Wow, what another incredible race! This year’s Canadian Grand Prix was always going to be exciting. The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve usually provides excitement and unpredictability and pre-race reports of the possibility of rain threatened to add even more uncertainty into the mix. Then when the circuit started breaking up even more than normal during qualifying, another element of chance was added.
Well, the Canadian Grand Prix was highly exciting — but not, as it turned out, for the reasons expected. As the race drew nearer predictions for rain became vaguer and in the end it was not a threat. And overnight repairs to the circuit appear to have done the trick — the repaired tarmac held up better during the race than it did for the qualifying sessions.
But you can always rely on the tough pseudo-street circuit to throw the cards in the air. The barriers are almost as close as Monaco, but the Montreal circuit is much faster. This means carnage, safety cars and above all it means you need to skill to win the race.
Lewis Hamilton showed he does not have this skill — not this time round. He was mesmerising during qualifying, but a schoolboy error put paid to his hopes to repeat the feat this year. Pitting during the safety car period, Hamilton failed to notice that the red light was on at the end of the pitlane. While Kimi Räikkönen and Robert Kubica waited diligently for the light to turn green, Hamilton just ploughed straight into the back of the red car.
Nico Rosberg wasn’t much better, as in turn he hit Hamilton on the rear for good measure. The damage to Hamilton and Räikkönen’s cars was extensive enough to end their races immediately. As the pair climbed out of their cars, Hamilton looked sheepish and turned away from Räikkönen to avoid the inevitable ear-bashing. No so easy Lewis — Räikkönen tapped him on the shoulder so that Hamilton could not avoid paying attention. The Finn wagged his finger like a school teacher. Even with their helmets on, the emotions were clear to see from their body language.
Some will say that this is payback for Räikkönen taking out Sutil in Monaco. Indeed, what goes around comes around. Now all we need is for someone to ride up Hamilton’s jacksy for things to really even out…
Hamilton’s many supporters quickly began to complain about the rules surrounding the red light at the end of the pitlane, but this is no excuse. The red light is not a new rule. Pitlanes have always had red lights at the end — certainly for as long as I can remember, and probably for a much longer time than that. There is a very sensible reason for that.
The fact is that a safety car period means that there should be no overtaking on the race track. You can’t have cars re-joining the field in the middle of the queue because of the confusion it would cause. Where in the queue to re-join? It’s like barging your way to the front of the queue at the post office: it’s just not on. Plus, such an eventuality would lead inescapably to overtaking — therefore racing — taking place. You simply can’t have cars re-joining the middle of the train during a safety car period.
Hamilton should know the rules. He does know the rules. He was just too late to notice the red light. That means game over. It is now up to the stewards to decide if he will be penalised for ending Räikkönen’s race. The three protagonists in the pile-up — Hamilton, Räikkönen and Rosberg — are being investigated by the stewards as we speak and we await their decision. My gut instinct is that if that was a Piquet Jnr or a Nakajima that ploughed into the back of the World Champion in the pitlane, that young driver would be facing a ban.
(Update: It has been announced that both Hamilton and Rosberg will face a 10-place grid penalty at the next Grand Prix in France.)
It could all have been so very different. Sitting next to Räikkönen at the end of the pitlane waiting for the lights to change was Robert Kubica. In a parallel universe, Hamilton would have ploughed into the back of Kubica. In this instance, the luck went the Pole’s way. It’s a classic Montreal win — get a bit of luck, then use your skill to capitalise on it.
Robert Kubica certainly has the skill. He had plenty to deal with during the race. Being among the first to stop during the first Safety Car period, meaning that he had to trundle around in the midfield. He spent a portion of the race being held up by a Toro Rosso. He was the leading driver of those who had made a stop, but it was beginning to look like Nick Heidfeld had the upper hand up front. The German had pulled out enough of a lead to make a pit stop and still come out ahead of Kubica.
However, Heidfeld was on a one-stop strategy and was advised by his team to let through the lighter Kubica, who would need to make an extra pitstop. The race became a classic battle of pitstop strategies: the one-stopping but heavier Heidfeld and the two-stopping but nimbler Kubica.
It was tough for Heidfeld to keep his patience while his team mate steamed into the lead. At one point he got sucked into a battle with the (probably two-stopping) Alonso, when in reality the pair weren’t really racing at all. His engineer wisely advised Heidfeld to forget Alonso and let him past in an attempt to ultimately save him time.
In the end, Kubica had the speed to capitalise on the situation. When it was time for Kubica to make his second pitstop, he was over 25 seconds ahead of his team mate — enough to retain his on-track advantage. He would go on to take the win.
The victory is historic for a number of reasons. Firstly, Robert Kubica is the first Polish driver ever to stand on the top step of the podium. For this, he must be immensely proud.
This is also BMW’s first ever win as a constructor (although the won races in the past with Williams as an engine supplier). And of course, the BMW team has grown out of the Sauber F1 team. It is worth remembering that, despite the temptation to shorten the team’s name to ‘BMW’, officially this is still ‘BMW Sauber’. I did not find Sauber to be very likeable, but under the guidance of BMW and Mario Theissen, I now have an immense amount of respect for the team.
So a first-ever win for BMW and a first-ever win for Sauber. And for that win to be a 1-2 as well makes the victory sweeter. It’s the first time a team’s first win has been a 1-2 as well for ten years. Jordan did it way back in the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix with Damon Hill and Ralf Schumacher.
This is a signal that BMW mean business. McLaren may have laughed off the possibility that they could sustain the pace of development across the entire season, but commendably BMW have got on with the job and come up with the goods. You can’t ask for more than a 1-2, and BMW have provided it. It is a testament to the leadership of Mario Theissen and the great driving skills of Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld.
I can’t help but be reminded of the steady progress that Renault made with Fernando Alonso. Renault’s performances improved throughout 2003 until that first win came. In 2004 some another win came along with more strong race showings. Then in 2005 and 2006 back-to-back World Championships came. Can BMW repeat the feat? I wouldn’t bet against it.
Just as Alonso led the charge for Renault, Kubica is the promising young star who is threatening the big guns. I wouldn’t say that this win was overdue. But we certainly knew it was coming. And for that first win to come at the scene of his horrendous accident last year — one of the most violent-looking accidents I can ever recall seeing — speaks volumes about the man’s positive character, mindset and approach. Is Robert Kubica a future World Champion? Put it this way: I’m excited for him in the same way as I was excited for Alonso about five years ago.
But does this mean that Nick Heidfeld is the tired, past-it, lost talent that Trulli represented in the Renault days? I am a big fan of Quick Nick. But this season he has just not been on it at all. Perhaps the car doesn’t suit him.
Whatever the problem with Heidfeld is, by anyone’s book 2nd place ought to be a reassertion of his authority. However, Nick Heidfeld looked thoroughly dejected in parc fermé. No doubt he feels that the win should have been his had he been able to hold up Kubica during the race as he perhaps feels he had the right to. All I can say is, Kubica had the speed to win the race and Heidfeld didn’t. The decision to let Kubica pass was the only sensible decision for the team to make. In the end the race was won on raw pace, and Kubica had it while Heidfeld didn’t.
Nonetheless, 2nd place represents a titanic effort from Heidfeld. Yes, he had a bit of luck. But he still had to wring the performance out of his car to take the advantage. He started from 8th on the grid, which is the kind of performance we have come to expect from Heidfeld this season. But today he came alive and played a vital part in BMW’s maiden 1-2. He should be proud, not dejected.
And, as he pointed out in the press conference, Heidfeld has played a major part in the development of the BMW Sauber team. He has been there with BMW since the start of the BMW-Sauber relationship. He raced with BMW engines when he was at Williams. And before that he spent a number of years at Sauber. Heidfeld can be happy with the doubtlessly valuable input he has provided the BMW Sauber team over the years, and today was payback day. Hopefully one day soon — as much as I am a huge fan of Kubica — it will be Heidfeld on the top step of the podium in navy blue and white overalls.
My race report will be continued tomorrow.