Analysis: How Hamilton got his mojo back in Canada

Lewis Hamilton put the disappointment of Monaco behind him with a stunning performance in Montreal, while title rival Sebastian Vettel was forced into damage control after an early clash.

The Canadian Grand Prix gave us a touch of deja vu, with Lewis Hamilton absolutely dominating the race and his Mercedes teammate finishing second. It was just like the last three seasons, and different to what we've quickly become accustomed to in 2017.

Indeed, Montreal was a reminder of how fortunate we have been so far this year to enjoy a fabulous battle between two mighty teams, and two of the all-time greats – with due respect to their very talented teammates, who are also playing a role in the story.

Just as things went wrong for Hamilton in Monaco, this time around it was Sebastian Vettel who was not able to join the battle for victory, and had to run a race of damage limitation. In the end the German recovered to fourth, losing just 13 points to his title rival.

It could have been a lot worse.

The big story of the weekend was the way Mercedes and especially Hamilton bounced back from their Monaco frustration. It was not by chance – both Hamilton and his team boss Toto Wolff made it clear how hard the team had worked in the intervening period on addressing its issues, with the big focus on working the tyres effectively, especially in qualifying.

Hamilton's brilliant Q3 performance showed that Mercedes had met its targets, and now we will have to wait and see how circuit specific that turnaround has been, and whether or not it translates to Baku and beyond.

The race could hardly have gone better for Hamilton. Last year both he and then teammate Nico Rosberg lost out to an inspired Vettel at the start, but this time Hamilton got it right, and emerged safely in front.

It was Vettel who was in trouble, finding himself squeezed by a flying Max Verstappen, who crucially left him with a damaged front wing.

The spectacular Sainz/Massa clash later in the lap triggered an early safety car, but Hamilton played his cards right at the restart and stayed safely ahead of Verstappen.

The pressure came off massively when just two laps after the green flag when Vettel headed into the pits to take a new front wing. Frustratingly for the team they had thought he had got away with the Verstappen clash – quite simply while running slowly behind the safety car, it hadn't been apparent, either to the driver or on the telemetry.

"The first lap of the race usually is quite messy because the tyres are cold, especially today was windy and so on," said Vettel. "I felt something out of Turn 6, 7, and then there was a safety car.

"I asked to check and then behind the safety car, with the damage, was so slow that you couldn't really feel it."

That's why the team didn't pit him under yellows and give him a new one with relatively little loss of time or position. But as soon as he got up to speed and the wing was under load, it was obvious that it had to be changed, and that meant coming in under green.

The stop dropped Vettel to the very back of the field, and with 64 laps still to run, it was also clear that he would have to pit again at some stage.

It was now a question of how much ground he could make up.

Hamilton in control

With Hamilton's initial pursuer Verstappen an early retirement due to battery issues – robbing the race of much potential excitement – Bottas followed him in a distant second place.

Practice had suggested that the soft and supersoft were both viable choices for second stints, depending on temperatures and car set-up, and unusually Mercedes split its drivers.

The Finn stopped a lot earlier than his team mate, on lap 23, and took softs for the relatively long run to the flag.

Able to control his own destiny strategy-wise Hamilton stayed out as late as 32 – almost half-distance – before coming in for supersofts.

On lap 64 he popped up with a fastest lap, quicker than any done by those who stopped much later for fresher tyres, almost a second quicker than the laps he had been running previously.

He crossed the line some 19.7s clear of his teammate. He made it look easy, but that was just a reflection of the hard work that had been going on behind the scenes to put both him and the team back on track.

Battle behind the leaders

If there wasn't much excitement in terms of a lead battle, there was plenty going on behind. With Verstappen out early, Daniel Ricciardo picked up the baton for Red Bull. He made an early stop on lap 18, and like Bottas went for the softs.

He wasn't entirely happy on them, and struggled for pace, which helps to explain why he spent much of the race fending off a pair of Force Indias.

It was a great performance from Force India, who from the very early stages looked destined to achieve a result comparable with the fourth-fifth it earned in Barcelona. Esteban Ocon had already more than proved his talent this year, but in Canada he proved beyond all doubt that he is a potential star.

By staying out as others pitted, he ran a confident second for a while, and that late stop ensured he had much fresher tyres when he did pit, emerging behind Ricciardo and teammate
Sergio Perez.

All three were being pursued by the Ferraris of Raikkonen Raikkonen and the delayed Vettel, and things became interesting when first Raikkonen and then Vettel pitted for ultrasofts (used qualifying sets), in an effort to give them the extra pace with which to catch and hopefully slice through the Ricciardo/Perez/Ocon battle.

"We had the speed in the end to challenge them," said Raikkonen. "We tried to get the offset on the tyre life and speed difference, as we could easily have been in the position where we were before the pitstop. We all knew we would give ourselves a bigger chance if we stopped and had better tyres and try to pass them again."

Vettel's recovery had already been massively impressive, and on the fresh ultrasofts, he now had a chance to really gain some ground.

The fact that the first car he was going to catch would be Raikkonen, on slightly older tyres, added an extra level of intrigue. Given all the fuss in Monaco, would he cede position to the championship leader without a fight? It was going to be fascinating…

In the end it became academic, for on lap 60, with 10 still to run, Raikkonen skated off the road – and Vettel went through without problem. As radio messages revealed, the Finn was now in brake troubles, and he soon dropped back into the clutches of Nico Hulkenberg.

The brake problems spoiled his fun.

Vettel marches forward as the Force Indias squabble

The big focus in the latter part of the race was what was happening behind Ricciardo. Perez had been unable to pass him, and Force India radio traffic revealed a lengthy debate about the prospect of Ocon – on fresher tyres – being allowed through to have a go.

Perez was even promised that if the Frenchman couldn't manage it he would let his teammate back through, but the Mexican stuck to his guns and stayed in fourth, behind Ricciardo.

In the end Vettel had too much speed for both of them. He first dispatched Ocon – leaving him very little room, and sending him into a trip across the first corner run-off.

"I wanted to get past, full stop," said Vettel. "I was surprised because I was so much faster and I thought it should be straightforward to pass them, but also it's not just that the tow effect with two cars in front of you, it's also that the loss of downforce is quite big, so I was sliding quite a lot, more than I thought."

Then after a moment of his own a few corners later slowed his progress, Vettel managed to dispose of Perez.

He couldn't quite deal with Ricciardo, but fourth was still a pretty good effort, given that he was 18th at one point. And consider too that it was achieved with a slightly hobbled car – he may have replaced the wing, but there was some bargeboard and floor damage that cost him speed.

"Well, we had the front wing damage first and then afterwards we had something on the front floor, was damaged as well. At that point you just get used to it. I had so many laps, but the car was not... you know, not great, the pace was good, but it was not the car that I drove yesterday and the day before.

"So I guess the damage was there, but when you're racing so many cars, you're full of adrenaline, and you just get on with it, so you adapt. But certainly, it was not ideal."

This was the sort of performance that can win titles – 12 points could be very valuable come November.

Not a great race for the lead after some close contests this year, but a good result for what is set to become an epic championship. Will Ferrari make amends in Baku?

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Event Canadian GP
Track Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve
Drivers Lewis Hamilton , Sebastian Vettel
Teams Mercedes
Article type Analysis