2008 Canadian Grand Prix report


A Grand Prix victory for BMW, and for Robert Kubica, had been coming a while, and in Montreal – the scene of Kubica’s horrific accident 12 months ago – it duly did. “We certainly didn’t have the quickest car,” Kubica said. “In fact, in competitive terms, this wasn’t our strongest race, although definitely our best result.”

Indeed it was. While a win for Kubica wasn’t a total surprise, his team mate Nick Heidfeld has struggled for pace throughout this season, and a starting position of eighth didn’t promise much. As it was, though, Heidfeld was aided both by a safety car period (virtually inevitable at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve) and a strategy switch to a one-stopper, and in the end he made Mario Theissen’s day complete by finishing second.

Without wishing to sound disrespectful, the fact that David Coulthard’s Red Bull finished third says much about the sort of race this was. For the accustomed front runners, Montreal was something of a disaster, Ferrari scoring only four points (from Felipe Massa’s fifth place) and McLaren none at all.

In 2007 Lewis Hamilton completely dominated the Canadian Grand Prix, and this time around he looked set to do the same again. After taking a remarkable pole position (by six-tenths, no less), Hamilton took an immediate lead, and proceeded to pull away from Kubica and the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen. By lap 18 he led by seven seconds, and looked entirely comfortable, but a delayed decision to bring out the safety car (after Adrian Sutil’s Force India had expired in a dangerous spot) was to change the entire complexion of the day.

Once the pit lane had been declared open, all the front runners came in together, and for once a McLaren pit stop didn’t go particularly well. Kubica and Raikkonen were serviced more quickly than Hamilton, and the BMW and Ferrari were side by side as they headed for the exit of pit lane – where they stopped, in acknowledgement of a red light.

By the time he saw it – and took in that Robert and Kimi had stopped – Lewis had insufficient time to react, and ran into the back of the Ferrari, putting both cars out on the spot. “I have to thank Lewis,” observed Kubica dryly, “for choosing Kimi, and not me…”

Although the incident truly had been just one of those things, Raikkonen was understandably angry at being put out of the race this way, and Hamilton made no attempt to shirk responsibility, profusely apologising to him. Perhaps Sutil, who was taken out of the Monaco Grand Prix by Raikkonen, permitted himself a wry smile.

Coming into this race, Hamilton and Raikkonen were first and second in the World Championship, and if neither scored a point, Lewis lost more than Kimi in Canada, for on this occasion his McLaren was discernibly the best car in the place, and Montreal presented an opportunity to extend his points lead.

Nor was that the end of the bad news for Hamilton. After examining video evidence of the incident, the stewards announced after the race that both Lewis and Nico Rosberg (who, in his turn, ran lightly into the back of the McLaren) would be ‘fined’ 10 grid places at the next race, at Magny-Cours on June 22. When Raikkonen speared into Sutil at Monte Carlo, it will be remembered, no penalty was imposed: if McLaren folk were not as well balanced as they are, they might well start to get paranoid…

Although the first seven had pitted during the safety car period, those behind had stayed out, so when racing resumed, after three laps, the order board had a most unusual look about it: Heidfeld led, followed by Barrichello’s Honda, Nakajima’s Williams, the Red Bulls of Webber and Coulthard, the Toyotas of Trulli and Glock, Fisichella’s Force India and Vettel’s Toro Rosso.

All these, of course, had yet to make a stop, so the ‘true’ leader was Kubica, for the moment back in 10th place, stuck behind slower cars, and under some pressure from Alonso’s Renault.

Fernando has had few chances to figure seriously in a Grand Prix this season, but there is no feistier racer in the business. He wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to score some decent points, and for a time hassled Kubica.

“It wasn’t an easy situation,” Robert said. “I was stuck in slower traffic, which hadn’t yet pitted, and at the same time Fernando was pushing hard.”

Eventually, of course, that traffic began to dissipate, as drivers came in for fuel and tyres. Heidfeld gave up his lead on lap 29, at which point it was decided to switch him to a one-stop strategy. Fuelled up to go the distance, Nick now had a very heavy car, and he rejoined immediately in front of Kubica, who swiftly dispensed with him.

Now it was Heidfeld’s turn to come under pressure from Alonso, but that ended on lap 45 when the Renault made light, but terminal, contact with the wall.

Fernando is not one to make mistakes, but he, like everyone else, had found the track conditions very treacherous this day. During qualifying, the previous afternoon, the surface had begun to break up badly at three corners, one of them the hairpin. Some patching work was done that night, and more on race morning, but all the drivers were apprehensive about how it would hold during the race. “It was bloody hard,” remarked Coulthard. “Thankfully, it didn’t break up as badly as it had in qualifying, but still there was a lot of debris around. If you went even a little off line, you were effectively on loose gravel, and it just sucked you in…”

Once Alonso was gone, the BMWs were firmly established at the front of the pack, but Kubica, who still had another stop to make (where Heidfeld did not), was concerned about losing his lead when he came in.
“I’d lost so much time when I was stuck in the traffic, but fortunately I had a clear track by this time, and I realised I had eight laps – the time of my last stop – to build a lead of 21 seconds, which I’d need to stay ahead of Nick. It was like running a series of qualifying laps…”

He did it brilliantly, in fact building up an advantage of 24 seconds, and easily keeping his lead through the final stop. “After that, I was safe, and I didn’t push too hard – but still those last laps were difficult, because if you were off line you felt as though you were driving on sand…”

A superb first win, then, for both driver and team. Behind Heidfeld, Coulthard had his best finish of the season to date, and Timo Glock was thrilled to score his first points for Toyota, being narrowly ahead of Massa’s Ferrari.

Felipe, it must be said, drove a brilliant race in very difficult circumstances. He had qualified disappointingly, and took a while to get going, but was then unlucky to encounter fuel rig problems at his first stop. “A joint in the fuel line broke, and no fuel went in,” he said, “so I had to come in again on the next lap, and that dropped me right to the back…” After a very combative afternoon, Massa took an excellent fifth place, ahead of Trulli, Barrichello and Vettel.

The background to the Canadian weekend was – what else? – the vexed question of Max Mosley, and the apparent rift between the (at least temporarily) reprieved FIA President and the entire F1 community. We live in interesting times indeed, and not a few in the paddock wish them a little less so. The suggestion from one of his henchmen was that, since surviving the vote on June 3, Mosley had had no contact with Bernie Ecclestone – indeed had declined to take his calls. Was it really the case that they hadn’t spoken? Ecclestone said yes, it was. “At the moment,” a leading team principal commented, “Formula 1 is in very dangerous waters.”

Robert Kubica, though, reckoned he would start worrying about that on Monday.

Pos Driver Team Time/Retired Grid Pts
1. Kubica BMW 1:36:24.447 2 10
2. Heidfeld BMW +16.4 secs 8 8
3. Coulthard Red Bull +23.3 secs 13 6
4. Glock Toyota +42.6 secs 11 5
5. Massa Ferrari +43.9 secs 6 4
6. Trulli Toyota +47.7 secs 14 3
7. Barrichello Honda +53.5 secs 9 2
8. Vettel STR +54.1 secs 19 1
9. Kovalainen McLaren +54.4 secs 7
10. Rosberg Williams +57.7 secs 5
11. Button Honda +67.5 secs 20
12. Webber Red Bull +71.2 secs 10
13. Bourdais STR +1 Lap 18
Ret Fisichella F India Accident 17
Ret Nakajima Williams Accident 12
Ret Alonso Renault Accident 4
Ret Piquet Renault Brakes 15
Ret Raikkonen Ferrari Accident 3
Ret Hamilton McLaren Accident 1
Ret Sutil F India Gearbox 16

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