The flight back from Montreal to the UK takes a comparatively short six hours, which is probably just as well for whoever was keeping Toto Wolff company. Judging by his expression and comments post-race, the Mercedes boss hadn’t taken Sunday’s result too well.
Wolff is accustomed to leaving Canada with a win, Lewis Hamilton having done the business for the past three years. Even allowing for Mercedes being unable to run their upgraded power unit, Hamilton had one of those weekends when he appeared to be some place else, a state of mind exacerbated by a race spent dealing with overheating issues and a car that had been oversteering all weekend. When he said he was relieved to finish under the circumstances, it seemed a genuine statement on several counts.
Valtteri Bottas was the man you had to feel sorry for, his sterling job in qualifying and the race (one mistake aside) lost in the general misery engulfing a team crushed by Ferrari. His ‘elbows out’ defence of P2 in the first couple of corners was just as impressive as Max Verstappen’s self-assurance on such a narrow track despite recent close examination of his incident-prone season.
It’s worth remembering that, but for a puncture in Baku, Valtteri would have been nudging Lewis for P2 in the championship and it probably crossed everyone’s mind last weekend that a decision not to favour the Hypersoft could arguably have cost victory – or, at least, a better shot at it during qualifying.
By bringing just five sets (as opposed to seven chosen by Ferrari and Red Bull), Mercedes were limited to finding out about the Hyper in FP3 and qualifying. When Bottas failed by just nine hundredths of a second – barely the click of a finger – to take pole, additional acclimatisation on Friday might have made that subtle difference when it came to dialling out a slight imbalance. In a season with three teams having shared the winning and the all three covered by just over a tenth of a second at the front of the grid in Canada, it’s clear that tiny details (and failures) are going to determine the outcome of the 2018 title.
Bottas was criticised for failing to have a go at Vettel at the start of the last lap in Bahrain. For once, we have to be thankful he wasn’t close enough to try – and succeed – on lap 70 in Montreal. Had the rare event of a decent passing move occurred on Sunday, social media – not to mention Wolff – would have gone berserk when the subsequent classification showed the order after lap 68 thanks to the chequered flag being waved a lap too soon. In technical terms, the premature chequer is the same as having the race red flagged with the result then being determined by a one lap count back, as laid down in the regulations.
Sometimes these things happen due to an accident or a sudden downpour, in which case the aggrieved party has to mumble ‘Well, that’s motor racing’ through gritted teeth. But when the early finish is caused by a celebrity waving the flag under the instruction of an ill-informed official, then F1 deserves the derision heaped upon it.
By all means, Liberty Media, have accreditation-festooned celebrities strut their stuff if you feel that’s what F1 and the increasingly wearisome and hapless grid-walk TV commentators need. But don’t mess with running the race and the serious business of the F1 World Championship. And try to have an official on the rostrum capable of understanding the timing screen showing lap 69 against the leader means he’s actually on lap 69 rather than having just completed it.
Fortunately, the knowledgeable crowd in Montreal is well behaved and stayed behind the fencing despite the giant screens indicating what appeared to be a win for the hugely popular Ferrari team, 40 years on from the Gilles Villeneuve’s emotional first victory.
Had this been Monza with cars continuing to run flat out, Toto Wolff and the rest of F1 might have been faced with something much more serious post-race than the loss of a handful of championship points.