The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal has the highest levels of fuel consumption and brake wear in the Formula 1 season. This is because of its long fast sections and the need for the cars to then brake into quite slow corners and then to have to accelerate to top speed again. This means that with the current engines running at maximum speeds, the consumption is more than the regulations provide. The reason for this is that the rule makers wanted to have rules that pushed the engine-builders to find better efficiency. Until the engines are efficient enough to run the whole race at maximum speeds, the race requires fuel saving. If there had been a Safety Car early on, as often happens in Canada, there would have no whingeing about fuel saving because the cars would have had enough to race flat out, but managing fuel, tyres and brakes has always been part of the art of Grand Prix racing and if that is too subtle for the modern audience, which seems to require only instant gratification, then there are too choices: dumb down the sport and do what the audience wants, or educate the audience to appreciate what they are getting. You cannot always have wheel-to-wheel dices in the early years of a new formula because the technology is not sufficiently shared between the competitors and even then some tracks will always be poor for racing because they are poorly designed. When one has a promoter who does not believe in investing in anything and is frightened that new technologies will hurt its bottom line, it is hard to educate an audience.
Having said that the race in Montreal gave us an indication that things are beginning to close up. Ferrari arrived in Canada with a new version of its engine, which had been modified in various areas, rumoured to be the camshafts, pistons and the combustion chamber. It is believed that there was also a new blend of fuel prepared by Shell to suit the new engine. The word is that this produced a gain of about 30 horsepower. The problem was that Sebastian Vettel started 18th on the grid because of mechanical troubles and a penalty in qualifying. Kimi Raikkonen has not really been close to Vettel this year and so Ferrari’s ultimate performance in Canada was not as impressive as perhaps it should have been. Kimi also threw away third place by having a spin that allowed Valtteri Bottas to get ahead.
Looking at the pace of Vettel in the race, however, it is fairly clear that if he had qualified better, he should have been in a position to put more pressure on the Mercedes team and that would probably have pushed them into trouble with brakes and fuel and might have required different strategies. In this way, it might have been possible for Vettel to win, as he did in Malaysia, where the Ferrari was better able to use the tyres in the extreme temperatures of Kuala Lumpur. F1 is a multi-layered sport and those who seek only outright pace are missing the nuances that can be turned into triumphs. There is no doubting that the Mercedes are still better than the Ferraris, but the gap has narrowed. Honda is still going through the painful process of getting up to speed, but they will get there in the end. Perception-management is important and actually it serves the purpose of the company for it to be seen to be the element making the difference. So when the cars do start to win races it will be clear in the minds of the fans that it is the engine that has made the big difference. Instant gratification for a car manufacturer is not necessarily what it best in the long term…
The fact that Honda is having to work hard underlines a point that is often missed by F1’s critics. This is a hard game to win. You cannot just swan in and go home with the trophies. You have to be clever and motivated. Renault’s performance at the moment is not very good and one wonders whether this is down to the fact that the company cannot seem to make up its mind what it is doing. The top management seems to be interested in F1 only when they are being successful and not interested in digging deep to make that happen. At the moment, therefore, it is a waste of energy. In truth, Renault’s management of its F1 engine programmes has been pretty poor for years. They were multiple winners for multiple years with Red Bull and the company failed to use those successes properly. That is a management problem. One hopes that the company will get its technical act together and become competitive again because otherwise the whole programme looks to be doomed.
As to the lack of fight at the front between Hamilton and Rosberg it is clear that they were both managing the different elements and the margins to do more than that were limited. That shows you how hard it is and how high the level is. The mess in Monaco was useful in that it shows the extent to which F1 is a team sport. Drivers do go on about this and it sounds like PR pap, but the reality is that a victory is the work of a lot of people and if one element screws up, the win can be lost. The fact that these elements do not often screw up tells us that this is a great team in operation. It is worth remembering that there are a vast number of positive things about F1 that are often forgotten in the whingeing and the whining about what is wrong.