All eyes were on Pirelli as the F1 world headed to the Gilles Villeneuve Circuit in Montreal – after agreeing to provide a more durable compound because of complaints received over their high degradation levels, it was announced teams could test the new Pirellis during Canada’s Friday practice sessions only.
Pirelli and the Mercedes team were also in question over the ‘secret testing’ controversy, although Mercedes claim they gained no significant data – this is still an ongoing investigation.
The two days of practice were a headache for the drivers and teams because of the continuously changing weather conditions. Alonso was quickest in the dry, whilst the Red Bulls and Mercedes looked more stable in the damp conditions.
Although the final practice session saw times tumble as the track dried out, Montreal’s capricious weather decided qualifying should be wet.
The usual suspects were eliminated from Q1 with a few drivers experiencing moments on the greasy track.
The rain continued to fall as the cars headed out for Q2. Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber set an early pace until Filipe Massa crashed at turn 3 and the session was ‘red flagged’. Eventually Hamilton topped the time sheets with Jenson Button going out.
World champion Sebastian Vettel set the fastest first run in Q3, with Hamilton in second, Rosberg third and Alonso forth.
The surprise of qualifying was Williams driver Valtteri Bottas experiencing his first career Q3, setting a blistering time good enough for third.
Whilst the cars dived into the pits for fresh rubber the rain really started to fall, and the futile attack on previous lap times meant no improvements.
Vettel would start on pole, with Hamilton second, Bottas third and Alonso forth.
On a surprisingly dry Sunday the cars lined up on the grid on either ‘super soft’ tyres or the more durable ‘medium’ option, suggesting an afternoon of chess in strategy.
Vettel stormed off the line, with Hamilton maintaining second and Bottas falling two places to fifth.
Vettel immediately set the fastest lap and it wasn’t long before he pulled out a 3 second gap to Hamilton. Alonso passed Bottas down the back straight for fifth with teammate Massa managing to gain 5 places by lap 8.
By the first round of pit stops it was clear Vettel was on one of his ‘Sunday drives’ as he romped away with an 8 second gap over Hamilton. Vettel switched to the medium tyre along with Alonso.
Nico Rosberg’s engineer informed him his tyres were “in the danger zone” regarding temperature and the third placed German pitted for the ‘mediums’, managing to maintain his third place.
By lap 27, forth placed Webber and a quick Alonso cruised up to the back of Rosberg. The next three laps offered some fantastic racing, with Webber finally passing the Mercedes for third. Alonso was up next, desperate to keep Webber in check and he used a combination of KERS and DRS to grab forth.
Although Vettel had an 18 second lead, the battle for second really heated up. Webber set the fastest lap to eat into Hamilton’s lead, whilst Alonso received the news he was three-tenths faster than Hamilton.
Despite many blue flags, Caterham’s Giedo van der Garde struggled to make room for a charging Webber and the two came into contact at the hairpin. Webber lost the end plate to his front wing and Van der Garde received a 10 second ‘stop and go’ penalty. Despite the damage, Webber then set a fastest lap.
Testament to his relentless ‘never say never’ attitude, Alonso clearly had second place in mind as he caught Webber and passed him on lap 42 on his charge for Hamilton.
The final pit stops didn’t see much change with Vettel way out front and Hamilton maintaining a 7 second lead over Alonso.
With 13 laps until the chequered flag, Alonso had reduced the gap to Hamilton to just 1.3 seconds. Hamilton is clearly flustered as he responded to team advice with: “Just let me drive, man”.
Force India’s Paul di Resta defied what was thought possible with the current Pirellis by making just the one stop on lap 57, managing to come out in seventh. Teammate Adrian Sutil’s day wasn’t looking so positive as he had to serve a ‘drive through’ penalty for ignoring blue flags.
The final 10 laps offered fans a great duel between Alonso and Hamilton, the Mercedes mirrors full of scarlet Ferrari. Alonso finally passed on lap 63 in the second DRS zone and there was slight contact, but both continue.
Sebastian Vettel secured one of his signature dominant wins, increasing his lead over a second placed Alonso and third paced Hamilton.
The only question now is, “How will the new Pirellis perform in anger at Silverstone?”