Motorsport Monday: Mercedes Misfortune Leads to Ricciardo Triumph in Montreal

As far as results go in 2014, I doubt we’ll see few more unlikely than this.

After starting sixth on the grid following a disappointing qualifying performance, future Australian monarch Daniel Ricciardo somehow found himself on the top step of the podium after a heart stopping Canadian Grand Prix. In only his seventh race with Red Bull Racing, Ricciardo scored the team’s maiden victory of 2014, and the first for his Formula 1 career. The events that transpired to get him there not have happened in a more exciting fashion, so let’s recap that and all the other top stories from the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

Ricciardo’s First F1 Victory Makes for Surprise Ending in Canada

Best of the rest? For one day at least, Red Bull was better than the best as pit-stop strategy, some brilliant driving and a heaping helping of luck saw Daniel Ricciardo take the win from Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg and teammate Sebastian Vettel. Heading into the weekend, if you had suggested Red Bull were capable of ending the dominance of the Silver Arrows — at a track where their superior straight-line speed would give them an even bigger advantage than in any race prior — you would have been accused of either trolling, harbouring anti-German sentiment, or being Christian Horner’s mum. The nature of the Montreal circuit means drivers are at full-throttle for 70% of the lap, and Red Bull’s pace in the corners can do little to alleviate what they lose to their Mercedes-engined brethren in the straights, even with the help of DRS. If there was a track where they could score a victory for the teams with a Renault engine, this was not supposed to be it.

And while certainly this result would not have been accomplished were it not for the misfortune imbued on several of their rivals, nothing should be taken away from Ricciardo and Red Bull in their victory. The Australian’s first stop was expertly timed by the pit wall to jump the Williams of Felipe Massa, and their second stop on lap 35, plus a blistering outlap from Ricciardo saw him jump Valterri Bottas and his teammate. Furthermore, enough can’t be said about Ricciardo’s move to pass Perez going into turn 1 on lap 66. Taking his car partially onto the grass, Ricciardo was willing to risk his entire race in a spot that had seen several mishaps by other drivers throughout the weekend. It was the sort of bravery and skill that we expect of champion F1 drivers, and the boy from Perth has got it in spades.

Driver’s Title Fight Swings Firmly Rosberg’s Way Amidst Differing Levels of Misfortune

Another 1-2 for Mercedes AMG in Canada would have marked an F1 record six consecutive such results for a constructor, and until just over half-distance, such a result was firmly on the cards. Qualifying over half a second ahead of Sebastian Vettel in third, the Silver Arrows had maintained their dominance on Sunday, building a healthy lead heading into the second half of the race. How quickly things can change.

As is sometimes the case in F1, reliability trumps performance, and today was certainly an instance where that rang true. On lap 37, drama hit for Lewis Hamilton, as the MGU-K (i.e. the engine component that gives the car its kinetic energy to supplement the combustion engine) failed, a problem that quickly spread to his teammate. Soon after, Hamilton was out of the race as the engine problem had essentially fried his rear brakes, while Rosberg was able to limp along and successfully save his race. It should be mentioned that the German’s ability to nurse his car home, even though he lost the lead, could end up being a defining drive in the championship fight. When drivers are as closely matched as these two at Mercedes, the difference could be Rosberg’s ability to seize such an opportunity to extend his lead. No one would have faulted him if he’d fallen off the podium, instead, he returns to Europe with the maximum points he probably could have hoped for in the circumstances, and once again a decent lead in the championship.

Promising Results at Williams and Force India Give Way to the Crash of the Season

Heading into the season, Williams and Force India seemed two teams on the rise. Both packing a Mercedes engine, some very capable drivers and solid behind-the-scenes management, it was expected the two teams could turn some heads in 2014. Alas, only Force India has really been able to deliver consistent results, but even they have been troubled by some inconsistency. Things looked very bright for both teams on Sunday however, as backing up a strong qualifying for Williams and a ballsy one-stop strategy for the Force India’s had them right in the thick of the points. At one stage, both Sergio Perez and Felipe Massa were purported by the Sky F1  team as potential race-winners, yet that would quickly come crashing down — literally.

After holding off the faster Red Bulls for most of the race, on lap 67 Perez reported a brake issue on his Force India not dissimilar to that of Lewis Hamilton earlier, and was helpless as Vettel joined his teammate in front. Still Perez seemed determined to hold off the charging Massa for fourth, which resulted in an almighty shunt as the two approached the first turn on lap 70 (one that very nearly took out Vettel as well).

Thankfully both drivers are ok, and while Perez will receive a five-place grid penalty next race in Austria for his role in the incident, it’s unclear just how much he could do as his brakes failed him. What is clear is that it capped another disappointing result for Williams, who remain 19 points adrift of Force India in the standings. For all the talk that 2014 marked a new page at Williams after the disappointment of 2013, two fifth-place finishes is all they have to show for it. Even without the shunt at the end, you have to ask why Williams weren’t in with a shot at the victory. They clearly had the pace, yet were let down by poor strategy, as their aborted attempt at a one-stopper with Massa let by both Red Bulls with not enough time to recover. As such, Williams head back to Europe with more questions than answers.

 

Next time: Austrian Gp June 20-22. Can Red Bull continue the resurgence on home turf?

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