I’m still trying to make sense of last night’s Canadian Grand Prix – a race that could only be described as diabolical! Lewis Hamilton, who embarrassed his Woking-based employers less than two weeks ago by suggesting McLaren Mercedes denied him an opportunity to claim his maiden grand prix victory at Monaco – swiftly brushed the chip off his shoulder when he mounted the top step of the podium in Montreal. McLaren was in such a dominant position at the Gilles Villeneuve circuit, that the Briton virtually had the race won when team-mate Fernando Alonso outbraked himself at the first corner. But, by keeping a cool head throughout no fewer than four safety car interruptions, Lewis literally won the race four times…
There were numerous extraordinary incidents that occurred in the grand prix, all of which left me feeling somewhat uneasy. The fact that Robert Kubica emerged from his horrific accident on the approach to the hairpin (ostensibly caused by a high-speed brush with one of the Toyotas) with a broken leg – not a fractured skull – was nothing short of a miracle. Forget about the smoke, upturned earth, a trillion shards of carbon fibre and wandering wheels (contemporary F1 cars are designed to disintegrate on impact and the driver is protected by a reinforced, FIA-tested safety “tub”) – accidents happen.
However, there is something amiss with staging a grand prix on an obsolete race track where a car can ricochet off an unprotected concrete wall. Montreal is regarded as a challenging street circuit with a rich history, but there is no room for misplaced nostalgia when drivers’ lives are put under unnecessary risk. This weekend’s list of retirements due to unavoidable accidents was unduly long and the long-lamented problem of excessive debris on the track, mostly consisting of bits of spent rubber (known as “marbles”) was worse than ever before. The fine line between tricky and treacherous was crossed in Montreal.
It’s not my intention to be a “Disapproving Sister”… At least the drama of the Canadian Grand Prix resulted in different faces on the podium and a brilliant sixth-place by Takuma Sato, who drove the race of his life to finish sixth in the unheralded Super Aguri. Some drivers made pit stops when they shouldn’t have, others stayed out on the track when most expected them to stop in the pits… But, goodness me, four safety car periods, two black flags, two stop-and-go penalties and an unmarked Honda saloon as a pace car (was the FIA-sanctioned AMG ‘Benz so thirsty that it needed to be refuelled between pace-car periods?). It was a farce – cars seemed to struggle for grip and run out of brakes an awful lot. Alonso, in particular, looked rather silly – the world champion clearly damaged his car in the first lap foul up and missed the first corner with regularity.
Having said that, Alonso’s stop-and-go penalty (which was also slapped on Nico Rosberg) was dubious… Other competitors, including Hamilton, also made pit stops directly after teams in the paddock received reports of a biggie somewhere out on the circuit. If you can black flag competitors for leaving the pitlane under a red light, perhaps the pitlane entrance should be clearly announced and distinguished as “closed” so that drivers won’t enter it while the safety car’s being deployed. Be it as a result of miscommunication or misjudgement, Fernando has lost vital ground in the battle for the driver’s world championship title.
But so did Kimi Raikkonen. Despite the fact that title rival and Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa got black-flagged and Alonso was completely out of position, the Finn has never driven so badly to finish fifth.
Ferrari’s revival will have to wait until next weekend, when the Scuderia returns to Indianapolis – a circuit that has been kind to the red cars in the past. It’s a track where Alonso has struggled, and if the Prancing Horse pulls up lame again, could Hamilton start his march to an unlikely rookie-year world championship title at the Brickyard? If he does, Hamilton’s countryman, ITV commentator James Allen, will be hoarse long before the end of the season!