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Canadian Grand Prix 2019: a race of many parts

Publication: 
Bryan Edwards
chiefofficersnet

The Canadian Grand Prix produced excellent and exciting racing. Strategy played almost no part and we were treated to motor racing at its best. Sadly, the racing has been overshadowed.

For those that were focussed on the racing and on the drama, about which more later, there was something that the cameras caught in passing.

Both Lando Norris and Alexander Albon suffered mechanical DNFs while in a strong position. Norris' McLaren, which appeared to brush the wall a couple of laps earlier during a tussle, went on fire and the rear wheel fell off. Honestly: it sounds like a bad, flippant, comment but it's true. Serious problems arose on entry to the last corner; he avoided the Champions Wall but half-way down the pit straight the right rear suspension appeared to break, the wheel started flopping around and seconds later there was a fierce fire, the cause of which is not known at the time of writing. Even so, Norris managed to get the car into a safe position in the pit lane exit. Several laps later, Alexander Albon's Torro Rosso was wheeled into the garage and into retirement. Again, at the time of writing, we've not found out what caused that retirement. That is not the point: the point is that what the cameras caught was something that opens up the debate over whether the extreme pressures of F1 are appropriate for the extreme youth coming into the sport.

There was, of course, the debate about whether Max Verstappen was too young - his antics were credited, joyfully, to immaturity. Neither Norris or Albon (nor, incidentally, George Russell) have shown Verstappen levels of immaturity on the track. But there is something in common: the degree of upset when something goes wrong. One has to ask the brutal question: are young men (if's F1, they are all men) equipped to handle the expectation of success - which is the only reason they have a seat in the first place - equally equipped to handle failure. Today, both Norris and Albon were shown with tears. How, one has to ask, would they have handled the disappointment that eventually wore down Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso, some of the most experienced - and mature in all senses - drivers F1 has ever seen. How can Russell be expected to handle the inevitability of following everyone else around, being lapped at least once in almost every race, knowing that his stats will, if the current state of affairs continues, show his first season in F1 with one of the biggest names in the sport will show that he rarely finished in the top 15 out of 20.

Are we pushing these young men too far too early?

The second thing about the race that distracted from the race was that Sebastian Vettel was handed a five second penalty for rejoining the track in an unsafe manner. The facts are simple: at Turns 3 and 4, with 22 laps to the end, Vettel, under pressure from Hamilton, made a mistake. He made it around Turn 3, a right hander, but by the time he arrived at Turn 4, in what is almost but not officially a chicane, he'd lost it. His arrival was too fast and his angle of attack to sharp. He put all four wheels on the grass inside the kerb at Turn 4. It's not a lot of grass and he was out the other side in a split second. But in that split second, Lewis Hamilton had got the corner right and made up several car lengths: by the time Vettel came back on track, Hamilton was on the racing line right in front of him. To Hamilton's right there was no run-off area, just a wall. Hamilton had to stand on the brakes exactly where he would, normally, have been standing on the throttle. Hamilton told his team there was unsafe return to track; his team said they were referring it to race control, race control passed it to the stewards, the stewards awarded Vettel a five seconds penalty. With just over a dozen laps to go, Hamilton's team told him to glue himself to Vettel's gearbox; Vettel's crew told him to get on it and to increase his 1.5 second lead to at least 5 seconds. Vettel was out of luck: as he said after the race, Hamilton was faster but he just managed to hold on. On the podium, some of the crowd booed Hamilton: Vettel told the crowd to stop it: it was the stewards' decision that Vettel blamed. Hamilton, on the slowing down lap, said he didn't want to win like that and on the podium pulled Vettel up to share the top step. Commentators all argued that that kind of thing happens in motor-racing and the stewards should not interfere. Vettel kept saying "where was I supposed to go? I was on the grass."

So, let's be dispassionate about it. First, the corner is almost a 90 degree corner. Under pressure, Vettel cut the corner. He had all four wheels off the track and by doing so he retained the lead. That's gaining an advantage and that, regardless of anything else, is a punishable offence. Yet there was, apparently, no discussion as to whether Vettel should hand the place to Hamilton.

Secondly, Vettel made a mistake: everyone, including Vettel accepts that. He was hot and off line through Turn 3 where there is a escape road but he was already past that when it all started to go wrong) and off the track at Turn 4. With little or no control on the grass, and on it for maybe a second or two, he returned to the track - and was not in full control of his car. That's where Vettel's defenders aren't realising what they are saying. The two cars were within a few inches of a major accident: if Hamilton had not been able to slow down quite as much as he did, Vettel would have run into him, T-boning him, and forcing him into the wall. It would have been a big crash. We have seen, over and over again, stewards disciplining drivers for causing a collision because they were not in full control of their car. Those events often result in a stop-go penalty or, at least, a drive through. The penalty for Vettel was far less than either and, given the degree of risk, might realistically be considered bordering on the lenient.

Of course, there was no malice, unlike in Baku a couple of years ago when Vettel deliberately drove into Hamilton. It was, indeed, a racing incident but Vettel is a multiple world champion and the circumstances are consistent with his recent form: he has, since the latter part of last season, demonstrated an amazing ability to involve himself in incidents of his own making when he is under pressure.

Yes, of course, a Ferrari win would spice up the competition; yes, of course, a win would undermine the perception that the season is already done and that Mercedes have an unbreakable lease on the top step. But Ferrari have to win on their own terms and Vettel, close today, is one of many weak links in the team. He is, increasingly, looking like yesterday's man. Until today: it was a fine performance except for that single incident and no one can be blamed for one minor mistake which, had he been on his own, would have been exactly that.

And so, the sad thing is that the race, which was exciting, close and fast for most of the field, and the first home race of the new Canadian entered team Racing Point (that's such a hard name to remember), will be remembered for the wrong reasons and the only thing people will talk about is the drama.

See: I've just done that.

Stewards' Decision in full and video: https://www.formula1.com/en/la...

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