Silver Arrow rivals start wheel to wheel
Mercedes teammates Rosberg and Hamilton share front row as F1 duel continues at Canadian GP
Mercedes F1 driver Nico Rosberg of Germany takes turn two during the third free practice session for the Canadian Grand Prix at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal on Saturday, June 7, 2014. Dario Ayala/THE GAZETTE
Photograph by: Dario Ayala, The Gazette
Lewis Hamilton came to Canada this week with a starting-grid record so fantastic that virtually everyone in Formula One racing could quote it.
Except, of course, Nico Rosberg, the pole-sitter for Sunday’s 45th running of the Canadian Grand Prix.
“I’m not really aware of Lewis’s record … but of course I know it’s a track where he’s very strong at, so all the more I’m very, very happy that it worked out. It’s great,” Rosberg said after edging Hamilton by 79/100ths of a second in Saturday’s pole qualifying.
“It’s been a fantastic day and also all through the weekend really progressing all the time, getting stronger and stronger. It’s really cool and best position for (Sunday), of course.”
It’s entirely possible that Rosberg could describe in detail every lap that Hamilton has turned on Île-Notre-Dame. But he certainly wasn’t going to give his teammate and fierce rival the satisfaction of sharing that on Saturday.
Only 41/100ths of a second separated qualifiers 3-6: Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, the winner here last year; the Williams-Mercedes pair of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa; and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.
Hamilton had won the pole for McLaren on Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in 2007, 2008 and 2010, slipping to fifth in 2011 before rallying to claim outside pole the following year. He won from pole in 2007 and 2010 and again in 2012.
Last year, his first with his current Mercedes Petronas team, he qualified second and finished third.
Before Saturday’s dazzling dash to the pole, Rosberg had qualified no better than the outside of the second row, that coming last year. In seven trips to Montreal, from 2006-13 (there was no race here in 2009), his best finish was fifth, also last year.
So now these two tremendous talents and ferocious rivals will start wheel to wheel in front of 20 other cars for the fourth time in seven races this season.
The two most recent events on the calendar, in Spain and Monaco, saw wins by Hamilton and Rosberg, both from the pole, their stablemate finishing second both times.
On Sunday, the two Silver Arrows will sprint from a standing start down into the Senna Corner, site of more than one incident of vertical parking over the years.
If one gets there cleanly before the other, any wreck that might ensue will happen behind them. But should they reach the left-right bend together, their cars might emerge in front of the roaring grandstands looking not as pretty as when they arrived.
Saturday’s three-segment, sun-splashed qualifying session capped an already eventful day. Earlier, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, representatives of the provincial and federal governments and Canadian Grand Prix president François Dumontier announced a 10-year extension of this race, through 2024.
This is the final year of the current contract between event organizer Octane Management and Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone, and the delay in announcing a new deal that has been in the works for years had more than one gearhead sweating right down to his lug nuts.
But on several occasions, Coderre said the Canadian Grand Prix wouldn’t expire on his watch and the beaming mayor was good to his word on Saturday, unveiling plans for massive infrastructure upgrades at the Île-Notre-Dame facility.
This edition of the Grand Prix has been all about Mercedes’ domination — they’ve won every event on the schedule and have almost lapped the field in the drivers’ and constructors’ races.
More than that, it’s been about the rivalry between Rosberg and Hamilton, teammates who are not exactly best friends.
Hamilton, the 2008 world champion, will race in his 136th career grand prix Sunday, with 26 wins and 59 podium finishes to his name. Rosberg will start his 154th race, with five wins and 17 podiums.
But what’s behind them isn’t what matters now. These guys are going at each other with everything in their tool box, and they could well be Pirelli-to-Pirelli down the start/finish straight on Lap 70 Sunday afternoon to determine the winner.
“Nico did a fantastic job today, so congratulations to him,” Hamilton said graciously after the qualifying session. “Just wasn’t the greatest qualifying session this; sometimes you have good ones, sometimes you have bad ones.
“But it’s great for the team that we have got the 1-2 in quali. A really fantastic performance by the team, so let’s hope we can make history (Sunday).”
Not exactly sure what history Hamilton is referring to; 13 times since the inaugural Canadian race in 1967 have drivers from the same team finished 1-2.
But it might be historic if they make it to the finish without playing bumper-cars around the 14-turn, 4.361-km Villeneuve circuit.
Indeed, the two drivers couldn’t agree that this will be a race almost exclusively between the two Mercedes machines, the rest of the field scrapping for the final place on the podium.
“I expect that it’s going to be between the two of us for now, yes. But, of course, there can be surprises so we need to still make sure we push. But I think we have enough of a gap at the moment on race pace,” Rosberg said.
Said Hamilton: “I don’t think it’s just between the two of us. Obviously in qualifying, Sebastian (Vettel) wasn’t as close as perhaps he would like to be, but the race pace was great in the last race so I anticipate (Sunday) they should be quite strong.
“So we definitely cannot disregard Sebastian or Red Bull. I think we need to be very cautious, still, and make sure that we keep pushing.”
The 305.270-km race will offer plenty of opportunity for overtaking, if not quite as much as, say, the Ville-Marie Expressway. But Hamilton, and everyone else on the grid, knows that track position is hugely important.
“It’s not that easy, especially with Nico being so fast, so overtaking is going to be very difficult, to overtake the same car as mine — especially when we’re so close in pace,” Hamilton said.
“So, we’ll do what I can but, of course, the thing (Sunday) is to try to make sure we get as many points as we can.”
Montreal’s famous contingent of Ferrari fans, meanwhile, must be content to see Fernando Alonso roll off the grid in seventh place, nearly a full second off Rosberg’s pace.
Three more spots back, on the fifth row, is Kimi Räikkönen, starting 10th, 1.340 seconds back in qualifying.
“I think it was the limit,” Alonso said of his Q-effort. “The lap was very, very good. Surprisingly good. Obviously, the rest of the cars are faster than us and they went faster during all of qualifying.
“It’s not like in Q3 they suddenly returned,” he said of the third segment. “It was a difficult Saturday for us and it means we were not fast enough.”
Weird and wonderful things tend to happen on Montreal streets, as any driver here knows. Twenty-two of the world’s greatest racers are about to learn whether that’s also true on the island circuit that often is a smooth drive for some, a gaping pothole for others.
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