Red Bull F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia exits turn two during the Canadian Grand Prix race at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal on Sunday, June 8, 2014.
Photograph by: Dario Ayala, The Gazette
MONTREAL — And that is why they run the races.
The 45th Canadian Grand Prix Sunday was handicapped to be a runaway for Mercedes Petronas, winner of all six Formula One races this season, and that’s exactly the way it unfolded during the seventh, on Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
And then, in the shadow of the Montreal Casino, the brakes of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes cashed their chips, the product of Hamilton’s aggressive lengthy chase of teammate Nico Rosberg.
As the laps ground on, Rosberg’s car struggled with diminishing power and overheating brakes of its own. Somehow, the German kept a hungry pack behind him, the objects in his mirror definitely closer than they appeared.
Finally, having stalked Rosberg for about 20 laps, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo muscled up beside the Silver Arrow down the Casino Straight and blew past before the Turn 13-14 chicane with just more than two laps to go.
That move should have been the climax to a remarkable afternoon of racing. But this being Montreal, we weren’t done yet.
Williams’s Felipe Massa earned a lifetime Quebec driver’s permit when he violently plowed into the back of Sahara Force India’s Sergio Perez on the final lap, getting a little help when the latter cut across the racing line.
The high-speed crash sent both into the barrier behind the Senna Corner of Turns 1-2; Massa almost took in a literal sense the padded wall advertising “Fly Emirates.”
Both walked away from the wreck but the automotive carnage brought out the yellow, bringing Ricciardo casually home for his maiden Formula One victory, coming in his 57th career Grand Prix.
Massa and Perez were checked out in the on-site medical centre, then transferred to Sacré-Coeur Hospital for precautionary measures and their subsequent release.
Ricciardo, a 23-year-old Australian, had run in Montreal the past two years, finishing 14th and 15th for Toro Rosso. Sunday’s third career podium obviously is his greatest, and it might be a couple of weeks before they pry the grin off his face given his champagne celebration and beaming news conference that followed.
It will be one hour, 39 minutes, 12.830 seconds that Ricciardo will never forget, winning his first Grand Prix at an average speed of 184.613 km/h.
Rosberg hung on to finish second with his brilliant drive, 4.236 seconds back, with Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, the winner here last year, placing third, 5.247 seconds off the pace.
Indeed, Vettel was blessed just to make it to the finish, Massa and Perez having scrapped on either side of him charging into the final lap.
“I saw they were close to each other, I saw something white coming in the mirror and I opened the car, turned right, and Felipe was in the air coming past,” Vettel said. “I was quite lucky and saw him just in time.”
Fourteen of 22 starters were classified at the finish.
Ricciardo had been running in a small pack in the final laps, trying to get around Perez for a shot at Rosberg. But the latter hung tough and offered no overtaking possibility until Ricciardo finally squeezed around him and had a go at the Mercedes, blowing by the latter to a roar from the appreciative crowd.
“It still is a bit surreal, I think, and just really cool,” the winner said. “It’s not that we were leading the whole race. It’s not like I had time to understand that I was going to win. That’s why it’s taking a while to comprehend in my head.”
With Hamilton’s surprising unreliability, this being his second DNF this season, Rosberg increased his four-point drivers’ championship lead coming in to 22 points. But Mercedes saw its constructors’ lead over Red Bull shaved, from 141 points pre-race to 119.
The Mercedes lads were hoping to make F1 history by running 1-2 for the sixth consecutive race, that trick never before achieved by a team. And for a time, they looked monotonously good enough to do so.
Mercedes announced their power problems as “high-voltage control electronics failure.” That, and failing brakes on a Montreal circuit that’s famous for eating them alive, would prove to be a lethal combination.
After a so-close call in the race’s first corner — one more coat of paint on the branding of their Pirelli supersofts and they’re banging tires — pole-sitter Rosberg remained in front of Hamilton without huge difficulty.
That’s not to say there wasn’t knuckleheadedness very early on. The Marussia-Ferrari duo of Max Chilton and Jules Bianchi combined for not even one lap, collecting each other in an oil-dripping, carbon-fibre-shredding collision in Turn 4.
The good news was, Marussia were able to employ the crafty zero pit-stop strategy and make it off the island, before the traffic, onto a sunny downtown terrasse.
Well, not really.
“Not happy,” Chilton said. “I got a mega-start and was really good into Turns 1 and 2. We were side by side into Turn 3, I was half down the inside and I braked at point where I knew I could get around the corner and (Bianchi) braked later — he was only in front of me because he braked so late.
“There was nothing I could have done. I am not going to back down the inside because he is my teammate, he should have seen me as my teammate.”
Bianchi surely saw Chilton as they crawled from their smoking wrecks, however, their tires not as warm as their tempers, the safety car on the track as crews mopped up their mess.
And race stewards didn’t agree with Chilton’s version of the facts, penalizing him three grid spots for the Austrian Grand Prix in two weeks.
At one point Sunday, about midway through, Rosberg and Hamilton were nearly a half-minute ahead of their almost resigned foes, true to the pre-race scouting report.
Then Montreal reminded one and all that this is the city that arguably offers the greatest spectacles in Formula One. Just when you think the race is going to be a processional to the finish, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve bares its fangs.
With Hamilton out, the three-time Canadian GP winner’s day torched by overheating brakes, and Rosberg struggling, the rejuvenated pursuers closed the gap. With a half-dozen laps to go, less than two seconds separated the first five cars.
Which set up the “ridiculous” — his word — victory by Ricciardo.
Rosberg and Hamilton have been slugging it out all season and there was one twisted school of thought suggesting their dash to the Senna Corner on Sunday would claim both when neither would choose to give quarter.
They very nearly brushed but ultimately it was a force of nature that fried Hamilton’s chances of winning a fourth Canadian Grand Prix, his maiden Formula One victory coming here in 2007.
“I was following (Rosberg) and when you’re following someone you’re gaining more heat,” he said. “He was in clean air all the time in front. There wasn’t much I could do. When I came out in front (from the pits on Lap 44), everything was cooked already.”
Three laps later, 23 laps from the finish, Hamilton was done and the deck was dramatically reshuffled.
That’s the beauty of the Montreal race, which takes the too-often parade from start to finish of Formula One racing and turns it into a high-speed circus act.
There were spins, bumps, some daring passes, tires smudged on walls, chicanes cut, a little sod chewed up by these expensive lawn mowers and more than a little fabulous driving.
There’s another decade of this fun to come, with the Canadian Grand Prix on Saturday having been renewed for 10 more years thanks to an agreement in principle reached with F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone.
For the moment, Ricciardo was enjoying his first taste of victory, Red Bull was thrilled beyond words, and everyone understood that if this was punch to the gut of Mercedes, it was hardly a knockout blow.
“Obviously, I’m going to take the victory,” Ricciardo said. “(Mercedes) had their issues today which allowed us to make an attack, but it’s nice that we capitalized on that.”
Having motored to victory down the Casino Straight, you could even say the winner did so with spades.
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