Canadian Grand Prix - day one


To Montréal, then, where three years ago all this nonsense inadvertently began. The 2010 Canadian Grand Prix was all about tyres, and whereas now every Grand Prix is all about tyres, at that time it was something of a novelty.

That season refuelling was gone finally, which marked the end of the mindless sprint-stop-sprint era, when at all times every car was on new-ish tyres and a light fuel load. Now there was a return to the days of ‘managing a race’, when you started with a very heavy car, and had to pay attention to your tyres – Bridgestone, of course, at that time. We soon became accustomed to one-stop strategies, to drivers starting on softs, then changing to hards for the balance of the race.

Even though the track is not especially abrasive, Montréal that day caused more severe ‘graining’ problems than had been anticipated, and Bridgestone folk reckoned everyone would have to stop at least twice. So it proved, and different people threw the dice in different ways: Red Bull, for example, set their qualifying times on the harder tyres, reckoning this would give them an advantage in the race, as and when the rest stopped early.

It didn’t quite work out that way, though, for even the harder Bridgestones lasted nothing like as long as expected, and what we had was a totally unpredictable race, with different drivers dominating at different moments, with Hamilton and Button ultimately finishing 1-2 for McLaren.

As a one-off, it was every entertaining – because it was different. “It was a very difficult race,” said Jenson, “because of the tyre situation. The whole time you never knew if you weren’t pushing hard enough because you were saving your tyres – or maybe pushing too hard, and hurting them. It was so easy to grain tyres today…”

Little did Jenson know how much he was swinging a lap over the future. What the drivers encountered that day has now become a way of life for the Grand Prix driver – because someone had the great idea of trying to recreate ‘Montréal ‘10’ every weekend. Hence the brief to Pirelli – who won the contract to take over as solus tyre supplier from Bridgestone – that they design and build deliberately inefficient tyres. In Montréal three years ago what happened was new and real, a matter of dealing with something unanticipated, and there’s the difference: what’s happening now is contrived.

On a wet and miserable day in the paddock at Montréal ’13, the main topic of conversation was, of course, the punch-up which has been inspired by the absurd focus on tyres in F1 at the moment. Condemnation of the three-day Pirelli/Mercedes test, conducted at Barcelona immediately after the Spanish Grand Prix, is being played for all its worth by some teams, notably Red Bull. Sebastian Vettel said he didn’t know exactly which tyres had been used, but still Mercedes must have gained from the test, “Because when you’re on the track, you always learn…” And Mark Webber wondered about different things that might have been tried on the car in those three days.

Now the whole thing is to go before the FIA International Tribunal, date not yet announced, and Mercedes folk trust it will find in their favour. “If we’d thought we were doing anything wrong,” said one of them, “we’d never have done it, simple as that. Apart from anything else, a company with a name like this isn’t going to risk being called a ‘cheat’. That’s one thing: the other is that the test was requested by Pirelli – who, it’s worth mentioning, were at the same time also talking to certain other teams about a similar test – and it was paid for by Pirelli, too…”

One wonders, apart from anything else, how long it will be before the Pirelli hierarchy says, “Do we really need this?” Whatever, this thing is going to run and run until finally it gets resolved, one way or the other.

At this morning’s press conference, Monaco winner Nico Rosberg was asked why he and Hamilton had conducted the test, rather than test driver Sam Bird. “That was what the team decided,” he said, “and I also think that it’s better if we were in the car, because it was more representative – Sam doesn’t drive much, so he wouldn’t have been able to go on our pace, and bring the Pirellis through the laps as we would, having had the experience of the Grand Prix that weekend.”

He and Lewis wore anonymous helmets at the test, and he was asked why: “Don’t want to comment on that. Sorry.” Quite obviously, with the FIA Tribunal coming up, the Mercedes team, including its drivers, is saying very little on this subject at present, and one can understand why. On this matter of helmets, I was told that the team hadn’t wanted word to get out that Hamilton and Rosberg were at the circuit, because that would have attracted a lot of fans.

Elsewhere there was renewed discussion of Sergio Pérez’s antics at Monaco, most notably his clumsy coming-together with Kimi Räikkönen. After the race Räikkönen said that, rather than a penalty, what ‘Checo’ needed was a punch in the face, and that had quite an effect for, as everyone knows, it takes a lot to get any sort of reaction out of Kimi. Clearly the incident made him extremely angry, but today he said it was in the past – then quietly added that he hoped it wouldn’t happen again…

The weather forecast for the weekend is not too bad: warm, a mix of sun and cloud, perhaps the odd shower. For tomorrow, the first day of practice, though, the prediction is for rain, and lots of it.

You may also like