Canada never fails to deliver: ’07 Hamilton’s snagged his maiden F1 win, ’08 Kubica pops his cherry after a massive crash in 07, ’10 it delivered the most exciting race of the season and gave birth to a new tire philosophy in F1. Canada 2011 will surely survive as one of the classic F1 races we will still be talking about 10 years on. However as per usual don’t expect a race review from me, I try to stay off the trodden path of blogging and (attempt to )give more original insights on this blog.
My heart sunk a bit when I saw the dreaded message pop up on the world feed before the start “Race will start behind the safety car’. While the track was wet, there had not been anything like the deluge which rightfully red flagged the race 25 laps in. Visibility surely must have been poor for anyone except Vettel, yet in years gone past it would have never warranted a safety car start. There was no standing water on track, hell it wasn’t even raining as the race started! We must give credit to Charlie Whiting and the FIA for continuing to work on improving safety in F1 and we should never take it for granted, but it is still racing open wheel cars at 300kph so an element of danger will always be there. Martin Brundle has had his fair share of rainy races, and I was pleased to hear his criticisms voiced on air about Whiting’s reluctance to let cars race in the rain. Mastering the rain is the hallmark of true greats, Senna put himself firmly in the F1 limelight in a rain soaked Monaco in an uncompetitive Toleman, years later he stormed the field in an uncompetitive Mclaren to take victory in a drenched Donington. Michael Schumacher had many of his finest wins in the rain, earning him the quite silly nickname of Rain Meister. Vettel first showed us his great talent on a very wet Monza track in 08. These days it seems racing in truly wet conditions has become out of the question. It is like the wet tires are no longer deemed fit for racing, just for safety car parading, and only when we are in intermediate conditions will a safety car be pulled in (have to give props to Matt Ruda for tweeting me something along those lines).
The Mclarens were clearly contemplating to start on intermediates, and Ferrari have later suggested they thought about it too, until race direction took away that option and made rain tires mandatory due to the safety car start. One could argue that a standing start in these conditions would have near guaranteed a few collisions and retirements in the first few corners, but is that really so bad? If we allow this argument then consider this: did the safety car really need to do 4 laps before the cars were released, robbing Alonso the possibility to repeat his great starts of the past 2 races? I didn’t agree with the safety car start in the first place, but having it stay out for 4 laps was truly ludicrous. A point in case that it was not nearly wet enough to have the safety car out is that Button pitted for inters a mere 3 laps later, and much of the field followed his lead one lap later. For the short period before the deluge started, it showed inters were the tires to be on, with Button cutting through the field and Adrian Sutil of all people putting in the fastest lap at one point.
Then the rain came, and boy did it pour down. In this case there was no other decision than to bring out the safety car and eventually red flag the race, as conditions clearly made the track undriveable. While I don’t agree with his other decisions this race, Charlie Whiting definitely deserves a compliment for this: rather than waiting for someone to aquaplane off he acted preemptively and halted the race, something the GPDA (Grand Prix Drivers Association) have been asking for.
After the long wait (which I missed since I couldn’t watch the race live so just skipped it watching my recording 😉 ) the race was understandably restarted under the safety car. With the massive amount of water on track, it was a sensible thing to do. However yet again the safety car was out for way too long. This was even more markedly the case compared to the first restart, as most people dived into the pits for inters on the first lap of racing! Is that the FIA’s new safety philosophy: there shall be no racing on wet tires?!
D’Ambrosio even pitted for inters as the safety car did his inlap and recieved a (deserved – rules are rules) penalty for it. As a sidenote I want to add that perhaps it was not a case of Virgin being silly and forgetting the rules, but Virgin actually trying something clever. Jerome pits for inters under safety car as it is about to come in, expecting a penalty. Crucially though, he gets the safety car’s inlap to catch back up to (or near to) the back of the field. Then when everyone else pits, D’Ambrosio coasts through the pitlane to serve his penalty, passing a few guys that stop for tires. Clever move not picked up by the commentators (that or i’m talking out of my ass lol).
Another thing that irked me during the Canadian Grand Prix was the marshals’ very poor performance. Sure, it was hilarious to see marshals faceplanting on two occasions (one even did so twice) but giggles aside, their performance was truly appalling. The incident during the race was very dangerous for both drivers and the marshal in question, what on earth was he doing on track before those cars had tagged onto the ‘snake’ behind the safety car in the first place? But it wasn’t just the falling, they were very slow in clearing cars and debris. If memory serves, it took 3 laps to get Alonso’s car out of the way, and as many to get the debris from Heidfeld’s crash cleared. On tracks with good marshals like Monaco and Silverstone that would have taken one, maximum two laps. If F1 wants to continue to improve safety, the marshals at certain tracks can surely use a refresher course.
Despite these safety car annoyances, some warranted and some unnecessary, Canada was still the best race I’ve seen in recent times. I just hope next time there are rainclouds above the track Charlie will allow the next Senna or Vettel to step up and show his mettle in these conditions, surpassing his car’s shortcomings by pure driving skill and bravery, instead of making it one boring and unnecessary procession.