettel leads away again, followed by Kamui Kobayashi, Massa, Nick Heidfeld and Vitaly Petrov. Mark is seventh, Alonso eighth, Button tenth and Michael Schumacher twelfth. Button and Alonso collide on L37, Alonso spins out, Button – again – limps back to the pits. The safety car – again – appears. Button emerges dead last.
‘There were lots of incidents today. It’s a very slippery surface here, and a lot of people were finding it difficult to judge braking and also it’s impossible to see in your mirrors when it’s wet.“
“Everything went wrong, right from this morning when we saw it was raining. We had our best qualifying of the year and we found ourselves starting behind the safety car [on the mandatory wet tyres], when I felt that for me, the intermediates were the best tyre. When we fitted them, the downpour came, along with the red flag which meant those who had not changed tyres could now do it practically for nothing. Finally there was the coming together with Button, which was the final insult.”
Lap 45 sees DRS come into play. Performance begins to take effect and as the circuit starts to dry, Webber is the first to take dry tyres. He starts to fly around. Button does the same.
“I decided to roll the dice a little bit and pop some dry tyres on. It was very much on the edge. I knew parts of the track were going to be tricky initially, and if you get on the grass, obviously, it’s all over.”
“The guys did a great job of calling the strategy. At some points we definitely lucked-out on the strategy, especially when the red flag came out – but we called it very well going to slicks. The car was working really well in these tricky conditions.”
Massa falls away on Lap 61 after tagging Kobayashi, and the Japanese is engulfed by quicker cars. Vettel continues to lead, but he is being chased down by Schumacher, Webber and Button. Heidfeld is also interested in taking a look at Kobayashi…. They collide, bits of Renault fly everywhere and again the safety car comes out.
Once the cars are released, Vettel builds a lead while Schumacher tries to hold off Mark and Button. Webber makes his move, passes Schumacher, but outbrakes himself and cuts the chicane, and gives back the place. On his next attempt he’s overtaken by Button, and then he and Button both pass Schumacher. Michael, having driven his heart out, has to settle for fourth.
"I am leaving this race with one eye laughing and one eye crying, as I am not sure if I should be excited or sad about it. Having been in second place towards the end, I would obviously have loved to finish there and be on the podium again. But even if it did not work out in the very end, we can be happy about the result and the big fight we put in.”
“I arrived on the back of Michael and we had a reasonable battle, trying to get that dry line in the last chicane. Then JB arrived and he was very, very, very quick. Even if I got Michael early, ultimately JB would probably have picked me off.”
Formula One’s new habit is having races come down to the wire, and it happens again as Button closes to DRS distance of Vettel as the pair start the final lap.
“After the safety car I probably wasn’t aggressive enough, because to me, initially, there was no need. As it turned out, I would have been much better off… I was probably a bit too cautious.”
“I wouldn’t have had a chance if we didn’t have DRS here… but I felt I was creeping closer. I thought it was going to be one of those moves on the last lap, into the last corner – but it didn’t get that far.”
It doesn’t get that far because Vettel slides wide, having led from the start, Vettel falls back to second place in the last 30 seconds of the race while Button nips through and takes the chequered flag.
“Seb put a wheel onto the wet surface and ran wide. I’ll take that. I think after Monaco, which again was a great race for me, to get the win here and get some luck… I think we deserved that.”
“It is good points today. I can see that. It is important to finish, especially in a race like that, but to do the mistake in the last lap – which was probably only the real mistake I did in the whole race – at the moment it is not very sweet. But that’s how it goes.”
“Clearly it’s Jenson’s day, he deserved the win but it’s great points for us as a team in the Constructors’ Championship. I’m sure it was a good race for the neutrals watching at home but a few grey hairs for us.”
“It had its ups and downs, let’s just say that. Definitely one of those grands prix where you are nowhere, then you’re somewhere, then you’re nowhere and then you’re somewhere. As we always say the last lap is the important one to be leading and I was leading the right half of it. It really is an amazing day and I don’t know what else to say really. Definitely my best race.”
No one, even on this website, would begrudge Button one of the better victories in the history of the sport but as everyone ran – and we do mean ran – to catch a plane the expressions on the faces of the Red Bull team were downcast. This morning they may well reflect that a weekend on which they were not expected to do well resulted in an increased lead in both Championships. And that surely is more than a consolation prize.
- Exclusive Christian Horner Canadian GP interview on video
- Official F1 website, www.formula1.com
- Exclusive Mark Webber video interview on the Canadian GP