The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, and next week’s Canadian Grand Prix, should offer some therapy for the troubled mind of Lewis Hamilton following the debacle in Monaco on Sunday.
Only Michael Schumacher has won this race more times than Hamilton, the victor in 2007, 2010 and 2012. He is at his best at this ballsy, high speed, low downforce track, which demands a great deal from the cars and their pilots.
Villeneuve’s name, like Ayrton Senna’s, will remind Hamilton of his own heroic racing heart, for the Canadian was “the perfect racing driver, the best and fastest of us all”, according to the three-times world champion Niki Lauda.
If there is a worry for Hamilton it is that there is something of the demolition derby about Montreal, with its unforgiving, intransigent walls. And when it rains it’s dangerous. The safety car sometimes appears so many times that you could be forgiven for thinking it’s part of the race.
And then there was the occasion of the British driver’s last victory there, three years ago. He pitted, while leading, thinking that his two main rivals, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, would also come in. They didn’t, and he had to chase them down and go past them again – a reminder of Monaco, where Hamilton thought, wrongly, that Vettel and Nico Rosberg were, like him, going to take on fresh rubber.
But Monaco, a place F Scott Fitzgerald might have invented in one of his bleaker moods, and the host of a race so sleep-inducing it should be sponsored by Mogadon, is best forgotten. Especially by Hamilton. Instead, in front of him, he has one of the best events on the schedule, and one that will stimulate happy and intense recollections.
Watching Hamilton win a Formula One race for the first time, at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in 2007, is one of my own happiest memories. It was only his sixth outing and he had already set a rookie record by winning a podium place in the first five. “I was trying to control myself on the last lap – I just wanted to stop the car and jump out,” the bright-eyed 22-year-old told us. He didn’t make a single mistake and led from start to finish. He even performed a little dance on top of his car at the end.
Hamilton’s win in 2010 was the 13th of his career and took him to the top of the world championship. He had qualified for pole position in Senna-like fashion, with a devastatingly fast late lap, and his driving all weekend was thrillingly brilliant.
Two years later he prevailed once more, when he became the seventh winner in seven races in that strange season. Again, the result put him on top of the championship and he celebrated the fact by jumping into the rowing lake next to the track. His McLaren team described his victory as “beautifully controlled”.
This, then, is the place that awaits Lewis Hamilton next week. It certainly shouldn’t hold any fears for him. But poor Lewis must feel a little like Alice and the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s wonderful Through the Looking-Glass. Hand in hand, they ran together, with the Queen urging: “Faster! Faster.” But as the Queen observes to Alice: “It takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place.”
Hamilton has been in a class of his own this season, the best and fastest driver out there. But he leads the title race by just 10 points. Rosberg, who perhaps should have been a rodeo cowboy, just won’t be thrown off.
Maybe we should offer thanks to Max Verstappen, whose crash in Monaco resulted in the introduction of the virtual and real safety car, which Mercedes had so much difficulty getting their collective head around. Thanks, too, to Mercedes’ dodgy data. For it maintains life in a championship that looked likely to be decided, in effect, before late summer.
This article was written by Paul Weaver, for theguardian.com on Thursday 28th May 2015 12.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010