Friday 22 September 2017

Imperious Vettel leaves rest trailing in his wake

Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany kisses the trophy after winning the Canadian Grand Prix
Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany kisses the trophy after winning the Canadian Grand Prix

Tom Cary in Montreal

Well, it turns out Mercedes have not quite mastered their tyres yet.

That 'private' test in Barcelona last month may have helped them gain a greater understanding of Pirelli rubber but on a sunny day in Montreal they were still trampled by the charging Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel.

The German was at his imperious best to win for the first time around the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, by nearly 15 seconds from Ferrari's Fernando Alonso who just pipped Hamilton to second place after a rivetting battle between the pair.

As Vettel crossed the finish line on the Ile Notre Dame, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner hailed his young charge: "Fantastic, Seb. Makes up for two years ago."

The reference, of course, was to that epic, rain-soaked affair in 2011 when McLaren's Jenson Button caught and passed Vettel on the final lap to win a four-hour marathon.

Alas, the days of such strength from McLaren are at present a distant memory, Button only managing 12th place here, having started 14th.

The 2009 world champion's season is already over as far as the championship is concerned. Mind you, everyone else's will be too unless someone can rein in Vettel.

The triple world champion extended his lead in the standings to 36 points over Alonso with this win. Mercedes need to get on top of those tyres post-haste.

Still, it felt like a good day for the sport. With the sun emerging from behind dark clouds for the first time all week, talk of tyre tests and possible FIA sanctions was finally put to one side as the sport readied itself for some real action.

Even salacious rumours of a punch-up in the Force India garage on Saturday evening were played down.

The team admitted that a disagreement had occurred but denied that it was linked to Paul di Resta's strident criticism of the team following qualifying when he slammed their performance as "unacceptable".

The Scot actually had a magnificent race, claiming seventh place having started 17th thanks to a bold one-stop strategy in which he waited 56 laps before making his first pit stop. But his performance was merely a sidebar to the main event.

As the usual coterie of Hollywood celebrities, grid girls and snake oil salesmen took to the grid the big question on everyone's lips was whether Mercedes would be able to manage their tyre wear sufficiently to challenge Red Bull and Ferrari for the win.

The signs were ominous from the start as Vettel pulled clear of Hamilton with almost indecent haste.

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By the second lap, Vettel was already three seconds up on Hamilton and by the time they all came in for their first round of pit stops between laps 15 to 18 that gap had been extended to more than eight seconds.

The Briton was hanging in there, though, faring far better than his team-mate Nico Rosberg whose rear tyres were "in the danger zone" just two laps into his second tyre stint.

By lap 30, the third-placed Rosberg had been passed by both Red Bull's Mark Webber and Ferrari's Alonso. Of those two, it was the Ferrari driver who was in far better shape.

Webber had lost part of his front wing lapping the Caterham of Giedo van der Garde and Alonso soon took advantage, passing the Red Bull for third place and setting his sights on Hamilton.

With the race now Vettel's to lose – and the German did have one hairy moment when he missed his braking point into Turn 1 and cut across the grass, prompting his race engineer Rocky to tell him to "settle down" – it became a gripping battle for second.

From 10 seconds following the second round of pit stops, Alonso closed at a rate of around one second per lap to catch his former McLaren team-mate, who was clearly feeling the pressure.

Told by his race engineer that his traction metrics were "under 2000", Hamilton implored him: "Please, just let me drive, Man!"

Hamilton could not stave off the inevitable, though. Despite putting up brave resistance, including some desperately late braking into the chicane which had the crowds in the grandstand there on their feet, Alonso passed Hamilton with seven laps remaining, slipstreaming the Mercedes into Turn 1 and making the move stick.

It was then just a question of whether Webber could also catch the Briton but the Australian, despite earlier encouragement from his team, could not find the pace.

Hamilton held on to claim the final podium place. An encouraging weekend, but still work to do for Mercedes if they, or anyone else, wants to catch Vettel. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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