The Inside Line #103: A suspension of belief

TILI Logo PrintAny Grand Prix would suffer in the glamour stakes coming after Monaco, but the Canadian Grand Prix is a proper motor race without the slightest hint of A-list celebrity that anyone outside of North America would recognise [1]. And for that, we should be thankful.

Montreal is a gruelling weekend for Australians watching at home – stay up for the 3am start and crash through, or run a two-stop sleep strategy either side of the race – but it’s almost always worth it. Other than the Japanese Grand Prix, it’s hard to come up with another race where something unusual happens every single year. Which makes Canada compelling viewing, no matter the time of day.

When Michael Schumacher was running red rings around the rest in the early 2000s, Montreal was as predictable as somewhere like Hungary for knowing the result well in advance of the lights going out. But since Schumi’s first retirement, it’s been dramatic, a lottery, and a place where people break through. It’s even been a game-changer for F1 as we know it now.

Remember Robert Kubica’s ghastly accident in 2007, one that paved the way for a young floppy-haired German named Sebastian Vettel to deputise for him at the next race? The same ’07 race was won by Lewis Hamilton for his maiden GP victory; the following year Kubica [2] took his first (and sadly only) win at the same circuit, while last year, Daniel Ricciardo enjoyed the view from the top step of an F1 podium for the first time at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Nowhere else can boast a list of first-time winners in the past decade. And then there’s 2011.

Jenson Button’s victory in Canada four years ago was, quite frankly, preposterous. Hit his teammate Hamilton on track. Ran into Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari. Damaged his front wing. Had a puncture. Dropped to last. Endured a two-hour rain delay, the last time that will ever happen as races are now shoehorned into a two-hour window, rain or shine. Didn’t lead a single lap until the last one. And then capitalised on Vettel’s rare error to see ‘P1’ next to his name with eight corners to go for the first time. Unfolding as night turned to day on the east coast of Australia, watching it on TV was almost surreal. Close to unbelievable.

Speaking of which … Bernie Ecclestone’s assertion last week that Nico Rosberg and Vettel are “bad for business” was as head-scratching as anything he’s said all year that could be filed in that category, and there’s been a fair bit of that. What was he trying to achieve? Embarrass the two drivers into being people that they aren’t? Divert attention from himself on a weekend where reports suggested he faced a £1billion tax bill? Get a cheap headline? It’s always hard to tell with Bernie and the real reason will inevitably be something nobody has thought of yet, but to intimate the cancellation of this year’s German Grand Prix has more to do with the lack of popularity of Rosberg and Vettel in their homeland than financial considerations was, frankly, a bit rich. Readers of this blog will know that I’m never backwards in getting stuck into Rosberg, but he deserves praise for calling Bernie out on his comments in the interview – and while I’m at it, the way he handled the British media trying to inflame the situation after he lucked into his Monaco win last time out. Some of the coverage (was old mate Theodore close to tears, or was that just me?) was well out of order, but Rosberg handled it like a pro. Credit where it’s due [3].

Right, back on topic. This week’s episode of The Inside Line, episode 103 for those of you keeping score, features a look ahead to Montreal this weekend through the eyes of Button and a McLaren team that’s finally off the mark in 2015, while Rosberg shows us a different side of Monaco in a chat with David Coulthard. Check local guides and all of that.

— — — — — ———-

[1] Although I did enjoy Ice-T’s video inside the McLaren pits when Hamilton was still driving there, and imagining Ron Dennis’ response when he saw it. Shame it got removed from YouTube.

[2] Fascinating to wonder where Kubica would be these days if fate hadn’t intervened. How many Grands Prix would he have won? Was he as good as Alonso felt he was? Always a shame to see genuine top-line talent not realise its potential through ill-fortune.

[3] I can’t believe I wrote that either, but fair’s fair.

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