Qualifying at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve was closely contested between Mercedes and Ferrari. It had initially looked like a 4-way fight for pole position, but when it really mattered it was Hamilton and Vettel who showed their quality as they left the two Fins on the grid wondering why they were so far behind. As expected, Red Bull were off the leading pace at a power hungry circuit, with Verstappen edging out Ricciardo to qualify P5. Felipe Massa’s Williams and the two Force Indias led the midfield with Massa in front. With Force India being so competitive in the race, it would have been fascinating to see what could have happened had Massa not retired on Lap 1.
The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is essentially just a few straights connected by some medium speed chicanes, surrounded by walls which are always ready to punish mistakes. A quick lap around here requires a strong engine, strong brakes, and a car balanced enough to be able to ride the kerbs in the chicanes.
Using telemetry charts, I’m going to go through and analyse four different cases to investigate the differences between the teams and drivers:
- Hamilton vs Vettel
- Hamilton vs Verstappen
- Hamilton vs Alonso (Q2)
- Hamilton vs Perez
All laps are Q3 unless stated otherwise. The charts are fairly simple. Each driver has the velocity plotted against distance. Sadly there are no throttle and brake traces this time as besides Vettel’s lap I was unable to obtain onboard videos with this data. The time delta is also plotted comparing the first driver in the legend against the second. In the first chart below, the time delta is comparing Hamilton’s lap against Vettel’s, so if the value is positive Hamilton is slower and behind Vettel.
Hamilton vs Vettel
Hamilton took his 65th pole position, matching Ayrton Senna, with a scintillating lap that was more than three tenths faster than Vettel could manage in the Ferrari. Here’s how the laps unfolded:
Turn 1 and 2 are approached as one corner as turn 2 is effectively the exit of turn 1. Both drivers have slightly different approaches here. Hamilton slows down more for turn 1, allowing him to position the car to carry more speed through turn 2 and get a better exit. Vettel does the opposite, and it cost him. By going faster through turn 1, he had to slow down more for turn 2. He had lost almost two tenths at the start of the lap. Through the first chicane of turns 3 and 4, Vettel loses another tenth to Hamilton, whose apex speed is marginally greater and gets a much better exit. At the end of sector 1, Vettel is already ~0.3s down.
On his previous attempt, Vettel did set a faster sector 1 time than this lap (19.713 vs 19.913) so it looks like he over drove the car a little trying to improve.
At the second chicane, both drivers have different styles again. Hamilton’s apex speed is lower, but in doing so he positions the car to get a much better exit. Just like in Spain, it seems the Mercedes puts greater focus on corner exit, whereas the Ferrari seems happier to carry more apex speed, perhaps because it has stronger traction? Vettel loses a tenth here, but it doesn’t cost him all the way to braking for turns 8 and 9. 400m before braking for turn 8 both speed traces align together, which might be an indication of Ferrari running less downforce than Mercedes.
Hamilton pulls another tenth on Vettel through turns 8 and 9 by braking a few metres later and carrying more speed into the corner. It does cost him a bit on the straight to turn 10 as Vettel is marginally faster here – another indication of lower downforce. As sector 2 ends, Hamilton is ~0.4s ahead. The delta shows 0.5s, so this likely down to a sync issue.
At the turn 10 hairpin, Vettel has a slower apex speed, but gets a stronger exit and begins to claw back the deficit to Hamilton. Their top speeds are only separated by 2kph, but Vettel’s speed trace is consistently above Hamiltons, gaining him a tenth down the back straight. Through the final chicane they’re almost identical, allowing Vettel to finish the lap ~0.3s behind.
So could Vettel have taken pole? It’s obviously impossible to definitively say yes or no, but he definitely should have been closer than 0.3s. Relative to his previous attempt he improved by a tenth in sectors 2 and 3, so extending this to sector 1 would put him 0.030s behind Hamilton. It would have been incredibly close that much is certain.
Hamilton vs Verstappen
Red Bull were almost a second behind at Montreal, in stark contrast to Monaco where they were just three tenths off. This is unsurprising though as the Renault engine is weaker than both the Mercedes and Ferrari. But, could they have take pole position with a stronger engine?
Looking at sector 1, Verstappen lost three tenths here. He matched Hamilton through turns 1 and 2, but begins to lose time on the short straight to turn 3. Verstappens turn 2 apex speed is marginally lower too. In turns 3 and 4, Verstappen is down by ~5kph at the apex. This is potentially due to a small error, or the car doesn’t have enough grip and stability to attack the entry to the chicane, or Hamilton may have just been mighty strong through there. Whatever the reason, it cost Verstappen a tenth. Overall, in sector 1, 0.2s of the 0.3s were lost due to power (see the straights from 500-700m and 900-1100m).
In the two chicanes in sector 2, Verstappens Red Bull is closely matched with Hamilton, with Verstappen losing a tenth in the second chicane. He’s ~0.7s down on Hamilton as sector 2 ends, which would mean he lost ~0.3s due to engine power. Totalling the time delta on the straights reinforces this.
Hamilton and Verstappen are again evenly matched at the turn 10 hairpin, but as they power down the back straight down to turn 13, Verstappen loses another tenth. It looks like the DRS helped to alleviate some of engine power deficit. In the final chicane, Verstappen brakes earlier but carries significantly more apex speed only to still end up losing time. After ~50m of acceleration on his speed trace there is a noticeable change in how steep the curve is. So while Verstappen carried more apex speed, he had to be more hesitant on applying throttle, which cost him time. In contrast, Hamilton’s starts off steep and stays that way. The total time loss in sector 3 was ~0.3s, of which ~0.2s was due to a power deficit.
Totalling up the entire lap, Verstappen lost ~0.7s due to engine power. The other three tenths were down to car chassis and driver. So the answer to the question I posed at the beginning of this section is no, it’s unlikely. However, in Spain and Monaco, I noted that the Renault engine might not have enough ERS power deployment to match Mercedes and Ferrari, who could use it for an entire lap. If that is the case, then the speed traces in sector 1 at least should be closer, especially since Montreal is a lower downforce circuit than Barcelona or Monaco, but they’re not. Something is amiss here, and I’m not sure what.
Hamilton vs Alonso
If Monaco masked McLaren Honda’s engine power deficit, then the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve amplified them. Following a similar procedure to the previous analysis, the overall time Alonso lost due to a lack of engine power totals approximately 1.5 seconds. Given that Alonso’s best effort in Q2 was 2.2s slower than pole, that’s 0.7s for McLaren to find.
In turns 1 and 2, Alonso did exactly what Vettel did and carried more speed through turn 1, resulting in having to slow down more for turn 2. It’s hard to say if Alonso was over driving at this point, or if it was chassis dependent, but I’d lean towards the former as a 10kph deficit on a slow corner is likely driver error in this case. Either way Alonso lose approx a tenth here.
Alonso’s trace through Turns 3 and 4 looks very similar to Verstappens, and he loses the same amount of time too (~0.1s). Through turns 6 and 7, Alonso has a greater apex speed, indicating his approach to the chicane was similar to Vettel’s, and the opposite of Hamilton. Alonso and Vettel looked to gain time in the corner, whereas Hamilton focused on getting a good exit and getting payback on the straight.
Turns 8 and 9 are similar to turns 3 and 4, with Alonso not able to carry as much apex speed as Hamilton, losing ~0.2s. It’s the same story at the turn 10 hairpin, costing Alonso another tenth. At the final chicane, McLaren’s weaker chassis clearly shows as Alonso’s apex speed is ~7kph slower than Hamilton’s. This costs him more on the start/finish straight too as the speed traces diverge much earlier at 200kph, unlike after the exit of turn 10 where they diverge at 250kph.
With Alonso losing at best ~0.5s due to chassis (assuming he was over driving in turns 1 and 2) that would put them just behind Red Bull, who lost ~0.3s due to chassis, in fourth. Not bad, but not great, and definitely not where they want to be.
Hamilton vs Perez
With Force India being more competitive in the race, and with all Mercedes customer teams receiving an upgrade in Canada, I thought it would be interesting to see how different the two chassis are. Since Mercedes and Force India have the same engine and modes, the 1.6s difference in lap time can only be down to chassis and driver.
Looking at the lap as a whole, in every corner, Perez has a lower apex speed than Hamilton, usually by 3-4kph, with sector 1 being the exception. Perez is already 0.7s down at the end of sector 1. That’s almost half the total gap. It’s clear that Force India don’t have the downforce level of the Mercedes as Perez brakes earlier and is significantly slower in the corners. It’s also a compound effect. Looking at the exit of turn 2, both drivers speed traces have roughly the same shape, but because Perez was slower at the apex, he reaches a lower top speed before braking than Hamilton.
This occurs again on the exit of turn 4, and through the rest of the lap, although to a lesser extent. The Force India is also faster at the end of the back straight before braking for turn 13, so this is another indication that the car was running with less downforce. It’s also a possible insight into the setup approach for both teams. Mercedes don’t expect to have to overtake in the race, so they can afford to sacrifice some top speed in search of a better pace over one lap, giving them a higher grid position. Force India, however, know they’ll probably qualify P7 at best, and may have to do some overtaking in the race, so they are more likely to factor that into the setup.
Thanks for reading!