Month: June 2018

Dissecting the French Grand Prix

How did Lewis Hamilton win the French Grand Prix? Why didn’t Sebastian Vettel’s ‘no-stop’ strategy work after the Ferrari driver’s lap one crash with Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas? Are two distinct tiers of competition in F1 a good thing? (answer: no). And what changes might the Circuit Paul Ricard make for F1’s return to the birthplace of Grand Prix racing next season?

Earlier this week I had the great pleasure of talking all things French GP (and even unnecessarily use some francaise, because that makes you appear very important) with an Old Mate in Michael Lamonato, host of the F1 Strategy Report podcast. Good fun,  almost as good as Max Verstappen’s trophy for finishing second …

You can check out the chat here.

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What happened at the French Grand Prix?

Lewis Hamilton was untouchable at the first GP held in France for a decade, while Max Verstappen was a season-best second after Sebastian Vettel relinquished the series lead in dramatic fashion.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

The build-up
After being soundly beaten by Ferrari in Canada, Mercedes brought the engine upgrade it delayed for Montreal to France, and the ‘Phase 2.1’ power plant paid immediate dividends when Lewis Hamilton took his third pole for the season, teammate Valtteri Bottas completing an all-Mercedes front row after the silver cars topped every practice session and all three periods of qualifying. Happy as Hamilton was to be 0.118secs ahead of Bottas, the four-time world champion felt his lap of 1min 30.029secs could have been better. “I always strive for perfection and there was some time left on the track, so I still have stuff to work on,” he said.

Championship leader Sebastian Vettel was next, but the German was three-tenths adrift of his main title rival as Ferrari appeared to have regressed from the highs of Canada. The first three were well ahead of the Red Bulls, Max Verstappen comfortably out-qualifying Daniel Ricciardo despite neither driver being thrilled with the performance of their car. Verstappen elected to run a lower downforce set-up the team likened to one you’d usually employ at a speed circuit like Spa-Francorchamps in a bid to get more pace down Paul Ricard’s lengthy back straight, but the Dutchman felt he hadn’t maximised the potential of his car. Ricciardo was less comfortable to roll the dice on a set-up he hadn’t really tried in practice, and was left hoping for rain or something that would shake the field up as he was concerned about being “a little slow” on the straights.

Well behind his Ferrari teammate (again) was Kimi Raikkonen in sixth, while the man most feel will take his drive at the Prancing Horse – and possibly as soon as next year – was the star of Saturday, Charles Leclerc hauling his Sauber into eighth with an extraordinary effort that drew praise from both Hamilton and Vettel, and one that came in the Swiss team’s first appearance in the top 10 since the 2015 Italian Grand Prix.

Romain Grosjean, still searching for his first points of 2018, was the best of the three French drivers in 10th, but caused a red flag in Q3 when he smashed his Haas into the Turn 3 fence.

Grosjean’s compatriots, Esteban Ocon (Force India, 11th) and Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly (14th) fared less well, while Gasly’s teammate Brendon Hartley was condemned to start from the very back after his Honda engine needed to be replaced following Friday practice. Grosjean’s Haas stablemate Kevin Magnussen was ninth, but was first on the anger scale after Q3, when he felt Raikkonen’s ruined his best chance of a flying lap time. “He overtakes me into Turn 1, and f***s my lap, and doesn’t even complete his lap,” the Dane raged. “If you’re that confused, just try not to get in the way of anyone else.” If Magnussen was incensed, McLaren were downcast after both Fernando Alonso (16th) and Stoffel Vandoorne (18th) were eliminated in Q1, the team’s racing director Eric Boullier commenting “it’s up to us to give (Alonso and Vandoorne) a car that’s more representative of their talents”.

The main intrigue ahead of race day, the first GP held at the circuit in the south of France in 28 years, was whether the weather would spice up proceedings after it hosed down with rain in final practice on Saturday, and which front-running team had its tyre strategy right if the rain stayed away; both Mercedes would start the race on the slower but more durable supersoft tyres from the front of the grid, while Vettel, looking for a fast getaway from the second row, was on the initially faster but more brittle ultrasoft rubber.

The race in exactly 69 words*
Hamilton reclaimed the world championship lead after an untroubled lights-to-flag win, aided by Vettel running into the back of Bottas at the first corner and seeing both cars pit immediately for repairs, the Ferrari given a five-second time penalty for the incident. Verstappen inherited second and stayed there to the end, Raikkonen rounding out the podium as Vettel recovered to fifth behind Ricciardo, who faded with front wing damage.
(* 2018 is the 69th season of Formula One)

Ricciardo recap
With a 60 per cent chance of precipitation predicted, it looked as though Ricciardo’s Sunday rain dance might have paid off, but the skies stayed dry and the Australian’s chances for a spot on the rostrum faded the longer the race went. Things started well for Ricciardo, who gained a place in the first-corner malee caused by Vettel tagging Bottas, and after the safety car period to clear the track, the Red Bull driver quickly disposed of the fast-starting Renault of Carlos Sainz to inherit third. An unimpeded Verstappen was well clear by that stage, but Ricciardo looked comfortable until he pitted on lap 29, returning to the track on soft tyres behind Vettel, who had pitted for the same rubber on lap one. It took Ricciardo four laps to get past his old teammate, and third remained a strong possibility until Raikkonen came at him hard in the closing stages on faster supersoft tyres, the Aussie’s chances not helped by front wing damage sustained when he ran over some debris while lapping backmarkers. The Ferrari driver eventually nosed ahead with six laps remaining at the chicane at the end of the back straight, but Ricciardo was under no pressure for fourth late after Vettel made a second stop on lap 41. The front wing damage certainly didn’t help, but this was a weekend where Verstappen had Ricciardo’s measure from Saturday onwards. The consolation prize for Ricciardo was that Bottas’ woes meant he re-took third in the championship, Ricciardo leaving France with 96 points for the season to Bottas’ 92.

“We had a lot less downforce and were understeering, so Kimi was always going to catch us with that pace,” Ricciardo said. “We were a wounded car from just before the first pitstop.”

What the result means
Canada perhaps didn’t paint the clearest picture of the F1 pecking order for the second part of the season, with Ferrari, Renault and Honda all introducing engine upgrades in Montreal while Mercedes (and its customer teams Force India and Williams) held off for France. Hamilton’s dominant win made that wait worth it, but we never got to see what loomed as an intriguing battle between Vettel and both Mercedes drivers on different tyre strategies after Vettel’s error at the first corner eliminated Hamilton’s only real rivals for the victory. Yes, Verstappen kept the Briton honest, but even Red Bull team boss Christian Horner conceded that his cars were no match for Mercedes as Hamilton eased to a seven-second victory. The momentum has ebbed and flowed over the past three races – all won from pole by three different drivers (Ricciardo in Monaco, Vettel in Canada and now Hamilton in France), but the extent of Hamilton’s dominance in France was ominous, even taking into account Vettel’s self-inflicted woes. And especially given where the championship heads next (see point 10 below) …

For historical purposes …
Circuit Paul Ricard may have been absent from the calendar for 28 years, but Sunday’s podium finishers continued a strange statistical anomaly at the French track. In the 14 previous races held at the circuit, 45 per cent of the podium finishers had started outside of the top three on the grid – and that percentage only increased when Verstappen (who started fourth) and Raikkonen (sixth) joined pole-sitter Hamilton on the rostrum.

The number to know
26:
Hamilton’s first French success made Paul Ricard the 26th track on which he has won a Grand Prix, extending his record. He has at least one win at every circuit on the current calendar.

Under-the-radar winner(s)
Third for Raikkonen wasn’t exactly beneath the radar, but it was the Ferrari driver’s first podium in four races as talk of his future gets ever-louder, and (remarkably) was his 25th podium since he last won a Grand Prix, way back in Australia to open the 2013 season. Sixth for Magnussen saw his season tally rise to 27 points (compared to zero, still, for Haas teammate Grosjean, who was 11th), while Leclerc hung tough after a difficult race to finish 10th and score for the third time in the past four races. Vettel could consider himself relatively happy with fifth too, considering he was in the pits at the end of the first lap with a broken front wing and facing a significant loss of points to Hamilton at the front of the title fight. Losing ‘just’ 15 points to the Mercedes driver was a save, of sorts. “My start was too good, then I ended up with nowhere to go,” he said.

The naughty corner
Bottas was the innocent party in the first-corner mess, but the Finn (albeit with a damaged floor) was 19 seconds behind Vettel at the end after both stopped at the same time for new tyres after the first lap. But the biggest losers at the French Grand Prix were the local drivers, Grosjean hitting Ocon on lap one and being given a five-second time penalty as he missed the points by just one place. At least he made it to the end; Ocon and fellow Frenchman Gasly barely lasted after the start, with Gasly tripping over Ocon at the Turn 3-4 chicane in an incident that saw both cars out on the spot. And spare a thought for Alonso, who crawled to a halt on the final lap with suspension damage to be the last car classified, seven days after winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans …

What’s next?
Leg two of Formula One’s first-ever triple-header comes in just seven days’ time in Austria, where the Red Bull Ring will host round nine of the 21-round season. The bad news for anyone not driving a Mercedes? Austria has been a power track ever since it returned to the F1 fold in 2014 after an 11-year hiatus, and the Silver Arrows have won all four races, two victories for the now-retired Nico Rosberg, and one each for Hamilton (2016) and Bottas (last year).

F1 and France: a marriage resumed

After a hiatus of 10 years, F1 returns to the birthplace of Grand Prix racing in France this weekend; here’s your guide of why and what to watch at Paul Ricard.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Champagne. Parc ferme. The Federation Internationale de l’Automobile, otherwise known as the FIA. And, of course, ‘Grand Prix’ itself. The French influence in Formula One is everywhere, from the spraying of the bubbly in celebration of success to the Paris-based governing body that runs the sport, not to mention the quest for the ‘grand prize’ itself every fortnight in a different corner of the world. So how is it that France, which has its fingerprints all over F1, hasn’t been one of those corners for a decade?

We could spend hours going into all the reasons why here (some geographical, others financial, others still political). But the good news is that France is back in a big way, from Renault’s recent return as a fully-fledged manufacturer team in addition to supplying engines to Red Bull Racing and McLaren, to the stat that 20 per cent of the sport’s current crop of drivers are from France – Esteban Ocon (Force India), Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso), Romain Grosjean (Haas) and (he’s from nearby Monaco, so we say he counts) rookie sensation Charles Leclerc from Sauber. More French drivers than any other country was unthinkable as recently as three years ago.

Now, and not before time, comes a French Grand Prix – not at Magny-Cours, the relatively unloved rural circuit that hosted the race 18 times from 1991, but at Circuit Paul Ricard, the track named after the French industrialist on the French Riviera at Le Castellet, near Marseille. F1 hasn’t raced there since 1990, when home hero Alain Prost took his third win in succession at the track for Ferrari, and while modern-day F1 has tested there in the past, the 20-driver grid will be heading into the unknown over 53 laps of the 5.8km layout this Sunday.

What should we watch for as F1 races under the tricolore for the first time since 2008 this weekend? Plenty, but we’ll limit ourselves to these five talking points.

1. Ferrari v Mercedes: what gives?
After years of silver-hued dominance since F1 embarked on its V6 turbo hybrid adventure five seasons ago, it’s refreshing to come to the eighth round of the season with no clear-cut idea of which car is the class of the field, nor which driver holds sway in the fight for the drivers’ title. Ferrari has won three 2018 races, Mercedes and Red Bull two each, and Sebastian Vettel, by virtue of his last-start win in Montreal, heads Lewis Hamilton by a single point at the one-third marker of the season. Vettel led from start to end in Canada, but remember the dominance Hamilton had over the rest just two races ago in Spain, Daniel Ricciardo’s flawless weekend in Monaco coming in the middle of those two races? The title, you suggest, will still likely boil down to a race to be first to five (world championships) between Vettel and Hamilton, but the fact we still don’t have any more clarity about the narrative as we head to Ricard has to be a good thing. Throw a largely unknown circuit into the mix this weekend, and the intrigue will be heightened all the more.

2. Which local should we watch closest?
Home races do funny things to some drivers – just look at the relatively underwhelming records of Ricciardo and his compatriot who preceded him at Red Bull, Mark Webber, in Australia over the years – but the French drivers on the grid this weekend have either reason to be optimistic, fodder to fuel a patriotic push or form on the board. Gasly (11th in the championship with 18 points) owes much of his place in the standings to a momentous fourth place in Bahrain; indeed, the 22-year-old has scored points in just one other race (Monaco), but feels Honda’s engine upgrade brought to Canada should lift Toro Rosso’s results, and fast. Ocon (13th, 11 points) is next, and while Force India started 2018 with a whimper (the Frenchman and teammate Sergio Perez managed just one point between them in the first three races), the team has been coming on strong since, and Ocon backed up his stirring sixth in Monaco with a passable ninth in Canada. Grosjean would be happy with any haul of points, no matter how small, after being just one of two drivers yet to trouble the scorers in the opening seven rounds, a statistical quirk that by no means reflects the pace of his Haas car on occasion. But the “French” driver most likely to shine at Ricard this weekend, if momentum is any guide, is Leclerc, the Monegasque youngster seemingly getting better by the race as he routinely qualifies just outside of the top 10, and often finishes in it. Given his home of Monaco is all of 200km away from this week’s venue, we’re nominating the 20-year-old Sauber man as the ‘home’ driver to keep a keen eye on.

3. Who does the circuit favour?
The Ricard layout features three very long straights and several hairpin turns, the mixture of flat-out blasts and big stops not dissimilar in nature to Canada a fortnight ago. So does this mean we’re in for a Ferrari (well, a Vettel) benefit again? Not so fast. Mercedes elected not to bring its much-vaunted engine upgrade to Canada, while rivals Ferrari, Renault and Honda all had new powerplants in their cars at a track where getting out of the slow corners is critical. Hamilton struggled with intermittent power drop-outs and an overheating engine in Canada as he laboured to an underwhelming fifth, but felt that was an escape of sorts given he thought “the engine was going to blow”. Leaving Montreal just a single point behind Vettel and with a chance to fight again in France was the best possible outcome. Should Mercedes run its new ‘phase 2’ engine as planned in France, we’ll have a more level playing field again, and a chance to see which team might have the upper hand for the next seven races until further upgrades are planned for the flyaways to end the year.

4. Speaking of engines …
What will Red Bull do? That’s the question that will hang over the return of F1 to France this weekend, after Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul suggested it won’t wait until the next race in Austria, as Red Bull prefers, for the team to take up or knock back its engine supply deal for 2019 and beyond. It’s a tricky tightrope to walk for Red Bull, which is keenly examining the progress made by Toro Rosso with Honda’s own engine upgrade, which is hard to do from Canada alone after Gasly started from the back of the grid, and given Brendon Hartley crashed out five corners into the race after an incident with Williams’ Lance Stroll. “They have all the information, I see absolutely no reason to delay that any further,” Abiteboul said after Montreal. For his part, Gasly, who finished 11th in Canada after taking a new engine following qualifying, said he felt he’d gained three places from where he would have finished with the old Honda engine. “For me, is looking good,” he told reporters after the race. “I overtook a Haas, I overtook a Force India on the straight, which is the first time this year. Clearly on the data we can see that it’s a really good step forward.” There’s much to ponder for Red Bull, and whatever decision is made in France could have long-lasting ramifications.

5. Will we get a classic race in France?
Let’s hope so, after the past two Grands Prix in Monaco and Canada were won by the pole-sitter, who was never headed. We’re not expecting to hit the high-water mark of the French GP dice to top all dices (the manic battle for second between Gilles Villeneuve and Rene Arnoux at Dijon in 1979, which is regularly cited as the benchmark of all F1 brawls), but something that even evokes memories of this would be more than welcome …

What happened at the Canadian Grand Prix?

Sebastian Vettel takes Ferrari’s first win in Montreal since 2004 and the championship lead, while Red Bull’s Max Verstappen makes the podium at a race that didn’t quite end when it should have …

THIS STORY WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON REDBULL.COM

The build-up
Engine talk was all the rage heading into Montreal, Ferrari coming to the Canadian round with an upgraded powerplant, Honda bringing a revamped unit for Toro Rosso, and Renault deploying its latest-spec engine for its works team, McLaren and, more intriguingly, Red Bull, as the latter weighs up a continuation of the relationship with the supplier that has brought it four world championships, but precious little since F1 began its V6 turbo hybrid era since 2014. Interestingly, Mercedes elected not to introduce its new engine for Canada, and Ferrari pounced, Sebastian Vettel taking his fourth pole of the season with a circuit record lap of 1min 10.764secs in Q3, edging Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas by 0.093secs.More decisively, Vettel’s lap was 0.232secs faster than Bottas’ teammate Lewis Hamilton, the championship leader labouring through a scruffy session that featured several lock-ups into the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve’s super-tight Turn 10 hairpin. Between the two Mercedes pilots was Max Verstappen, the Red Bull driver so frustrated with the line of questioning before the race weekend over his erratic form this season that he (half-jokingly) threatened to “headbutt” someone. Verstappen led all three practice sessions heading into qualifying, and finishing just 0.173secs off pole at a circuit where even the upgraded Renault engine was 0.3secs slower than Mercedes and Ferrari in the final sector alone was no mean feat. “We can race them from here,” he said. The Dutchman comfortably had teammate Daniel Ricciardo’s measure too, the Monaco GP winner in sixth and continuing his relatively poor pace in Canada – Montreal is, statistically, the Australian’s worst track in qualifying compared to his various teammates over the years. Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault was, not for the first time in 2018, best of the unofficial “second division” in seventh, while similarly-powered McLaren were miserable after Fernando Alonso (14th on his 300th GP start) and Stoffel Vandoorne (15th) were ousted in Q2. Elsewhere, Brendon Hartley, who came into the weekend facing speculation over his future, was a strong 12th for Toro Rosso, while Charles Leclerc became the first Sauber driver to make Q2 for four straight races since 2014 when he was 13th, the rookie out-performing both McLarens. The other Ferrari-powered customer team, Haas, provided the drama of qualifying in its opening seconds, Romain Grosjean not even making it out of pit lane before smoke erupted from the back of his car, an oil leak into the exhaust the cause.

The race in exactly 69 words*
Vettel took Ferrari’s first win in Canada in 14 years and his first in Montreal since 2013 with an assured lights-to-flag victory, reclaiming the championship lead in the process with his 50th GP win. Bottas and Verstappen held their second and third positions on the grid for the entire race, which was classified after 68 of the 70 laps after the chequered flag was bizarrely waved early by mistake.
(* 2018 is the 69th season of Formula One)

Ricciardo recap
After admitting to employing teammate Verstappen’s car set-up after final practice, the Australian had his eyes forwards from sixth on the grid, and immediately gained a position with a smooth move past Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari at the inside of Turn 2 on the opening lap. From there, the Red Bull sat behind fourth-placed Hamilton until the Mercedes made its sole pit stop on lap 16, Ricciardo then producing a storming in-lap that saw him pit a lap later, leapfrogging the Briton in his tyre stop. Hamilton never let Ricciardo rest the remainder of the way, getting into the one-second DRS zone on several occasions late in the race, but Ricciardo never blinked to bring home a solid haul of 12 points for fourth. The only two downsides: Bottas’ second place saw the Finn demote Riccardo to fourth overall in the championship (with 84 points to Bottas’ 86), while his fastest lap of the race on the 70th and final lap was annulled when the race was classified after lap 68 because of the chequered flag being waved too early by Canadian model Winnie Harlow (for the record, Verstappen’s lap 65 time of 1:13.864, 0.025secs faster than Ricciardo’s final lap that wasn’t, was the official fastest lap of the race). Ricciardo happy? Not so much …

What the result means
Vettel’s perfect weekend in Montreal – pole position, won the race, led every lap and took possession of the championship lead once more – gave us the third different winner in three different cars in as many races (Hamilton won in Spain, Ricciardo in Monaco), which suggests things are rosy at the top of the Formula One. From a competitive standpoint, perhaps, and two drivers separated by one point at the top of the standings one-third of the way through the season bodes well for what’s to follow. But for the second straight race, this was a Grand Prix where the cars never seemed to be really pushed, the front of the pack using one-stop tyre strategies to try to keep track position across the 70 (well, 68) laps rather than make a second visit to the pits. Brakes are always marginal in Montreal, and Bottas in particular was managing dwindling reserves of fuel towards the end which allowed Verstappen to close, but this was more a procession than a race, as teams worked out they could baby their tyres to the end rather than need to change them by allowing their drivers to race harder. Other than that, Vettel’s imperious weekend was a sign, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said afterwards, that his team needed to “wake up”. “It is a shit result for us,” Wolff fumed. “I have to put it like that. It is a strong track for us, but all weekend long we did little mistakes, from the beginning on. We fall behind in every aspect. This is a track where we should have maximised points, it was not about performing damage limitation.”

For historical purposes …
He was one of just three retirements in the race, but Alonso racked up his 300th F1 start in Montreal; the Spaniard is fourth in the all-time history books, Brazilian Rubens Barrichello (326 races from 1993-2011) leading that stat category.

The number to know
50: With a half-century of Grand Prix wins, Vettel joins Michael Schumacher (91), Hamilton (64) and Alain Prost (51) as the only drivers to achieve 50 or more F1 victories.

Under-the-radar winner(s)
Vettel’s headline-capturing win and the headline-stealing chequered flag contretemps have been given enough airtime already, so we’ll run with two more besides Hartley and Stroll given the all-clear after their massive shunt. Bottas fought off Verstappen in the opening two corners with guile, force and composure, which, as 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg suggested in the TV coverage, was important for a driver who can be seen to be a bit of a soft touch in the heat of wheel-to-wheel battle. And a shout-out (again) needs to be directed towards Leclerc, who rounded out the points in 10th place in a car with fading brakes, one race after brake failure saw him crash at Monaco. That’s three points finishes in four races for the impressive young Monegasque.

The naughty corner
While we’re on Leclerc, the Ferrari protégé who is making quite a name for himself at Ferrari-powered Sauber, Vettel’s teammate Raikkonen finished 27 seconds behind the sister car on the same pit stop strategy in sixth, and has 53 points fewer than Vettel in just seven races, statistics that don’t require additional analysis. Stroll’s oversteer moment that squeezed Hartley into the Turn 5 wall soon after the start deserves a berth here, while Sergio Perez would probably nominate Carlos Sainz in this category, the Force India driver calling for the Renault pilot to be black-flagged after Perez ran wide at Turn 1 while the two were in combat early in the race. Sainz would finish a lapped eighth, but Perez was 13th after trying a two-stop strategy to get back on terms that failed.

What’s next?
It’s a return to the past for F1 in a fortnight when the series shifts to France (June 24) for the first race in the country where the first Grand Prix was held since 2008, and the first race at the Paul Ricard track for 28 years, when Prost won for Ferrari in 1990. It’s a track only a few drivers are familiar with from testing, meaning round eight will be the most level of playing fields as F1 heads into a busy part of the calendar, the round at Ricard preceding the races in Austria and Great Britain in three consecutive weekends.

The Dan Diaries: Memories of Monaco

In his latest driver column, Daniel Ricciardo relives his win at the most famous Grand Prix of all, and the celebrations that took a while to begin …

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

It’s been a hectic, hectic time since Monaco. Some good celebrating, I won’t lie (once I got to it, I’ll come back to that). And it’s awesome to finally be a Monaco Grand Prix winner. But I’ve needed some downtime afterwards, so that’s why I’m out in Los Angeles between races, seeing some sun, my parents are here and we’re just taking things quietly. It was required, for sure.

But back to why I had something to celebrate. You probably saw the look I had on my face after the race at Monaco, where you pull up on the start-finish straight and head for that podium, which is pretty unique in the royal box. I was obviously stoked to win, but there were parts of me that were relieved, parts that were exhausted, and parts of me that couldn’t help but think back to two years ago when I should have won there. Sort of felt like it should have been a celebration for a second time.

Mentally, I was fried too. Monaco is always a long week, there’s a lot going on outside of the car, and with practice starting on Thursday there instead of Friday like it does everywhere else, it does take a lot out of you. For me, only Melbourne compares because of the commitments we have, and you add that to the fact it’s in your adopted home as well and there’s so many people around, your energy levels start to run empty. Some of that was self-inflicted, to be fair, because I’d put a lot of pressure on myself all week this year to try to win it. Once I did that, I was gassed.

The race itself, you all know what happened when I had a power issue, and at that stage there were 50 laps until the end. I’m not someone who is superstitious, but the first thought that came into my head was ‘what do I have to do to win this thing?’ I felt the power loss, and as soon as you feel something like that, you’re thinking it’s terminal and there’s no way back. Being in a good position in any race and have something go wrong sucks obviously, but the fact it was Monaco, I was in front like 2016, and it looked like ending badly, you’re not really analysing it, you’re just emotionally flat. The whole weekend had gone so well – quickest on Thursday like 2016, pole like 2016 – that I couldn’t get my head around it ending badly again.

When I lost power in the race, it wasn’t some gradual build-up, it was instant. I felt it and I heard it, I put my foot down and the noise that came back to me wasn’t what I was expecting. It sounded sick, basically. I was around Turn 3, Turn 4, around the Casino Square area when it went. Not cool. But as you saw, we managed it. The team gave me the info that they could without telling the whole world and everyone behind me what the drama was (not easy!) and then it was up to me to make the adjustments, drive differently, keep things under control and keep that track position, which around there is so important. It was a long old 50 laps and I didn’t need that virtual safety car near the end when (Charles) Leclerc and Brendon (Hartley) had their accident, that got the heart rate up a bit. But we got it done. Explains why I felt a bit mentally fried, really.

The celebrations I spoke about? You saw some of them. But the reality of the Sunday celebrations was that they were pretty tame. The whole thing was a whirlwind. After the race, I did my media commitments before walking back onto the Red Bull Energy Station. It was like the Queen had arrived, I got this massive ovation, and then it was straight up to the pool and the photos and video up there that you’ve seen. I had to then run down to my drivers’ room to have a shower to get out of my race suit so I didn’t catch pneumonia, the pool water was freezing! Did two TV interviews, and then I had to go off to this gala dinner with Monaco’s royalty. Got a boat back to my apartment, my Mum was already there getting my suit out and ready for me. I stayed at the dinner until 12.30am, then got back home. I was tired, my mates who were in town for the race had already gone out, but I didn’t have the energy to do the same. So – I’m not joking – had a beer in bed and tried to run through the day in my mind and what had happened. Glamourous, huh?

The good news was that Monday in Monaco is always one of the bigger celebrations of the year, so I caught up with my mates that morning and we enjoyed the day, for sure. I had 10 mates in for the weekend, some from Europe and some from Oz, and I always tell anyone who comes to Monaco to make sure they fly out on Tuesday. It was definitely good to be the reason to celebrate properly this time.

Back to the on-track stuff, and more specifically qualifying, which is one of the coolest sessions of the year. When you’re looking for one absolutely nailed-on lap around there, low fuel, you can thrash the tyres, leave nothing on the table – it’s a massive rush. There were parts of it that had more aggression, more oversteer and that sort of thing, but it was just clean. I knew what I had to do, and I felt like I didn’t need to drive at 101 per cent to get the time out. I was really happy with it, and when I crossed the line after the first lap I did in Q3, the one that got pole for me, I actually asked my race engineer Simon (Rennie) how much faster we were than the others, because it felt like a pole lap. I didn’t need to ask him what position we were, I knew.

We had Pirelli’s hypersoft tyre for the first time in Monaco too, the softest one they’ve had, and we’re using it in Canada next weekend as well. It’s exciting to have a softer tyre that feels like a genuine qualifying-style tyre and will drop off in performance in the race, and looking back to Monaco, it makes me really excited for Canada because we managed it well in the race. In Monaco, the team pitted me and I actually felt there was more performance in it, it wasn’t like I was desperate to get rid of them, and generally I reckon we managed those tyres better than the others. So that could be a really good sign for Canada. That circuit will be hard on them for sure, but hopefully we’re in a better place than the others.

Canada means good memories for me of course with my first win back in ’14, seems like a long time ago now. Strangely enough it hasn’t been a track where I’ve done all that well, I had that win and a third last year, and not a whole lot else. But Montreal is a cool city for us to go to and I like the track, it’s a bit old-school and you have to be able to attack those chicanes and use the kerbs. Of all the places we go to, it’s a bit like Melbourne – semi-permanent street circuit in a public park, the city is close, there’s water, the fans are always there in big numbers and early in the day because there’s always other categories on track … feels a bit like my home race.

There’s nothing like going to the next race weekend when you’ve just won, and I know there’s a lot of chat about whether I’m a genuine title contender now I’ve won two out of the first six races. We’ll have to see about that. If I get another one or two before the mid-season break, then maybe that’s the answer …