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Slipstream Saturday: Monaco in the Rear View, 2015 Canadian GP Up Next

Two weeks ago, the Monaco Grand Prix featured one of the all-time best examples of the fastest car not winning the race.  Lewis Hamilton raced out from P1 and never looked back, gapping his teammate, and essentially making the rest of the field look like they were doing something completely different, like racing big wheels. He was so far in front that he could have stopped, checked his Twitter or Instagram account, enjoyed a refreshing lemonade, then climbed back in to his Mercedes and cruised home. The hyperbole may be overstated but Hamilton’s excellence on the day should not be.

Then what happened? The late-race caution brought a whole lot of confusion. First the virtual safety car was enacted, which limits everyone’s speed, but then the actual safety car took raced on to the track an allowed for a different sense of timing. Communications between Hamilton and his pits got jumbled, which brought Hamilton in while those behind him passed by.  That was that, as Nico Rosberg move to first, bringing Sebastian Vettel with him, and from there, with passing notoriously difficult on the tight streets, the ending became a fait accompli.

From an entertainment perspective, the ending was wild because it was stunning, though Hamilton’s fans would be happy to disagree. From a racing perspective it brought confusion. The race became interesting, but the overall racing was left as questionable. The team was forced to look inward to hope that such a snafu might not occur again – though one of the things that makes racing, and sports, great is that no matter how prepared everyone is an unusual circumstance can spoil the best efforts. From a championship perspective, the gap has now been whittled to just 10 points separating Rosberg from the leader Hamilton.

The season is now six races old with 13 remaining, and what looked like a runaway for Hamilton has now turned into a little more of a challenge (perhaps), but at least things are a bit more interesting. This weekend, the attention turns to the Canadian Grand Prix.

News: Odds & Sods

  • Hamilton is saying all the right things after the Monaco mess-up. He states that he has put the last race out of his mind and that, basically, it is time to move – which is something that must be difficult when it is ostensibly the first question the press asked. He noted that he has built up too much equity with the team to be perturbed by one bad race and call. He’s right, because after all, his pairing with Mercedes did lead to a championship last season. With those things being noted, he must have a sense of incredulity after the team sent him out in the rain in free practice two when the rain poured down. The track had turned into one giant puddle which caused Hamilton to crash, softly, after aquaplaning.  With a clear forecast for race day, the move appeared to be a strange one.
  • Manor Motorsport, or the team last known as Marussia, continues to be nothing but a backmarker to the field, but they are beginning to show some spirit. That aspect may not be something that is immediately seen on the track but the organization looks to be building toward a more stable future. There have been a number of recent hires that indicate that there is a sense of investment. Here’s what they’ve done: hired Fabio Leimer as a reserve driver; brought on Gianluca Pisanello, last with now-defunct Caterham, as chief engineer; added Luca Furbatto, late of Toro Rosso, as its design head. Perhaps the most notable move was to hire former Mercedes technical director Bob Bell as their technical consultant. While these hirings may not seem supremely important they do indicate that the team is beginning to lure people its way. More importantly, the Bell acquisition may be one that brings Renault to their camp as either the engine supplier or as their owner.One final note, Manor’s naked cars will be now have some sponsorship adorning their sides. The team announced a partnership with Airbnb that will last for the remainder of the season.  
  • Max Verstappen, already under a five-spot grid penalty could be relegated further back should Toro Rosso elect to switch engines.  Such a decision would mean that Verstappen would go beyond his allotted four powerplants for the year. The 17-year-old rookie has been impressive at times, showing excellent pace but has also been marred by three retirements, with the last coming on his ill-fated move against Romain Grosjean at Monaco that ended with him crashing into the wall head first in what looked like a jarring impact. Verstappen and Toro Rosso are the marriage of a talented driver learning on the fly with an organization that can do only so much. Should the team switch engines and Verstappen qualify poorly, he could end up starting on pit lane as part of a timed penalty.
  • McLaren has once again upgrades to its engines – not that it will matter. At the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve it will be top-end speed that matters and so far this season the team hasn’t shown much in that regard. Their biggest problem has bound found with reliability, something that foiled Fernando Alonso’s race in Monaco and has brought overall poor results. While the potential to score points for both drivers existed in Monaco, and Jenson Button did so by earning a respectable eighth-place finish, that may not be the case in Canada, as the long, sweeping track is ideal for straight out speed. The goal for this race will be to keep the cars running throughout while measuring their handling capabilities.
  • Ferrari made engine upgrades for the Canadian Grand Prix. Whether or not they will be enough to match the total speed of Mercedes has yet to be noticed, though free practice 2 did give a glimpse of showing that they are not that far off. Before the rain arrived, Vettel held the second spot on the timing charts, just 0.3 seconds behind Hamilton.  While there is a thinking that Ferrari have yet to open the engine to full song and are waiting to do so in qualifying, Vettel denied that idea, by stating they already had done so.
  • The motorsports council is still looking at ways to improve the sport with an eye on 2017. One aspect has already been shot down, as refueling will not be making a comeback that season. The main reasons, unsurprisingly, were costs and safety. Other ideas have yet to be fully flushed out, though McLaren, Ferrari, Red Bull, and Mercedes held a meeting in Canada to consider the prospects of wider cars and wider tires. That teams like Williams and Force India were not in attendance illustrates how the wealthy teams run the sport. What is funny is that the teams addressed what F1 should do should the sport lose teams and the prospect of a smaller grid comes to be. Perhaps what they should have been discussing was how to keep the teams on the grid already better positioned to be solvent.

The Race

The Canadian Grand Prix began in 1961 and has been held at three different tracks. Since 1978, the series has used the Circuit Ile Notre Dame – Gilles Villenueve course, though there have been some modifications over the years. The 2.7-mile long track features 13 or 14 turns, depending who you talk to, while also having long runs where drivers pass the 200 mph mark. Michael Schumacher, no surprise here, holds the all time wins record with seven, while Hamilton’s three wins leads active drivers. Daniel Ricciardo won last year’s race, his first in the sport, after both Mercedes retired with technical issues.

The race will air on NBC at 2:00 p.m. ET.

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