Lewis Hamilton’s radio persona had taken on a despairing air long before the Canadian Grand Prix was over and the inquest began into the possible death of the Mercedes super-team.
The brutal fact is that Hamilton started his afternoon at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve leading the world championship by 14 points. By the end, after an engine problem condemned him to finish fifth, he was trailing the winner Sebastian Vettel by one.
Here, of all places, on the track where Hamilton registered the first win of his career, and five more, the mask of Mercedes’ invulnerability slipped a little more than it already has this season. Maintaining the lofty standards they have set over four years of total dominance is a mighty hard task – and that is how it is beginning to look seven races into a finely balanced title fight.
Vettel celebrates with his winners’ trophy in Montreal which has seen him take the overall lead in the world championship
The German stands on top of his Ferrari after claiming the team’s first victory in Canada since Michael Schumacher in 2004
Vettel waves the Ferrari flag 40 years on since Gilles Villeneuve claimed his first win driving for the team in Canada
Vettel took victory ahead of Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas (left) and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen as they celebrate on the podium
Hamilton’s fate was all but sealed in the team’s Brixworth performance factory in Northamptonshire last week when they ran final checks on the intended engine upgrade for Montreal. They could not guarantee its proper functioning and decided instead to stick with their season-long power unit.
It did not quite have the required grunt alongside the improved engines being run by Ferrari and Red Bull. There was also the question of dubious reliability on the older machinery. And so it proved in both cases: Hamilton could only qualify fourth and then, early on in the race, said: ‘My power has dropped out.’
The team called him in and added some coolant. He had been running fourth but fell to fifth.
Why could Ferrari and Red Bull manage to get their upgrades to work and Mercedes could not? Toto Wolff, the team principal, offered no excuses. ‘This is a world championship that will be won by the smallest of margins,’ he said. ‘Missing out on the tiniest of upgrades or making the slightest of mistakes will be punished.’
Ferrari’s German star Sebastian Vettel surged to victory in Montreal to take an emphatic victory at the Canadian Grand Prix
Vettel got a perfect start heading into one, as Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen battled in behind to claim second
Valtteri Bottas worked hard to keep the pressure on leader Sebastian Vettel but faced a battle to keep it going
CANADIAN GRAND PRIX RESULTS AND STANDINGS
1 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 1hr 28mins 31.377secs
2 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes 1:28:38.753
3 Max Verstappen (Hol) Red Bull 1:28:39.737
4 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull 1:28:52.269
5 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes 1:28:52.936
6 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1:28:58.561
7 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Renault at 1 Lap
8 Carlos Sainz (Spa) Renault at 1 Lap
9 Esteban Ocon (Fra) Force India at 1 Lap
10 Charles Leclerc (Mon) Sauber at 1 Lap
11 Pierre Gasly (Fra) Toro Rosso at 1 Lap
12 Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas at 1 Lap
13 Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas at 1 Lap
14 Sergio Perez (Mex) Force India at 1 Lap
15 Marcus Ericsson (Swe) Sauber at 2 Laps
16 Stoffel Vandoorne (Bel) McLaren at 2 Laps
17 Sergey Sirotkin (Rus) Williams at 2 Laps
Not Classified: 18 Fernando Alonso (Spa) McLaren 40 Laps completed, 19 Brendon Hartley (Nzl) Scuderia Toro Rosso 0 Laps completed, 20 Lance Stroll (Can) Williams 0 Laps completed
Fastest Lap: Max Verstappen 1min 13.864secs on Lap 65
1 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 121pts
2 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes 120
3 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes 86
4 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull 84
5 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 68
6 Max Verstappen (Hol) Red Bull 50
7 Fernando Alonso (Spa) McLaren 32
8 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Renault 32
9 Carlos Sainz (Spa) Renault 24
10 Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas 19
11 Pierre Gasly (Fra) Toro Rosso 18
12 Sergio Perez (Mex) Force India 17
13 Esteban Ocon (Fra) Force India 11
14 Charles Leclerc (Mon) Sauber 10
15 Stoffel Vandoorne (Bel) McLaren 8
16 Lance Stroll (Can) Williams 4
17 Marcus Ericsson (Swe) Sauber 2
18 Brendon Hartley (Nzl) Toro Rosso 1
19 Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas 0
20 Sergey Sirotkin (Rus) Williams 0
Constructors: 1 Mercedes 206pts, 2 Ferrari 189, 3 Red Bull 134, 4 Renault 56, 5 McLaren 40, 6 Force India 28, 7 Toro Rosso 19, 8 Haas 19, 9 Sauber 12, 10 Williams 4
Note: Race shortened to 68 laps due to the Chequered flag being shown at the end of Lap 69.
These woes are becoming a familiar story – the gold gilt rubbing off. There was the timing glitch in Melbourne that cost Hamilton certain victory. There was an unscheduled gearbox change in Bahrain. There was their error in not bringing Hamilton in for new rubber under the safety car in China.
Here, by their own admission, they also failed to bring enough hypersoft tyres with them.
None of the errors in isolation is hugely damaging but accumulatively they are. Still, there remains a remarkable bank of knowledge and resource and sagacity at Mercedes that will be channelled into improving the performance by the next race in France.
Up front Vettel was unchallenged, with Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas unable to get close. Max Verstappen, needing the balm of an error-free weekend, was a smooth third, with the other Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo in fourth.
An adventurous Brendon Hartley collided with Lance Stroll on the opening lap after trying to make a break
The two vehicles tangled immediately and sent both hurling from the track out of control
Stroll had to veer off the track while the crumpled car of Hartley soon followed on the opening lap in Canada
Track safety teams quickly had to enter the scene to remove bits of wreckage and help both drivers from their vehicles
The crash brought out the safety car but there was little drama once normal racing resumed at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
Vettel’s win was the 50th of his career, and excited huge passion among a crowd that loves Ferrari, not least with the older Villeneuve being one of the Scuderia’s most cavalier heroes.
‘Perfect,’ said Vettel. ‘It was a really good win.
‘There is still a long way to go in the championship but taking the lead is a good side-effect. It is very emotional to be here at the Gilles Villeneuve circuit. A day to remember the great Gilles.’
It was Villeneuve who won here in 1978 and his son Jacques drove his father’s old car around the track before the race. Vettel’s win ended a long wait for a Ferrari win, stretching back to Michael Schumacher in 2004.
Montreal has served up humdingers over the years but this was not one of them. No wonder Canadian model Winne Harlow, a friend of Hamilton, waved the chequered flag a lap early. Who could blame her?
Following an error strewn start to the season, Verstappen went under the radar in Montreal to claim an impressive third place
Lewis Hamilton struggled to get into his usual rhythm in Montreal after starting from further behind on the grid
The Mercedes team were heard stating ‘now it’s hammer time,’ only for a downbeat Hamilton to say he was giving his all
Fernando Alonso was the third and final retirement of the race after suffering an exhaust problem in his McLaren
The biggest drama came in the first lap when Lance Stroll – the local lad – lost control of his Williams and clattered into Brendon Hartley’s Toro Rosso at 170mph. Hartley’s car was turned on its side and skimmed along the track.
Hartley, who was later taken to hospital for a scan, and Stroll both ended up in the run-off area after the sparks had flown. A safety car came out but made no difference to the ordering.
While Stroll did nothing to honour the name of the once-great team he drives for, a similar story of decline was unfolding at McLaren. This weekend marked the 50th anniversary of the team’s founder Bruce McLaren’s first win, yet they were nowhere.
Fernando Alonso qualified only 14th for his 300th race and retired with an exhaust problem. Before the race, a ceremony was held in recognition of the Spaniard’s landmark achievement, but that was the high point for him.
McLaren should ponder why they are now further behind the Renault team, who supply engines identical to theirs, than they were during the first qualifying session in Melbourne.
Considering an expansion into IndyCars at a point they should be focused on Formula One improvement, is a ridiculous sideshow they should abandon.
McLaren’s Fernando Alonso arrived in style ahead of the race, stopping to wave to onlooking supporters
Mercedes star Bottas also arrived cool and composed, sitting atop a gleaming vintage model