Formula One arrives in North America for the first time in 2014 this weekend with the staging of the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Ile Notre Dame in the middle of the Saint Lawrence Seaway has been a calendar regular since 1978 – with a sabbatical in 2009 – and often delivers one of the most exciting races of the season. Who can forget Jean Alesi’s one and only F1 victory here in 1995 for Ferrari, Robert Kubica’s race of redemption to win in 2008 twelve months on from his frightening accident or the rain-affected 2011 event which became the longest race in F1 history and was only decided on the very last lap?
While 2014 has failed to deliver on competitive racing so far, the fracas between Mercedes team-mates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton promises to substitute amply for the time being.
Mercedes At War
Monaco proved the nadir of the men’s relationship; Hamilton sincerely feels he was wronged when Rosberg made that now-infamous Mirabeau mistake, and has made no secret of his distaste for the verdict reached by FIA Chief Steward Derek Warwick and his panel of FIA experts.
In truth, the discord has been brewing for a while. In Bahrain Rosberg felt Hamilton’s overly-aggressive tactics in defence nearly caused both of them to crash, while in Monaco it emerged Hamilton had used an outlawed engine setting in the Spanish Grand Prix to retain the advantage over the German in the closing laps. Already under pressure to break the Briton’s run of victories, Rosberg then had to contend with personal comments from Hamilton concerning their respective upbringings in very different backgrounds.
Saturday added to the feud, and Hamilton’s failure to beat Rosberg on Sunday did nothing to soothe his battered ego. He promptly declared the friendship was over – despite Rosberg’s insistence nothing had changed – before rescinding his comments later in the week and saying he would be prepared to speak with the German again.
The Lewis Hamilton persona problem is not a new one for Formula One. In 2007 problems with Fernando Alonso led to the Spaniard’s premature departure from McLaren, while ill-advised comments directed at officials and Felipe Massa in 2011 laid the groundworks for the behaviour that in 2012 saw him become disillusioned with the team and turn his head toward Mercedes.
With 2014 seemingly a cakewalk for the Anglo-German squad, the only point of interest for fans and commentators alike is whether the friendship between the two men destined for the championship showdown can stand the test.
Alonso Denies Retirement
Meanwhile at Ferrari (remember them?) Fernando Alonso has publically applied pressure to the Scuderia following another poor start to the season. Since joining the legendary Italian squad in 2010 only twice has he looked like champion material, otherwise fading into relative obscurity – 2011 and 2013 – thanks to the innefficiency of Maranello’s machinery.
With rumours abounding regarding Red Bull, McLaren and beyond and a couple of ‘disciplinary’ actions taken after outbursts against Ferrari, Alonso has obviously felt duty-bound to confirm his dedication to the prancing horse; albeit with a veiled threat.
“We are still hungry for success, waiting for our opportunity to become champion.” said Alonso in a BBC interview.
“This is the main goal and you don’t think of retiring until you get some satisfaction. Three titles means a step. It is not that I’m not happy with two but the third puts you in a list of very important names.
“I have been close twice and hopefully the next opportunity we have we don’t miss it again.”
2014 will not be his season, and with Montreal rewarding engine performance over aerodynamic excellence, it would be safe to assume Canada is not going to offer huge rewards for Ferrari or Alonso.
McLaren – Honda Deal Ruled Out
McLaren, themselves facing another below-par season in the face of overwhelming Mercedes dominance, have denied reports 2015 engine partners Honda are planning to buy a stake in the British team.
Honda partnered with McLaren between 1988 and 1992, winning four driver’s and constructor’s titles with Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna before returning unsuccessfully to the sport in 2006 as a full ownership effort after buying British American Racing. Their withdrawal in 2008 pre-empted the conquering Brawn GP squad, until F1’s new V6 regulations tempted them to return.
In Montreal, an improved performance from McLaren might improve Honda’s prospects ahead of what promises to be a challenging F1 return. More updates for the MP4/29 are due, and the car’s lack of finesse may prove an advantage on Montreal’s low-downforce track.
Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg are your only real bets for the headlines again this weekend, and with Hamilton a renowned Montreal specialist (victories in 2007, 2010 and 2012) you would be foolish to bet against him. Yet Rosberg’s Monaco weekend opened the first chink in the Briton’s fragile mental armour in 2014 and if he continues to prise against it in Canada he has every chance of upsetting the bookies.