We had a win under our belt, secured in nail-biting circumstances. We had upgrades going onto the car and it was time to use fresh engine parts too. Oh, it was also time for the Canadian Grand Prix.
A perennial favourite among fans and drivers alike, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve (named after the brilliant French-Candian F1 driver) has hosted the Canadian Grand Prix since 1978. There have been occasions where the race was absent, but by and large it’s been a regular fixture. The track itself is 4.361km long and drivers compete across 70 laps in an F1 event. Conditions can vary here, and there have been some very wet Grands Prix. For example, the 2011 race was red-flagged for a time due to horrendous weather, and after a multitude of pit stops, accidents and penalties, Jensen Button claimed a memorable win when Sebastian Vettel made a small mistake at turn 6 on the final lap. In 1991 Nigel Mansell’s car gave up on him on the final lap to deny him a win, in 2007 Lewis Hamilton won his first of over a hundred F1 wins, and in 2014 Daniel Ricciardo won his first F1 race.
The track is noted for being fast. Of particular interest is the long Casino Straight, which is followed by the infamous ‘Wall of Champions’, which has caught out even the very best F1 drivers. Michael Schumacher, Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve and Sebastian Vettel have all clouted the barrier on the exit of turn 13.
The middle sector contains some of the most satisfying corners of any track. Nail them correctly and you’ll put in a great lap. You can be surprisingly aggressive into turn 3 and you’ll want to get on the power swiftly as you head through turn 4. The same also applies (though I was a bit more hesitant here) to turns 8 and 9, and the Hairpin is an easy corner to go wide at, though get it right and you’ll come within inches of scraping the barrier, whilst getting back on the power.
The mixed weather played a part here, with damp conditions affecting part of practice. With the forecast for qualifying looking wet but the race looking dry, I opted for a dry setup and hoped it wouldn’t hamper me too much. What did hamper in practice (and it served as a potential warning) was difficulty in hooking up a hot lap on soft tyres, owing to traffic. A McLaren on hard tyres proved particularly frustrating, and I ended up escaping a penalty when we touched and I spun them around. In hindsight I shouldn’t have let my frustration get the better of me, but they were ridiculously slow! Overall I was pleased with the car and the laps, though the rest of the weekend has led me to the conclusion that I need to raise the AI settings. More on that later.
Qualifying took place entirely in damp conditions that necessitated inters. I topped each session comfortably (by nearly a second in Q1 and Q2, and half a second in Q3) and took pole. As qualifying had taken place in the wet, normal starting tyre rules did not apply and my team suggested a three-stop strategy, beginning with softs, and continuing with them until my final stop, which would be for mediums. I flipped this around to start on the mediums and make all my stops be for softs. That way I’d get the benefit of the quicker compound whilst the car got quicker through using up fuel.
The strategy worked like a charm. My start was a little iffy but I fended off the Mercedes duo and in the process Bottas lost a bit of his front wing, and Hamilton slipped a couple of places, leaving Verstappen on my tail. The Red Bull was on the soft tyre, but despite this I was able to edge away by around half a second a lap, until the softs began to lose performance and Verstappen (along with Hamilton and the rest) pitted. Their fresh softs proved racey but my lap times were good enough to keep me ahead by a few seconds after I ditched the mediums. From there I built my lead back up and pumped in some fast lap times, leaving Verstappen and Hamilton in my wake. Hence my need to raise the quality of the AI a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to be winning, but this race was working out to be not only improbable, but far too easy in many respects. I had eked out a gap of some 20 seconds around the lap 40 mark, at which point the race delivered some excitement.
Nicholas Latifi lost the rear through the final chicane and thumped the Wall of Champions hard, breaking his car badly. It was quite a spectacular clunk! This brought out the safety car and neutralised my advantage, though in the game lapped cars don’t unlap themselves, and a couple sat between me and my rivals. When the safety car period ended I soon rebuilt my gap, and my only small piece of consternation was around whether to pit with 16 laps to go or whether to go another lap. I decided to stay out for another lap and put on fresh soft boots for the final stint, with my lead still comfortably intact. From here my gap grew to around 18-19 seconds and would remain around that till the end. The only further noteworthy event came right at the very end, when slow backmarkers didn’t yield enough at the Hairpin on the final lap. I clipped my front wing, then had my wing completely destroyed by the Haas of Mick Schumacher. Perhaps I should have backed off, but as we approached turn 12 I wanted to get by. He didn’t leave enough room (in my view), and I crossed the line to win, sans front wing.
My second win (and second consecutive win) meant I had more wins than Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen combined. However three non-point-scoring races meant they were considerably higher up the standings! Bottas had seen his lead cut a bit by both Verstappen and Hamilton. Would I make it three-in-a-row in France?