Feature F1 Unlocked
HINCH'S HEROES: Who made Hinch's list after a fascinating weekend of racing in Canada?
This season, former IndyCar star James Hinchcliffe is taking stock after every Grand Prix and presenting his ‘heroes’ from the weekend, exclusively for F1.com. Here are his picks from the Canadian Grand Prix…
Montreal is a favourite stop on the Formula 1 schedule for many of the paddock regulars. The city, the food, the fans and the track all contribute to the appeal of the yearly pilgrimage to the Great White North. While that is all well and good, it’s the track itself that really makes this place special, with it’s long straights and big brake zones. The margin for error is small here – as the famed ‘Wall of Champions’ has proven time and time again – so let’s look back at who best thread the needle through the island circuit.
Alex Albon – P7
Albon rose to the occasion in the challenging qualifying conditions to get his Williams through to Q3 on a day when many quick teams and drivers stumbled.
It was expected that the Williams would be at less of a deficit at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve given the track’s characteristics. Still, Albon had to be faultless on Sunday to back up the strong run on Saturday.
Going with the one stop strategy, he pitted on Lap 12 and stretched the hard compound tyres another 58 laps – and for the last 15 he had the hard charging Esteban Ocon in DRS range threatening him from behind.
At a track where the walls are ever present he could ill afford to give up a single tenth, and he was inch perfect, all while nursing his tyres, in what was a truly impressive drive.
Valtteri Bottas – P10
Like Albon, Bottas had to do something different to those around him if he was going to make any progress through the field. Being one of three drivers to start on the hard tyres, it looked like he was banking on the less favourable one stop strategy.
His tyre selection made the start challenging and he lost two spots, settling in 16th. He then opted to stay out during the Lap 12 Safety Car period meaning he had to restart on older tyres with a lineup of drivers on fresh boots behind him.
He kept all challengers at bay until his stop on Lap 36 – a feat in itself – but the real magic was making the medium tyres he put on last until the end. Only the Ferraris took a set of mediums further.
Again like Albon ahead of him, he had to defend all the way to the very end, and it looked like the effort was all for naught as Lance Stroll pipped him at the line, but the penalty for Lando Norris brought Bottas back up into a deserved place in the points.
Lando Norris – P13
Lando did Lando things in qualifying, excelling in the tricky conditions. From practice it was clear that the McLarens were struggling for top-10 pace, so it wasn’t surprising that he and team mate Oscar Piastri fell back early on.
What gives Norris a spot on the list this week was the effort he put in trying to make passes happen. He was braver than his car was fast, and pulled off some awesome displays of calculated aggression.
Even down to the last corner, as he battled the ailing Alpine of Esteban Ocon, he tried to force the issue to the apex to try to make the Frenchmen concede. Crossing the line ninth was a pretty impressive result given the equipment on the day.
His five-second time penalty from the stewards dropped him out of the points, but it didn’t diminish the effort he put in on track.
Lance Stroll – P9
You’re at home, your team mate is on the front row, and you can only manage 16th on the grid. It would put any driver in a dark spot and have people questioning whether the extra pressure and commitments of a hometown race had got the better of you.
Add in a track that has enough inviting brake zones to tempt a frustrated driver into a low percentage move, and the outlook for Stroll on Sunday morning wasn’t great. The first half of the race was clean and he grabbed a few spots – but a great call from Aston Martin had him as the first driver to make their second pit stop.
He came out as the last car on track, but this put him in clean air and able to knock off fast laps and leapfrog a whack of drivers as they made their own second stops. Eventually he found the back of the train and fought hard for the last few positions, including a drag race down the pit straight – that he won, much to the delight of the crowd – on the final lap for the last point on offer.
That became ninth after the Norris penalty, and was a nice comeback drive for the hometown hero after a disappointing Saturday.
Fernando Alonso – P2
Armed with a car that has been strong on braking and initial acceleration – on top of the fact the green machines had a big upgrade package this weekend – Alonso must have felt that Montreal could well be his best shot at victory this season.
Its stop-start nature was always going to suit the AMR23 and he converted that pace into another front row start.
And though he lost second in Turn 1 to Lewis Hamilton in the ever improving Mercedes, he controlled the situation from there, dispatching the seven time champion and setting his sights on leader Max Verstappen, all while managing brake issues.
The radio message to the team imploring them to let him chase the Red Bull down shows just how much fire is still in him – and keeping the margin of victory to less than 10 seconds should almost feel like a win when the Red Bull pace advantage is factored in. This is truly shaping up to be a career year from Alonso.