DT's 10 Hot Takes from Canada – On that penalty, respect between champions, and a great day for Renault
A celebrated Formula 1 journalist with more than 500 (consecutive) Grands Prix’ experience, David Tremayne is one of those familiar paddock figures who has seen it all, met them all, and written about it all, over almost five decades of F1 racing. Here, he shares his hot takes after round 7 of the 2019 season in Canada…
1. Most racing drivers I spoke to wouldn’t have given the penalty…
After the incident in which Sebastian Vettel momentarily ran off the track in Turns 3 and 4 on the 48th lap, before re-joining in a slightly robust fashion just as it appeared that Lewis Hamilton was about to dive alongside and snatch the lead after pressuring him into the mistake, there was much discussion when it was announced that he had been given a five-second penalty. It was accompanied by disappointment and general disbelief, given the racing calibre of the stewards (see below).
Canada is one of those social races where you hang out with lots of North American friends that you tend to see only infrequently, and there are often echoes of the recent Indianapolis 500 to be mulled over. Thus there was much debate about what F1 champion and US racing god Mario Andretti, or Indy legend A.J. Foyt, would have made of it all, having cut their teeth on the dirt tracks and bullrings of American racing. To them, the racing was more sacrosanct than the small print of what few rules there were.
Among the drivers we talked to in a brief vox pop, 80 percent deemed it to be a racing incident that needed no further action, while the majority of team bosses were in favour of the penalty.
2. …but the rules back up the stewards’ decision
I’ve been reading a lot of social media reaction to the penalty, and there has been some very vindictive criticism of the stewards, who comprised former F1 racer and five-time Le Mans victor Emanuele Pirro, German lawyer Gerd Ennser, Mathieu Remmerie and Canadian Mike Kaerne.
In such situations, especially when emotions are running high, it’s easy to criticise them because they are in the front line, but let it be said here that they are all honourable men who love racing and want to see as much of it as we all do, and they are all experienced in the game. That’s why they were chosen as stewards.
The hard truth is that the drivers have brought such decisions on themselves. The stewards aren’t stupid or vindictive, but they are bound by the rules. In the past, the drivers wanted these rules to be black and white to avoid the wriggle room of grey areas, so they were written the way they are – and that leaves those whose job it is to interpret them no margin for error, nor for sensitivity.
The particular rule guideline in question says that if a driver returns unsafely to the track, the sanction is either a five- or 10-second penalty or a stop-and-go, which means that in this instance they gave Sebastian the minimum penalty they could.
Liked the comment made by former Ferrari boss Stefano Domenicali: “By application of the rules as they are written, it was the right decision – but it was also the wrong solution.”
3. Seb’s post-race reaction shows he’s a true racer
I’m not always Sebastian Vettel’s greatest fan, especially when a petulant sense of entitlement tends to peek out in times of stress. But he had my full sympathy as his disappointment was all too evident both during and after the race.
He was outspoken in the cockpit, and while I’m not quite sure why he chose not to park in the top-three parc ferme area afterwards (a transgression in its own right), I got that he needed to get away and cool down before facing Martin Brundle’s microphone. I also thought it was cheekily amusing that when he made his way to the podium he cut through the Mercedes garage (to avoid the melee outside Ferrari rather than to find somebody with whom to remonstrate), and that he switched round the P1 and P2 boards on his way.
When Martin caught up with him on the podium he was cool without being petulant, his immediate feelings back under control.
4. The great drivers fight hard on track, and show respect off it
For me the best part of the whole mess was the manner in which Sebastian and Lewis demonstrated the clear mutual respect between two great sportsmen, and how Seb defended Lewis against a small outbreak of booing.
There are some who say that F1 needs enmity and vendetta between its stars, but I quite like that respect thing. It makes you warm to people. But I’d much rather that we don’t have to see it in the circumstances that spoiled what had been a gripping – and then became a griping – Canadian GP.
5. Win or not, expect a more fired up Ferrari from here…
Lewis was one of the first to mention that the Ferrari has an engine mode so good that he could not keep up with it on the back straight in Montreal, even with his own DRS open and Mercedes’ latest engine running on full song behind him. But while that is great for Ferrari, their straight-line speed advantage wasn’t something new in Canada. It’s been there all season, yet still they lag 123 points behind the Silver Arrows in the constructors’ stakes.
They won here last year, too, before Lewis went on the rampage, so this particular swallow doesn’t necessarily make it a red summer.
But the manner in which Seb was able to keep ahead, and then the way in which he lost the race, will doubtless inspire everyone in Maranello to put 120 percent into turning their situation around, pronto. I have a lot of faith in Mattia Binotto, and you’d be unwise to underestimate Ferrari’s ability to pull things round.
6. This was Mercedes’ toughest weekend of the year
Speaking of which, I keep hearing a lot of paddock talk about how Lewis and Mercedes have the world championships all wrapped up with bows ready for Christmas. And here we are, having completed only the seventh race. Just one third of the way through the championship!
I bet if you asked Toto Wolff how confident he is feeling on that score, he’d go all Arnold Schwarzenegger on you and say something rudely disparaging.
Anyone who thinks Mercedes aren’t still under a huge amount of pressure hasn’t been paying sufficient attention. They might have the advantage on the sort of tracks we’ve visited before Canada, but there’s still an awful long way to go before the fat lady starts to warm up, let alone before she bursts into song.
7. Renault now look to be the midfield team to beat
If Cyril Abiteboul left the paddock with a dark smile on his face, he was entitled to, because Renault finally took a big step forward in Montreal.
Their engine woes finally sorted, the boss watched as both cars made it through to Q3, together with both Renault-powered McLarens. Daniel Ricciardo was a superb fourth after all the drama of Kevin Magnussen’s shunt and Valtteri Bottas’s spin, marking the first time Renault had been on the second row since Robert Kubica qualified third in Suzuka in 2010. Nico Hulkenberg was seventh.
There was a degree of friction in the race as Nico, on eight-lap fresher hard tyres went charging after Daniel, who had stopped much earlier, and was then told to hold station by the boss, but that was understandable given the crucial need to get both cars home. The resultant 14-point haul brought them within two points of a luckless McLaren, and blew the fight for fourth place and ‘best of the rest’ wide open.
Renault’s biggest race is coming up next, and it will be fascinating to see if they can maintain this upturn in performance on their home ground.
8. Stroll worked hard for his fantastic home result – and deserves respect for managing a situation that might be more complex than you’d think
Opinions are divided in the paddock about Lance Stroll, but I was glad to see him bringing home a strong result for Racing Point on his home ground.
Our local friends tell us that he is a seriously big draw for Canadian fans, which is good news for F1, and his grandstand on the Ile Notre Dame had been expanded this year. And though he struggled in practice and qualifying, he really did the business in the race.
Yes, he was on the better strategy compared with team mate Sergio Perez, starting on the hard Pirellis and running until the 45th lap, whereas the Mexican started on mediums and ditched them after the 11th. But that didn’t detract from a great start which enabled him to run eighth from Lap 10 until his stop, and then to grab ninth back from Carlos Sainz with four laps to run.
Good to see him finding his feet, especially as it can’t be all roses and champagne when you’re driving in a team owned by your father. That must impose some issues that other drivers simply don’t have to consider.
9. The Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve’s facilities are now world class
Montreal had a terrible winter, yet the new pit buildings promised this time last year were not only finished and fully operational (where completion of the key areas only would have been forgivable given the weather), but a massive improvement.
I’ve no wish to seem ungrateful in saying that I quite enjoyed the old buildings, and then the interim structures that replaced them, because to me they were all part of coming to the Ile Notre Dame, but Canada now has the world class facilities to back up the legendary racer in whose honour the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve was named.
Promoter Francois Dumontier and his team did a superb job.
10. Montreal sets a great blueprint for city circuits
As usual, Montreal buzzed during Grand Prix weekend. The hotels were pretty much full, and the familiar haunts along Rue St Catherine and Rue Rene Levesque were so densely populated that negotiating human traffic was never the work of a moment. People were happy and enthused, caught up in the fever of F1.
There’s something about Montreal, in both the old and new parts of the city, that just excites visitors, and I love the way that the spark can jump between the city and the track, which is just a quick Metro ride away.