Hurrah, F1 is back in Canada after several years away.
The circuit in Montreal has tons of little straights and a few slow corners, which should make it McLaren heaven. The temperature is usually mid-20s this time of year, which will help stop the Red Bulls exploding in the sun, but the McLaren straight line speed should be enough to give them the edge.
Since the collision of two charging Red Bulls the team has moved away from the “It’s Webber’s fault” theme to a more unified effort. However, I doubt that will defuse tensions. Vettel’s a great driver, but the crash was his fault, and he is not great at passing generally (similar to Webber, actually, who took Hamilton out at an earlier race this season). Webber may feel under pressure and under-appreciated, Vettel frustrated and angered to have under-achieved (points-wise) yet again.
Meanwhile, McLaren’s chief difficulty is to stop laughing long enough to do some qualifying. If Hamilton and Button show the same fierce competitiveness and healthy respect of the last few laps of Turkey throughout the season they stand an excellent chance of taking titles. I’ve backed McLaren for the Constructors’ at 2.8 [I wrote this part of the article on the 2nd, so the odds could’ve changed substantially, but I did mention it on the main site at the time]. Unlike most of my title bets, it’s not a trading bet, I think the team stands a good chance of taking the title.
Anyway, to practice. P1 had Button topping the timesheets, with narrow gaps from him to Schumacher, then Hamilton and Rosberg, who were followed by Vettel, Kubica, Alonso and Liuzzi. I didn’t watch it live, but according to the BBC website report the result rather flatters Mercedes, as they set their times when the track was fastest whereas the McLarens did not.
I did watch P2. This had Vettel fastest, then Alonso, Rosberg, Webber, Massa Sutil, Hamilton, Kubica. However, this is misleading. The McLarens and others were doing fast runs, and the McLarens were at or near the top (Mercedes also did quite well). Then the McLarens came in, the track started to speed up and that’s when Vettel and the Ferraris set their fast times. After that, it was slow running and everyone was 4s off the pace. Interestingly, there was substantial tyre degradation [rear tyres, although Vettel impressively managed to get severe graining on his front tyres too]. Canada tends to have safety cars, which may help with this in-race, but it may still play into Button’s hands. There’s also the off-chance of a two-stop strategy [graining affected both soft and hard tyres], probably not from McLaren or Red Bull, but possibly from Ferrari or Mercedes or Renault.
P3 was boring for about 55 minutes, then the teams did their fast laps during soft tyre qualifying simulation runs. Hamilton improved on his best time (set on hards) by two-tenths, and most others also improved. In the end the order was Hamilton, Webber, Schumacher, Alonso, Vettel, Kubica, Sutil, Button. However, Button’s time is not at all representative of his pace. He set it earlier on, on hards (and Canada’s the type of track where it gets faster and faster with time). His first fast soft lap failed because he went through a chicane so it didn’t count, and his second failed because Luca di Grassi decided to take a scenic detour and parked his Virgin in a gravel trap, prompting yellow flags.
The conditions for P3 were dry but cool and overcast. Weather forecast for qualifying is as follows:
Wunderground: 40% chance of rain
Weather-forecast.com: Some clouds [rain in morning but not afternoon, qualifying is 1pm local time]
BBC: Light rain
So, definitely cloudy, possible rain. Worth bearing in mind when betting.
There was an interesting discussion during the P3 commentary regarding whether or not it might be better (for once) to qualify on hard rather than soft tyres (as the softs have been even worse at degrading than the hards). However, the fastest times were all set [save Button’s] on the softs, so I suspect they’ll go for them (and possibly benefit in terms of degradation from a safety car-led procession).
Now, Button would be well above the 8th he scored in P3 had he not suffered from his chicane cock-up and di Grassi’s mistake. How fast would he have been? No idea. But his time in P3 does not reflect his true pace.
This season, qualifying has consisted of Red Bull winning. However, we saw in Turkey that the McLaren is now roughly at equal race pace to the Red Bull. Montreal is almost ideally suited to the car [tons of little straights]. If McLaren can do it anywhere, it’s here. I also had a look to see the qualifying performance of the two drivers. It’s 4:3 to Hamilton, or 4:2 if you discount the crazy Malaysian qualifying [the really wet one]. So, Hamilton does have an advantage, but it’s not colossal.
At the time of writing, Hamilton’s favourite to get pole, at 3, with Button at 11, Webber 5.7 and Vettel 3.75. I agree that Hamilton’s the favourite, but for me, Button is the best value.
So, my tip is to back Button, and set up an in-race lay (I backed him at 9.2, with a lay set for 2.5). I was also lucky enough to be able to back Hamilton at 4, with a lay set at 1.5.
Feel a bit out on a limb, backing a non-Red Bull, but that’s what I think is value.