Hamilton blisters track record to score pole in Montreal but Vettel right behind in P2; Bottas P3
Mercedes ace Lewis Hamilton set the all-time fastest lap on the ultra-quick and treacherous Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve on Saturday logging a blistering 1:11:459 on Illes Notre Dame in Montreal, Canada and besting his closest pursuer, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, by 3-tenths of a second. Desperate to make amends for his subpar Monaco qualifying performance, which saw him bounced in Q2 en route to a damaging P7 finish, Hamilton’s superb effort gave him his 65th career pole. That tied the Englishman with his personal hero, Ayrton Senna, and after the session was over the Senna family presented him with a period official publicity helmet from the late F1 legend with a promise of an actual race worn version to come. Hamilton was visibly moved by the gracious gesture and it should give him even more motivation to run to victory come Sunday on a track where he has often dominated and where he has 5 career wins, including his first ever top step in F1 back in 2007 when he was a rookie with McLaren.
But as dominant as Hamilton’s Mercedes was Ferrari and Vettel must be well pleased to have ended up so very close to the lead Merc. The Monaco winner and points leader slotted in at P2 with the only other time below 1:12 and it will be all to play for when the lights go out so look for some fierce dicing between these ultra-competitive pilots, as well as key strategic decisions between the two mega-factory teams. Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valterri Bottas was just a bit behind the elite duo in P3, while Vettel’s wingman Kimi Raikkonen, still stewing over a potential Monaco win that he failed to convert from pole, took P4. The start of the tomorrow’s race with those mixed Silver and Red front two rows should be very interesting indeed.
The Red Bulls were once again the best of the rest, with Max Verstappen laying down a time good enough for fifth on the grid and Daniel Ricciardo following up his excellent Monaco podium with a P6 start. Felipe Massa showed one again that the Williams is suited to tracks with long straights and nabbed a P7 starting spot, while Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon both showed good pace for Force India with laps good enough for P8 and P9 on the grid respectively. Renault’s excellent Nico Hulkenberg gave a good effort to get into Q3 and will start P10.
Tomorrow’s race airs on NBC proper live starting at 2PM Eastern here in the States. With Hamilton and Vettel nice and tuck and the Mercedes-Ferrari dual as close as possible it’ll be game on in Montreal to see who bag glory and the most points out of this demanding and fast race. Hope to see you then!
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel made another emphatic statement that he and his team are up for a season-long championship fight against mighty Mercedes with a sparkling drive to victory under the lights at the Bahrain International Circuit. Once again willing to gamble on tire strategy, Ferrari rolled the dice early on an undercut for Vettel with an early pit stop on Lap 10. It seemed to backfire almost instantly on the Scuderia when a Safety Car emerged on Lap 13 following a collision between Williams’ Lance Stroll and Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz. The Mercedes duo then dove for the pits simultaneously under the full course yellow flag along with several other runners, including the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo. But in having to service both Bottas, still leading from pole at that point, and Hamilton at the same time the Mercedes duo were forced to stack up and Hamilton wound up slowing significantly in front of Ricciardo. The pokey pace was deemed egregious by the stewards and Hamilton was levied a tough 5-second time penalty for impeding Ricciardo. That would prove pivotal because while Hamilton worked his way past Ricciardo and his faltering teammate Bottas in his effort to get back up to Vettel he was put irreparably on the back foot by having to spend those 5 extra seconds in the pits to serve the penalty. Despite running significantly faster than Vettel on fresher Soft compound Pirellis as the laps wound down the gap could not be overcome by the Mercedes ace and in the end Vettel scored his second victory out of three races to start the season, hitting the checkered flag over 6 seconds to the good. It looks to be well and truly game on for a fierce Ferrari versus Mercedes/Vettel vs. Hamilton battle all year long. And that could lead to a very special Formula 1 season.
Bottas, who scored his first ever pole position on Saturday, struggled with his overall pace in comparison to the top two finishers. While he was able to hold off a charging Vettel in the opening laps the Finn couldn’t maintain his lead for long and wound up shuffled backwards with persistent oversteer after that first controversial pit stop. Good enough to fend off all but Vettel and Hamilton, Bottas came home a distant P3, ceding the question of team leadership unequivocally to Hamilton. Still, it was a solid day after his inexplicable spin behind the Safety Car two weeks ago in China and good for the Mercedes #2’s overall confidence.
Vettel’s Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen was once again underwhelming, coming home in P4 after never really being in the mix for a podium. Ricciardo was game but his Red Bull was not strong enough to challenge the frontrunners in the cool and dry nighttime desert conditions on this high deg track. The Aussie finished P5 but his talented teammate Max Verstappen unfortunately crashed out on Lap 11 with brake failure. Felipe Massa had a very good drive for Williams showing his car’s outright pace in the straights and staying out of trouble to take a valuable P6. Romain Grosjean got his first points of the year with a P8 for Haas and Nico Hulkenberg made it two races in a row in the top 10 for Renault at P9. Rounding out the Top 10 little Force India placed two drivers in the points for the second consecutive contest with Sergio Perez crossing the finish line in 6th and young Esteban Ocon coming home in P10.
The next race is in two weeks time from Russia at the Sochi Autodrome. With these new cars already scheduled to go through their first in-season development in the interim and Mercedes and Ferrari so closely matched after three races Round 4 should be a key contest to find out who can gain that elusive advantage. Hope to see you then!