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Canada 2012 - McLaren master Montreal madness // Lewis Hamilton secures his first win of the year in a mixed McLaren showing

Published by Christine

Hamilton leads the way in Montreal
Credit: Vodafone McLaren Mercedes

The Canadian Grand Prix was slow to start off, but as the laps disappeared, so the action began to hot up. The potential for a change in the lead was on right up until the end of the race, with a mix of strategies being the key to the victory. Lewis Hamilton became the seventh winner of the season, and with just seven races complete, the championship is as close as it possibly good be.

Brake wear was high, and we saw a few drivers retire with car trouble, but there was no Safety Car in the race - an unusual feat for the Canadian Grand Prix. Nico Rosberg was warned to save fuel after most teams had planned around the appearance of the Safety Car at least once. However, it was a clean race, another strong event for 2012, and left us with another new winner.

McLaren

From the very start of the weekend, McLaren's garage was split between a confident, positive side and a struggling, disappointed one. Lewis Hamilton led both sessions on Friday, qualified second on the grid on Saturday, and lined up next to Sebastian Vettel on the front row come Sunday. The Brit was fired up for a good weekend, hungry for his first win of the year, and feeling good about his potential around the challenging Montreal circuit.

On the other hand, Jenson Button has spent the last few race weekends being particularly vocal about setup difficulties on the car - pointing out how it can be fine in one session and completely unmanageable in the next. He missed a lot of running on Friday due to some mechanical issues, and only just managed to qualify inside the top ten. He lined up on the grid tenth, and on the harder tyre compound.

The race turned out to be an extension of the same story. Hamilton rocketed away at the front, battling with Vettel and Alonso, keeping his cool when the strategy looked as though it wasn't going to work out. The race gradually came to him and as his rivals fell back, the win was on. Hamilton exuded confidence during the post-race press conference and this victory can only serve to boost his motivation for the rest of the year.

Button's performance has sadly fallen off since his win at the first race of the season. From his tenth place start, he pitted early and disappeared down the order. The pace of his car was such that he couldn't recover many positions from that move and he finished way down out of the points. What is interesting about this turn of events is that we have seen McLaren buoy Hamilton up when times are hard, but we have yet to see them have to give Button some serious pep-talks. How will things be within the team if Lewis starts to get the upper hand?

8/10

Lotus

There is constant talk about when this year’s comeback star Kimi Räikkönen will get his first win. So far, he has come close just once or twice, whilst a lot of the momentum remains with his teammate Romain Grosjean. Kimi had some frustrating car trouble this weekend, with differential issues dropping him out of qualifying in the second session. He started the race 12th, whilst Romain was that little bit higher in 7th.

The race pace of the car was a lot better, with Räikkönen improving up to eighth by the time the 70 laps were complete. He complained about the DRS and being stuck behind slower cars, but still managed to gain four places from his start position. Grosjean, of course, finished on the podium, after his one stop strategy was timed to perfection. Vettel was scared into two-stopping after being overtaken by Hamilton which moved Romain onto the podium, and he was on the right tyres to see off a slower Alonso which promoted him to second.

The team were very happy with the result, naturally, but all involved uttered surprise at being able to fight for a podium position. Team boss Éric Boullier has said that he’s impressed with how fast Grosjean is learning, particularly now he is just two points away from Kimi in the driver standings. He also said they need to work with the Finn to improve qualifying, because as we all know, the higher you start in the race, the better the potential for a good finish. Perhaps if Kimi can fix his qualifying, he can be on for that win that is so talked about. Otherwise, it’s all eyes on Grosjean.

8/10

Sauber

Sauber have been battling hard to try and prove that their excellent performance at the Malaysian Grand Prix wasn’t just a one-off. Pérez, in particular, was keen to return to the podium, but his qualifying performance didn’t set him off to a good start. 15th place on the grid was the best the Mexican could manage, after flat spotting his tyres. Teammate Kamui Kobayashi fared slightly better but still couldn’t make it into the top ten shootout, having to settle instead for 11th place.

There was still a vague optimism for the race. The team knew that tyre strategies would be the key differing factor, and it’s something they have previously handled very well. They were also studying the warmer temperatures on the Sunday, hoping that might benefit them somewhat.

Just as Grosjean before him, Pérez took his one stop strategy and turned it into a podium position. As the man himself says: “When you start 15th and there is no rain or chaos you don't really expect to finish on the podium.” It was a good, strong, intelligent drive from Sergio, making his tyres last where others could not.

What I can’t quite fathom is how he managed to end up ahead of Kobayashi, despite starting behind him. They both ended up with a one stop strategy, although Kamui said he had started out thinking they were going to stop twice. They also began the race on different tyres, so that Pérez swapped to the super-softs for the final stint, whereas Kamui had to complete 46 laps on the harder compound.

Either way, it was a strong performance for both cars, even though the results don’t necessarily reflect the same for both drivers.

8/10

Red Bull

Sebastian Vettel was unbeatable in qualifying last season, but as this season has worn on, it almost felt as though he had given up. Twice now, we’ve seen him opt for a sighter lap in the final qualifying session, preferring to save tyres than go for broke. This weekend was something different, presumably because the Red Bull driver felt he had a real chance at getting a good grid slot. Which he did, securing pole position just ahead of Lewis Hamilton. Mark Webber was about half a second behind his teammate, qualifying fourth on the grid.

The pair of them showed good pace in qualifying, but it seemed as though the car couldn’t hold its own quite so well in the race. Vettel lost his lead in the first round of pit stops, falling back behind both Alonso and Hamilton. Although he remained in contention for the win throughout the race, it never quite felt as though he would get back to the front. Towards the very end, he lost out to Lewis on track, then came in for a second and unexpected pit stop. The tweaked strategy allowed him to secure fourth place, but from pole position, that has to be a disappointment.

Webber lost places from his starting position of seventh, two stopping his way to the top ten finish. It was a relatively quiet race for the Australian, from an outsider’s point of view, and although he says he has had worse days on track, he also wonders whether they shouldn’t have tried a different strategy.

Deciding the best strategy was a good problem for Red Bull to have really, having been forced to change their car after it being diagnosed with an illegal floor. This obviously wasn’t too much of a setback for them, as battling for the win was their priority on Sunday.

7/10

Ferrari

Felipe Massa has had a woeful season thus far, being routinely outperformed by Fernando Alonso and at times appearing to be in a completely different car. Finally, in Canada, he hit his stride, clawing his way up to sixth in qualifying. Even then he was dissatisfied with the final lap that saw him slide into sixth, and felt he could do better. Alonso qualified third, so there perhaps was some more to come out of the car.

Ahead of the Grand Prix, Massa admitted he was now feeling more comfortable in the car and that the troubles of the earlier races were behind him. That made it all the more disappointing when Felipe could only go five laps before spinning and finding himself back in 12th place. He finished the race tenth, angry and disappointed with himself. It’s understandable, but if he has truly managed to overcome whatever hurdles were slowing him earlier in the year, then there will be another chance to show what he can do in the car.

On the other side of the garage, Alonso made the best of his third place grid slot by moving into the lead after the first round of pit stops. He looked set for a victory, until Hamilton’s second stop made it a real competition. By the end of the race, Alonso’s tyres were degrading and he couldn’t hold off those behind him. He went from the lead to fourth place in as many laps, and lost another place when Vettel pitted and Ferrari chose to keep him out.

The team had some great pit stop work on display to get their driver into the lead of the race, but they need to look at their strategy calls as this could have been a successful weekend. They’ll need to be thinking doubly as carefully in the future, if Massa really has turned a corner.

6/10

Mercedes

Michael Schumacher made it three retirements in a row, and five altogether this year, when he pulled into the garage in Canada and ended his race early. Luck has not favoured the German this season, and for the Montreal weekend, it was DRS that was to be his downfall. The flappy rear wing got stuck open - an unfortunate failure that could have been quite dangerous. Thankfully he returned to the pitlane with only a brief wobble off track as a result.

It was disappointing after Michael secured a top ten grid slot, but the multi-champion isn’t pointing fingers at anyone in particular. The team have officially apologised to their driver though, and said they will be prioritising reliability over anything else, so that he can start to get to the end of races. The two points on the driver standings next to Schumacher’s name don’t really do the car, or the driver, justice.

Nico Rosberg was having a better weekend, he qualified fifth and finished sixth. It was something of an anonymous race for him, he steered clear of any incidents, and bagged some good points with a consistent drive.

5/10

Force India

The Sahara FI team had another very quiet weekend. Team boss Vijay Mallya made an appearance at the last race in Monaco, but was nowhere to be seen in Canada. He did make his hopes for the weekend clear, though, saying he was determined to close the gap to Sauber and Williams, and they had to start redeeming themselves with the Canadian Grand Prix.

So, disappointment all round when Nico Hülkenberg only qualified 13th. Paul di Resta got through to the final top ten shootout and secured eighth place on the grid. Both drivers, however, finished the race out of the points blaming unexpected tyre degradation on the super soft tyres.

It’s only the second time in seven races that a Force India wasn’t seen somewhere in the points. Afterwards, an employee of the team took to Twitter to vent his frustration.

Day of work & reflection in Montreal after yesterday's disappointment. Issues believed to be understood.#lookingfwdtoflighthome @clubforce

PieroBiase PieroBiase

You can read an awful lot into the simple statement that Force India now know what their issues are, but if it is true - if they have got their head around the tyre problems, or their qualifying pace, or the strategy situations - then they may start to pick things up. It would be good to see them challenging the Williams, although I don’t see them heading towards Sauber any time soon.

4/10

Williams

Williams won a race this season, but looking at the weekend just gone, it seems almost impossible to believe. After the weekend gone it feels as though the team are heading back towards, if not arriving already, where they started from.

There were some on track scuffles during practice that involved the Williams team, and then Pastor was forced to take a five place grid penalty in qualifying after a gearbox change. He had only qualified 17th to begin with, so that pushed him almost to the back of the field. Bruno Senna was only one place ahead of him in 16th, so both drivers had a lot to do on Sunday.

The team opted for a double dose of one-stop strategies, with Senna finding it really hard to make any progress during his first stint. The supersoft tyres were not working how he would have liked and he made little progress over 70 laps. In fact, he ended up one place down on where he started.

Pastor was rising through the field, and looked after his tyres well enough to finish 13th, ahead of his teammate. If his qualifying day had been a little smoother, he may have had an opportunity to fight for good points but it was not to be.

4/10

Toro Rosso

It may be that I have mentioned Jean-Éric Vergne’s poor qualifying performance in every single one of these team by team updates, and this week’s will be no different. It’s easy to get carried away and forget that a driver is in their first year, and Vergne did suffer a lack of running in practice, but this weekend, he qualified behind both Caterham cars. He has consistently been the driver dropping out in Q1, but now seems to be going even further backwards.

Daniel Ricciardo wasn’t that much further ahead of him on the grid, but he did get through to the second session, and there are more opportunities in Q2 than there are in Q1.

Come race day, Ricciardo finished 14th which is exactly where he started. Vergne finished 15th, but also managed to get a drive through penalty for speeding in the pit lane. Both drivers agreed it was not a good weekend for the team.

3/10

Caterham

Heikki Kovalainen gave the mechanics some serious work to do on Friday, when he came out in first practice and smashed his car into the wall. He missed a significant amount of running but the guys did a great job in getting his car to the point it could return to the track for the second session.

The team must have thought they were on to something good when both cars managed to outqualify the Toro Rosso of Jean-Éric Vergne, but the race itself was something more normal for Caterham. There were a few moments where it looked as though Heikki was on his way up the order, but these were fleeting. Instead, the teammates did battle with each other - Kovalainen finishing 18th and Petrov finishing 19th.

Although the performance still isn’t improving as much as the team (and we) would like, it was another double finish for the outfit. They’ve had supremely impressive reliability so far this year, with just the double DNF at the first race, and one retirement in Monaco. Otherwise, both drivers have been seeing the chequered flag, it’s just they would wish it was when they were a little higher up. Points do not seem to be on the cards any time soon.

3/10

Marussia

Qualifying for the Marussia team was a mixed affair, with rookie Charles Pic happy with his performance. He was driving round the Montreal circuit for the first time, so finishing three tenths off his teammate was result enough.

His low expectations were met in the race as well, when the Frenchman finished the race - 20th but it sounds as though he was expecting a retirement more than anything else. Glock wasn’t quite so lucky. He qualified 22nd, had a good start but then struggled with the tyres until the brakes on his car gave out and he retired from the race.

Team Principal of the team, John Booth, admitted that their car just wasn’t on form at the circuit, and they are looking forward to getting back to the factory to try again for Valencia.

2/10

HRT

A tough weekend for HRT. They managed to qualify both cars well inside the 107% cutoff time, and Pedro de la Rosa was particularly impressed with his lap - finishing the Saturday ahead of both Marussia cars.

Sadly, the progress and improved pace the cars were showing was squandered come race day, as both HRT drivers failed to get to the end of the Grand Prix. A double DNF for the team for the first time since Malaysia last year. Both were scuppered by brake trouble, which isn’t surprising around such a heavy braking track as Canada, and they weren’t the only ones to suffer mechanical trouble in that area. However, it’s a big blow to the team when they could have had a much more competitive weekend.

2/10

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