It’s all beginning to look a little ominous.
Sebastian Vettel has emerged from a trio of circuits on which he has never excelled with a 36 point advantage in the championship. For while his rivals are trying, they have so far been unable to match not only the German’s speed, but his consistency, which has given Vettel a comfortable title lead. For all of the talk about tyres, Vettel has finished in the top four at every race this season…
Vettel’s race was straightforward, a flashback to much of 2011. Having mastered the slippery conditions on Saturday, he led away from pole, blitzed his rivals to escape the one second DRS mark and simply eased away. He survived a couple of scares – hitting the wall early on and running wide at the first corner – but he never looked in danger of being challenged for the win.
Vettel’s control of the race wiped out some of the thrill, but behind him several scraps were ongoing. Lewis Hamilton held second for much of the race but Fernando Alonso was closing in, with a somewhat inevitable conclusion to their battle.
It took a few attempts, but Alonso swept past his rival into the first corner. Hamilton tried to retaliate, but eventually had to settle for third.
Hamilton admitted his issues with braking continue, but also had problems in other areas. “Just grip, just lack of grip,” he said of the reason for his late position loss. “The car was fantastic, I'm assuming those guys had even better than that. But generally it's been really good. I was just lacking a little bit of grip in the lower speed... perhaps the chicane.”
Alonso had enjoyed a typically frantic race, having passed Valtteri Bottas, Nico Rosberg, Mark Webber and Hamilton on his way to second place. The F138 may have the pace to allow Alonso a shot at the title, but pace in qualifying remains an Achilles’ heel.
“Qualifying is qualifying and it's better to be on pole position but I think the last pole position in dry conditions was September 2010 so it's not the strong point of the team,” he said.
“On Sunday, we normally pick up the pace a little bit about which we are happy because the points are gained on Sunday, but it's true that at some races, if you start too far behind, it's difficult to recover.”
Mark Webber made a flying start for the second successive race, but as in Monaco the Australian had no space and thus his good launch went unrewarded. He dispatched with Bottas but spent a lot of time boxed in behind Rosberg, which compromised the handling of his RB9. Webber was passed by Alonso and was also involved in an incident with Giedo van der Garde.
Van der Garde appeared to be allowing Webber through at the hairpin, but turned into the apex and was tagged by Webber. The Dutchman pirouetted while Webber lost part of his front wing endplate.
Webber’s assessment of Van der Garde as ‘a pay driver with no mirrors’ was typically blunt. Van der Garde later apologised but hinted that Webber could have been more patient.
Rosberg never matched the pace of team-mate Hamilton but was initially in the fight for the final podium place. Premature stops, as well as a late precautionary third, dropped him to fifth, which he conceded was the maximum.
Such was Vettel’s dominance that only the aforementioned quadruplet finished on the same lap as the race winner. Behind the leading five was a surprise name, who secured Toro Rosso’s best finish since some German chap in 2008…
Jean-Eric Vergne excelled in slippery conditions on Saturday and quickly moved past Bottas into sixth place. From there, his position was unchallenged as he secured his best Formula 1 result. Team-mate Daniel Ricciardo struggled with an oversteering car and ended up in fifteenth.
For the second successive race, Paul di Resta overcame qualifying woes to score a handful of points. Di Resta started the race from seventeenth place on the prime tyres and astonishingly made them last for 57 laps. He emerged from the stop still in seventh place and from there had a simple run to the flag. Romain Grosjean tried a similar strategy from the back of the grid but bailed out after 42 laps and was forced into a second stop courtesy of rapidly wearing options. He finished thirteenth.
Felipe Massa battled through the midfield early on to emerge in the fight for points. He survived a close scrape with Adrian Sutil and passed Kimi Raikkonen during the closing laps to secure eighth place. The Finn expressed some satisfaction at scoring a couple of points for ninth in a race where he suffered from a brake issue and a slow pit stop. But with title rivals Vettel and Alonso leading the way, it was a bad day at the office for Raikkonen.
Force India’s Sutil had an eventful race. The German tried to pass the ailing Bottas but took too much kerb and spun. Miraculously, he hit neither the wall nor any rival and continued in thirteenth. His VJM06 then took a knock from Pastor Maldonado at the hairpin, “I was in the back of the field and Maldonado missed his braking point – again, as he always does – and he hit my rear. That had a big effect with damage on my car,” said Sutil.
Sutil was then handed a drive through penalty for ignoring blue flags – dropping him from eighth to tenth – a decision that left him angered.
“I’ve spent many laps behind lapped cars until I got past. It’s just so inconsistent from the FIA and something I don’t understand,” he said.
So far one front running team has yet to appear amid the action. McLaren’s epic consecutive points scoring streak ended as Sergio Perez and Jenson Button could manage only eleventh and twelfth place. Button conceded that the nature of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve was always going to be difficult for the MP4-28 while Perez simply struggled for grip.
Qualifying star Bottas tumbled down the order and finished fourteenth, two positions ahead of team-mate Maldonado, who was penalised for hitting Sutil.
“I think the decision was wrong because he didn't lose a position, but I lost a place. It was not a mistake. It was normal racing contact - I didn't push him off the track or whatever,” he said of the stewards’ decision.
Jules Bianchi won the battle at the back, while Sauber endured a woeful day as neither driver finished the race.
After a race which he dominated, Vettel ended the day with a final flourish, believing his win justifies his comments about altering Pirelli’s tyres on safety grounds, rather than for his own competitive benefit.
“Well, I think it's pretty simple,” he said.
“The criticism we had or I expressed was not based on performance. I think it was based on safety and I'm sure if you ask other drivers, maybe they weren't that strong in the press, maybe they think they have an advantage with this sort of tyre, but we had some occasions this year where the tyre suffered delaminating, the top layer came off for not exactly known reasons, probably debris but you will always have some pieces on the track.”
“I think it's not possible to have an entirely clean track everywhere and I think that has been the criteria. Every time I complained about balance or the tyres and their behaviour, every time as I said as well that on that day there were other people doing a better job and first of all we had to get to their level to start complaining about performance but obviously when you say something, it's in fashion, these days to take what you like instead of probably publishing the whole answer.”
But the race was marred by the first marshaling fatality at a Formula 1 event in 12 years. While trying to retrieve Esteban Gutierrez’s stricken Sauber, a marshal tripped and fell under the wheels of the recovery crane.
He was airlifted to hospital but later succumbed to his injuries.
"I am very, very sad to hear this news and my thoughts are with his family and friends," said race winner Vettel.
"The work of marshals is not always seen but it is vital to our sport and without their commitment, time and dedication there would be no motorsport."
On that note, matters on track suddenly seemed less relevant.