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8 Jun 2019

Matt 'Trumpets' Ragsdale
Ambient 21° Track 47° Humidity 26% Wind 0.9 m/s


Stunning and glorious weather encompassed the paddock as the teams got to grips with the final adjustments needed before the rigors of qualifying, blue skies filled with cotton candy clouds, breezy and warm a magnificent day for all.

The most immediate concern for Mercedes, aside from Ferrari being quicker than them in FP3 (coff sandbags coff) was the fact that Lance Stroll blew up his brand new Spec 2 Mercedes engine on an outlap in FP3. Looking at times, it seemed a reasonable assumption that Racing Point were probably running party mode, with Perez into the top 10 whilst Mercedes were saving it for the qualifying session. Without time to determine if the failure was installation related or something more ominous, a real question of risk vs reward for Mercedes fast approached, to risk it all for pole or play it safe and hope to make it up in the race, where by all accounts they had an easy half a second on Ferrari.

Not to be left out of the picture, Christian Horner was quick to point out that if it was hot enough on the Sunday then he felt they had a good car to be competitive with Mercedes. Perhaps of more interest, were the rumblings about the 2021 regs, with a cap of $175 million to be established from the off, but with important carve outs for driver salaries, executive salaries as well as marketing etc.... Along with that there was a sudden, but entirely unsurprising push from Ferrari and Red Bull for Pirelli to consider rolling back the tyre changes that were instituted for 2019 (thinner tread, stiffer sidewalls), as the upshot of was that they essentially moved the window where they operate optimally and handed an advantage to Mercedes that, if we are being honest, they didn't really need....

Renault finished out the session best of the rest, trailed closely by McLaren, who had strong race pace during FP2. HAAS had some interesting results running their new rear suspension for the first time, although they struggled with race pace and were not quick in FP3. Grosjean, in particular, struggled with the balance of the car and still seemed not entirely settled at the conclusion of FP3.

OF course, one of the features of the Montreal circuit is it's walls and both Verstappen and Hamilton managed to do a number on the championship one, Verstappen ripping apart one of his front wheels and erasing a big chunk of the Pirelli logo whilst Hamilton saw himself out of the bigger percentage of FP2 by clouting it thoroughly with his rear wheel and picking up a puncture......

As the clock ticked down to the opening of the pitlane, Racing Point had managed to screw the spec 1 engine into the back of Stroll's car and was finishing up their work while Grosjean's brush with the wall had ensured he had no Soft tyre running in the final practice session.....


Green Light!! Williams were first on the circuit, Kubica leading Russell and it was little surprise that Stroll was the next runner out, the missing of all of FP3 spurring him on to run as many laps as possible. Giovinazzi was next along with Raikkonen as Kubica rounded the final turn and headed towards the first hot lap of the session. In his wake the HAAS duo emerged, on their outlaps in the large space between Kubica and Russell.

As expected, Russell was the winner of that duel, with Stroll going to the top with a 1:13.219 as traffic ramped up with Toro Rosso out along with McLaren in the interlude. Kmag was next to seize the top step, ahead of Grosjean and into the 1:12's until Norris came through 0.3s ahead. Albon took P3 and Hulkenberg P4 as with 12 minutes left Vettel and Leclerc had taken to the circuit on their outlaps with Mercedes still in the garage.

As the clock rolled towards 10 minutes to go, Mercedes finally emerged, as Leclerc got the better of his teammate and was up to the 1:11s. Verstappen slotted in between the pair as Hamilton and Bottas were about halfway round their first efforts. Hamilton was first across the line, P3 and then Bottas slotted behind him, with Vettel having been dropped to P7 with under 8 minutes left.

At the other end of the field, Albon was in the hotseat, with Grosjean, Raikkonen, Russel and Kubica on the outside looking in. Hamilton, after a slow lap was up to P2, for a moment, until Bottas finally surpassed Leclerc taking P1 and pushing Lewis down to P3. Vettel had improved to P4 and as the track emptied for the hangers on to prepare for their final shot at glory, the Ferraris had one more go, and the result was Vettel taking P1 and Leclerc P2...

3:30 to go and Grosjean was back out, needing a small miracle to get out of the bottom 4, but potentially with the car to do it and he did so in style, going P7 whilst Kmag rocked up to P9. Albon, who had an earlier incident (looking to have been impeded by Sainz), then went P6 followed by Norris doing the same and in the blink of an eye, Kmag was P13 and Grosjean P10....

1 minute to go and the top 5 plus Gasly, who had dropped to P8 were in the pits while all eyes were on track as the last glorious efforts to make Q2 were fully underway. Stroll, Hulkenberg and Sainz were all out but on a hot lap. Sideways for Stroll and up to P14. Sainz P6, Ricciardo P8 put him on the bubble and then it was done. Giovinazzi went P15 and put Raikkonen out and then that was that, Perez, Raikkonen, Stroll, Russell and Kubica going no further and off in search of some poutine as the rest turned it around for Q2, where the question would be who, if anyone, might try the Medium tire to get through.

Q2 was off with Bottas, Hamilton, and then Giovinazzi leading the way. After a minute or so of thought, Ferrari decided to join the party. AS they rocked onto their first hotlaps, it was Hamilton, significantly faster as Bottas backed off in the second sector. Hamilton, on the Medium tyre, was through with a 1:11.336 while Bottas had nearly lost it in T3, causing him to back off. Vettel was through then, with a 1:11.309 and to the top with Leclerc as well, going 10 seconds slower and ala Bottas, with a moment and having to have another go to get a decent time in.

Meanwhile, the rest of the field had decided to get in on the action and it was fast and furious on the circuit. One by one the midfield flashed through the start/finish and when the dust settled, well, it just kinda refused to settle so at the randomly picked point of 8 minutes left, it was Ricciardo and hulkenberg leading the way, followed by McLaren and then Magnussen, with Gasly and Grosjean yet to set a time. Verstappen, having tried the Medium tyre, was in P10 and looking at having to go back out with a set of Soft tyres to get through.

On his first run, Grosjean had missed at the chicane and was into the pits without setting a time. Gasly with the Softs rocked a P2 and at the interlude, it was Mercedes, out into the quiet and it was a 1:11.01 and to the top for Hamilton as Bottas was on his push lap and up to P2 he went. On the outside with 4 minutes to go were Verstappen, Giovinazzi, Kvyat, Albon and Grosjean, with Magnussen on the bubble.

Albon was up, going faster but no improvement on his P14. Verstappen was out on the Soft tyre and then just after the chequers fell Magnussen was into the wall of champions, bouncing across the circuit and it was a red flag moment. That brought an immediate end to the festivities with Verstappen STILL P11, and Kvyat, Giovinazzi, Albon and Grosjean, who was just behind and on a brilliant lap, all going no further and off in search of liquid solace in the form of maple sap vodka (yes it's a thing, really) as the remainder, sans Magnussen who was rated as highly likely to need a new gearbox, along with owing his mechanics a case of beer, got themselves ready for the ultimate glories of Q3. With an added time bonus for clean up time to prepare....

Q3 started with Gasly on a solo effort, followed by Hulkenberg and then the Ferrari duo..... Mercedes wasted little time launching their effort and with just under 10 minutes to go the outlaps were in full flow. Gasly in with a 1:12.185, not the quickest of things although with rising track temps it was hard to know if conditions had drifted from optimal. It wouldn't be long, as the Leclerc was leading a gaggle of drivers down the back straight and onto their hot laps with 8 minutes to go. Bottas was off in T2 but unlike Magnussen, there were no flags to interfere and then Leclerc hit the line, P1 just long enough to for Hamilton to rock by with a a 1:10.493. Vettel was 0.188 seconds back in P2 and Hulkenberg was P4 followed by Gasly, and Ricciardo. On replay it was an amazing bit of luck that Bottas had managed to avoid the walls with his mistake, losing the rear on the kerbs and then sliding down the track and just missing the opposite side wall with his front wing....

4 minutes to go and the full weight of Red Bull's glory was on Gasly's shoulders, as Ferrari were the last to roll into the pits. Norris led the way out, followed by Hulk and Ricciardo, then Sainz, Bottas and Hamilton. A big gap and then Leclerc led Vettel onto the track with Gasly last one up.

It was tight at the top, with the battle looking more to be between Vettel and Hamilton, Bottas still scrappy and fighting the car and Leclerc just hot and cold through the mini sectors. P3 for Ricciardo as Bottas went P5. Hamilton improved to a 1:10.446 but it was Vettel, on fire and to the top with a 1:10.24 pole position and first chink in the armour of Mercedes. Leclerc managed a P3 and that left Ricciardo P4 AHEAD of Gasly (admittedly by 0.008 seconds) and likely to make some trouble. Bottas could manage but P6 followed by Hulkenberg, Norris, Sainz and then the non-participant Magnussen.

Even Hamilton sounded a bit happy that Vettel had finally got the job done and with even hotter temperatures predicted, tomorrow's race is getting just a bit more interesting. Add an out of position Verstappen, Ricciardo looking for redemption and the inevitable tangle in the midfield in a race that melts tyres and brakes, and it looks to be a race that will certainly yield some highlights, if not a proper scrap at the sharp end of the field. With Sainz facing a possible penalty and Magnussen likely to need a new gearbox, Verstappen's miss of Q3 might well see him start P8 with his choice of tyres, perhaps brightening his race a touch. Well done to Giovinazzi for finally getting one over on Raikkonen, and more than a few questions for Racing Point, with neither driver out of Q1.....

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