x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Old head Schumacher still drives a hard bargain

Five things we learnt in Montreal: Michael Schumacher showed at the Canadian Grand Prix glimpses that he can still be a force in Formula One.

Michael Schumacher narrowly missed out on the podium but he showed the spark of his good old days.
Michael Schumacher narrowly missed out on the podium but he showed the spark of his good old days.

Jenson on the Button

Even after standing on top of the podium, Jenson Button's epic last-lap win at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve was in doubt as he was under investigation from race stewards for incidents involving teammate Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.

However, both collisions were eventually dismissed as racing incidents and McLaren secured their 12th Canadian Grand Prix win in 44 years, bettering Ferrari's record of 11 victories.

While Button, who passed Sebastian Vettel in slippery conditions on the final lap after the German had led for more than four hours, said the triumph was "definitely my best ever", Martin Whitmarsh, his team principal, rated it even higher. And laid the achievement solely on his driver's shoulders.

"I think it was one of the best wins in the history of F1, let alone his," Whitmarsh said. "It was incredible. Absolutely fantastic.

"There were punctures, he had to change the front wing, and from 21st I don't know how many times he had to overtake people.

"He kept focused. He applied as much pressure as he had to to get past and really did a fantastic job. This was 90 per cent him and 10 per cent the car. He did a great, great, great job."

Ferrari flatter to deceive

Following Saturday's qualifying session, it was expected Vettel's main challenge for his sixth race win of the season would come from Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa.

The Ferrari pair had finished second and third fastest in qualifying and had looked competitive throughout practice. Yet as has been the case for the majority of this season, they failed to convert their recent upgrades into positive race results.

With Alonso being spun out accidentally by Button, Massa was the Italian manufacturers' only hope, but when the Brazilian got caught in a battle with Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi, it allowed Michael Schumacherto overtake them both and push them further down the field.

Massa finished sixth, but Stefano Domenicali, the team principal, said he refuses to write off hopes of a turnaround until after the British Grand Prix on July 10.

"That was not really the points that the team deserved, as the performance was really there," he said. "We need to grab the maximum points in Valencia and then we need to see in Silverstone. Only then will we really see where is the championship."

Life in the old hand yet

At one stage of Sunday's race, it looked like Schumacher might be able to chase down the driver who has long been spoken of as his natural successor.

Vettel had led the Canadian Grand Prix for the majority of the chaotic race, but when Schumacher capitalised on a battle between Massa and Kobayashi to steal second position, it looked like he might get close enough to activate the Mercedes GP's powerful Drag Reduction System.

Schumacher has been written off for much of the season, being regularly outpaced by Nico Rosberg, his teammate and compatriot.

But he showed that while his reaction time and race pace may have slipped in recent years, his ability to spot an opening and take it remain undiminished.

"Having been in second place towards the end, I would obviously have loved to finish there and be on the podium again," said Schumacher, who eventually finished fourth. "But even if it did not work out in the very end, we can be happy about the result and the big fight we put in."

Alguersuari's hot seat

With Daniel Ricciardo continuing to impress as Toro Rosso's reserve driver, Jaime Alguersuari's seat is drawing much attention.

The Spaniard has endured a rough start to his career since becoming Formula One's youngest driver two years ago aged 19. He failed to finish in two of the season's first six races and, going into Sunday's grand prix, had scored points in only three of his 33 races.

Toro Rosso officials have assured both Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi that their seats are safe this season, but Ricciardo will step up in 2012 meaning one of the two will need to make way. With Buemi leading his teammate 6-0 in head-to head results, the younger drivers looks destined to depart.

But at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve he achieved his best result to date and with a home race in Valencia up next, the 21 year old is in no mood to relinquish his seat just yet.

"I'm very happy because to finish eighth having started last from the pit lane is a really good result for us," he said. "This result will give everyone a lot of motivation to keep working hard. It gives us wings as we head for my second home race in Valencia."

Canadian fans are fantastic

Canadian fans are truly a breath of fresh air following some of the more recent grands prix.

Malaysia, China and Turkey all offered up dry races in lovely climates, yet their stands were often near empty. Montreal on Sunday offered up a battering monsoon-like storm and yet the uncovered stands remained packed full of passionate fans even after a two-hour suspension of the race.

Schumacher offered "a big compliment to the spectators who stayed with us in those difficult circumstances for so long and even cheered us up," while Alguersuari added that they "deserve a mention for sitting in the cold and wet for so long — but I think they saw a good motor race".

 

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae