Canadian GP: The truth hurts for Alonso & Hamilton over Vettel win

 

On the last lap of the Canadian Grand Prix, with Sebastian Vettel cruising to the most dominant victory so far this season, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner was watching the numbers on the timing screens next to his driver's name.

The one indicating the time for the first sector of the lap went purple - indicating the fastest time any driver has recorded in a race up to that point - and Horner knew immediately what Vettel was up to.

The 25-year-old German loves his statistics and the way they put him up with the great names in the sport's history. So, as well as the dizzying number of wins and pole positions he is racking up, Vettel likes his name against the fastest laps as well.

It has become a running joke at Red Bull, where as much as they indulge their star, they get frustrated by what they see as him taking unnecessary risks in this way.

And on a day on which he had already brushed the wall and gone off at Turn One while pushing to the limit in a car he described as "incredible", this was one risk they were determined he should not take. Horner got on the radio to Vettel's engineer Guillaume Roquelin.

Alonso & Hamilton battle in Canada

"Some things don't surprise us," Horner said, "like the fastest lap thing that for sure he was going for. I said to Rocky, 'Get him under control.'

"So he said to Sebastian after he went purple on the first sector, 'Monaco '88. Senna', (a reference to the famous race when the legendary Brazilian crashed out after losing concentration while in a huge lead). And I thought: 'That might work.'

"Sebastian came back on the radio and said: 'All right, all right, I'm only joking.' Another purple sector. Then he backed off."

Vettel was attempting something that became familiar through many of his dominant wins during his last three title-winning years, but has not been possible so far this year.

Like so many of those previous 28 victories, this was a crushing performance from Vettel, and a demoralising one for his rivals, especially Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.

Despite a typically combative and clincial fight up from sixth on the grid to finish second, the Spaniard was helpless in preventing Vettel extend his advantage in the championship to a daunting 36 points.

All year, there have been complaints from Red Bull that their car has been held back by the deliberately fragile Pirelli tyres and Canada was the proof of it, as if one was needed.

It was the first race all year in which the drivers were clearly able to push their cars to the limit pretty much throughout. And it was no accident that Vettel should, in those circumstances, dominate as he did.

From the moment it mattered in Montreal, Vettel looked in a class of his own - unbeatable in the damp conditions of qualifying on Saturday; crushing in his superiority on Sunday.

Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali said after the race that he felt Alonso would have given him a run for his money had he started closer to Vettel at the front, as had looked possible in the dry running on Friday.

Canadian GP stats

  • Track temperature: 30C
  • Air temperature: 24C
  • Ave wind speed: 3.8 metres per second
  • Humidity: 32%
  • Fastest lap: M Webber (lap 69) 1 min 16.182 secs
  • Fastest speeds:
  • Sector 1: M Webber, A Sutil, F Massa, 256kph (159mph)
  • Sector 2: M Webber, A Sutil 288kph (178mph)
  • Sector 3: F Massa 299kph (185mph)
  • Speed Trap: Hulkenberg, Gutierez, Di Resta, Perez, Button, Raikkonen 321kph (199mph)

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Certainly there were laps as Alonso chased down Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes in the final part of the race where it suggested he might have kept Vettel honest, but it is impossible to know for sure how much Vettel had in hand at that point.

Domenicali admitted after the race that it was a matter of urgency for Ferrari to improve their qualifying performance, but he also admitted that it was "easy to say and difficult to do".

The proviso in Domenicali's statement is one that has plagued Ferrari for the last few years. They are more competitive in the race than in qualifying, their more gentle tyre usage over-riding the lack of downforce compared to the Red Bull that holds them back in qualifying.

It is, as Alonso pointed out, more than two and a half years since Ferrari's last pole in dry conditions, in Singapore in September 2010, so it is hardly likely to be sorted in the three weeks before the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

Alonso's best hope there is that the problems Red Bull encountered last month in Spain, where the demands on the tyres of the long fast corners restricted Vettel to fourth place, will resurface around the similarly demanding layout in Northamptonshire. But you would not bet on it after Montreal.

The final podium place in Canada went to Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton, beating team-mate Nico Rosberg on both qualifying and race pace for the first time since China four races ago.

Hamilton had the edge on Rosberg all weekend in Canada, despite still saying he was unhappy with the braking feel of his car.

The 2008 world champion drove impressively well to hang on to third place at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, while Rosberg faded to fifth a half-minute or so behind. And Hamilton's fighting spirit was apparent in his late battle with Alonso, who he held off for several laps and, once he had been passed, had a decent stab at re-passing, too.

Alonso paid tribute to his old rival after the race, in what amounted also to a veiled criticism of McLaren's Sergio Perez, whose driving has angered senior rivals in recent races.

"With Lewis," Alonso said, "we were really very close on pace and there were some moments going out of Turn Eight to see who had the DRS detection point and then in Turn 10 the same thing, at the last chicane, so there was some action there.

Vettel delight at 'great' win

"But it was nice to have these battles, particularly this race with so talented drivers, so intelligent drivers, that, you know, you fight wheel-to-wheel at 315km/h and you feel safe.

"You feel you are racing and you are competing. It can go your way or it can go the other way, but this is real racing. So, very happy to see this back after Monaco. It's a little bit different."

It was indeed a real race - the polar opposite of the procession of Monaco, where Mercedes controlled the pace to their own advantage.

In that sense, the Canadian Grand Prix was refreshing. What was on show in Montreal was F1 in the traditional sense, flat-out racing between the best drivers in the best cars in the world.

It was, then, a representation of the real competitive picture in F1, a clear demonstration of the capabilities of the fastest car in the field in the hands of a formidable talent.

Another victory for Vettel might not be what the season needed in terms of the show. But then truth does not always make for comfortable viewing.