Mercedes-Benz F1 executive director Paddy Lowe had always maintained that his biggest worry was not a collision between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg but a mechanical failure of some kind. “We may have the quickest car, but you’ve no idea how close to the limit we run these things,” said the Mercedes technical and sporting director. “You only have to look at Lewis’s retirement from the first race in Australia to remind yourself of that.”
In Canada, Lowe’s worst fear was realised. In fact, it was a double whammy – on the same lap. The race had just passed half distance. Rosberg was leading Hamilton by two seconds, the silver cars running close to half a minute ahead of the rest, lead by a pair of Force Indias planning to stop once as opposed to the two-stop strategy favoured by almost everyone else.
To all intents and purposes, this seventh round of the championship was going to be another battle of tactical wits as the Mercedes drivers tried to outfox each other. Rosberg, having surprised even himself by taking pole on one of Hamilton’s favourite tracks, appeared to be winning that battle.
This race was going Rosberg’s way. Despite a poor start, he had squeezed Hamilton at the first corner. He narrowly missed the wall on the out lap after his first stop and then had an escape of a different kind when he received only a warning for missing the final chicane after locking a front brake when under intense pressure from his team-mate.
On lap 37, Mercedes suddenly had problems of a very different kind. Hamilton complained he had lost power, Rosberg experiencing exactly the same thing a few seconds later. On the one hand, this may have been a bizarre demonstration of Mercedes quality control; on a more serious note, it was because the hybrid power had shut down, the loss of the MGU-K units costing 160bhp (120 kW) and, critically, assistance with the rear brakes.
Hamilton, having experienced higher temperatures when running in Rosberg’s wake, struggled with the rear discs (smaller in 2014 because of the energy-assistance) on a track that has three fierce braking points. He retired on lap 47.
Rosberg continued to lead but it was inevitable that the pack should close in. Sergio Perez led the charge although Rosberg was to be helped because the Mexican was nursing his tyres thanks to the one-stop strategy. During this time, Rosberg showed class by somehow adapting his driving to use what was left of the superior Mercedes power to the maximum while coaxing his car into and through the corners.
With 20 laps to go, despite being within DRS striking distance of the Mercedes, Perez continued to be the cork in the bottle has he led a gaggle of cars headed by the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel, with Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India in close attendance and not far ahead of the Williams duo of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa.
Of these, it was Massa who was tipped to attack thanks to the Williams running sweetly and a late stop for the Brazilian giving him tyres that were at least 10 laps fresher than anyone running ahead. The predictions appeared accurate when Bottas let his team-mate through and Massa immediately jumped into fifth ahead of Hulkenberg. With ten laps to go, the top five were covered by two seconds.
The key moment came with five laps remaining. Steeling himself, Ricciardo caught Perez with a brilliantly brave move down the outside into Turn 1, the Red Bull just holding second place despite having to put two wheels on the dirt through Turn 2. Now for Rosberg.
Ricciardo quickly caught the Mercedes and took the lead with a clean DRS move on the back straight. All he had to do was stay cool for the remaining three laps. In fact it would be made easy for him going into the last lap when Massa smashed into the back of Perez (who had been overtaken by Vettel) on the approach to the first corner. The Force India and the Williams hit the inside barrier with huge force (27g in Massa’s case), bringing out the yellow flags (both drivers were removed to the medical centre for precautionary checks).
Daniel Ricciardo crossed the line to take his first win, the reduced pace doing nothing to dilute the pleasure for the 24-year-old and his team. Mercedes had faltered and Red Bull had been there to pick up the pieces, Vettel joining Ricciardo and Rosberg on the podium.
In terms of the championship, however, this race had been all about Rosberg somehow managing to save 18 points when, about half an hour before, it looked like he would score none at all. No one appreciated this more than Paddy Lowe.
1. Nico Rosberg – 140 points
2. Lewis Hamilton – 118
3. Daniel Ricciardo – 79
4. Fernando Alonso – 69
5. Sebastien Vettel – 60
1. Mercedes – 258 points
2. Red Bull Renault – 139
3. Ferrari – 87
4. Force India Mercedes – 77
5. McLaren Mercedes – 66