F1 2021 Season 2 Round 7 – Canada

The famous Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is the next venue of the season, and as with Azerbaijan I’d won here last season. 70 laps around the track (built on a man-made island) awaited around this fast and challenging track, which features a number of pressure points. Real Canadian Grands Prix have seen many drivers – including experienced champions – misjudge their exit of turn 13 and slam into the wall – hence the ‘Wall of Champions’ title. Fast, snappy chicanes that encourage you to use the kerbs have seen a few racers bump the barriers at turns 4, 7 and 9, especially in situations with several cars jockeying for position. The weather has also played its part in producing sensational races, such as the lengthy, rain-soaked 2011 race, which saw Jensen Button steal the win when Sebastian Vettel slid wide at turn 6.

For me, the race weekend threatened variable conditions. FP1 was dry, and I found that the car felt good and smooth even with high fuel loads and hard tyres, which was encouraging. In the damp conditions of FP2 the car still felt good, but would I be quick when it mattered in qualifying? Mixed conditions threatened to undo me as they had in Azerbaijan, but in the end I qualified in second, which I could happily live with – even if I was pipped at the very last by Bottas. At the start of the race both Bottas and I lost out to the fast and punchy Hamilton, and I nearly lost out to Norris but hung around the outside of turn 2 and kept ahead through the chicane. Norris lost out to his teammate Ricciardo and must have suffered damage at some point, for he dropped back through the order. Ricciardo stayed with me and I stayed with the two Mercedes, despite being the only one of the top four to be on medium tyres – the rest had chosen softs to run on (we had a free choice due to Q2 being wet), so I only needed to keep in touch until their tyres began to lose performance. However by around lap 9 (I think) I had passed Bottas (bullying him down the inside of turn 6), and on turn 11 I slipped by Hamilton by breaking late into the hairpin.

The weather changed the story. It began to rain, but it wasn’t meant to last too long. However it did get heavy enough to warrant inters, and I delayed my stop to a lap after Hamilton pitted. My decision nearly backfired, for I emerged from the pits to end up side-by-side with Hamilton as we shot through turns 3 and 4, but I held on to lead. From there I would gradually pull away in the drizzle and would continue to do so as the rain came down. It never really got to a torrential downpour, and after a time it began to ease off. Soon it was time to switch back to slick tyres, specifically mediums.

It was around this time that Hamilton retired. I don’t know why he retired but it looked from the map like he had gotten very close to Ricciardo (or rather Ricciardo had gotten close to him) and the next thing I knew, he was pulling over. The timing of everyone’s stops as the weather changed had placed Ricciardo’s McLaren ahead of Bottas and, if Bottas had any pace to threaten me, he could not bring it to bear thanks to Ricciardo. My gap to the cars behind was healthy and my medium tyres were holding up quite nicely, however I had more or less half the race to run at this point, so I doubted the tyres would go to the end. My wish was for at least some of the cars behind me would stop first, and they duly did – Ricciardo put on another set of mediums and emerged some 30 seconds behind me. By the time I finally stopped with 14 laps to go, that gap had fallen, but only to 27 seconds, and I was now comfortably in the window for soft tyres. Not only that, I had a set of unused fresh softs available.

On these new tyres the fastest lap was soon secured, and the win followed. I had found my groove, and with it a 21-point lead in the championship standings over Bottas. My fourth win of the season was also the 10th of my fledging career, and the next track – France – was another I’d won at. Could I stretch my lead?

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