The Canadian Grand Prix saw fierce tyre critics Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel take a dominant victory – and it may just have proven precisely why they should now be considered this year’s title favourites.
Red Bull have been complaining about tyre wear since the very first race of the year, claiming that the new Pirellis do not allow them to get the best out of their car – despite Vettel taking three wins and two further podiums from the seven races so far.
The theory is that they would dominate every race if they were on rubber more akin to the 2012 Pirellis. And that’s what they like to do.
In Montreal, we witnessed once again how the tyres are so on edge that tiny differences in contributing factors such as track surface and ambient temperature can make a massive difference – and Red Bull simply dominated because, in Montreal, the situation was perfect for them.
The Montreal circuit is known for low tyre degradation, and in the relatively low ambient temperatures that was emphasised even more. The Red Bull works its tyres so hard they go beyond their ideal working temperature zone in hot conditions, but here Vettel could drive it much closer to the limit in the race.
Having timed his run best in the wet qualifying session to get pole, there was only going to be one winner once he held position and established his two-second lead on lap one.
But it is also what the conditions did for his rivals that point to the season-long positives for Red Bull.
Ferrari had strong race pace, but they were unable to find temperature in the tyres in the cool wet qualifying session and despite gains at the start, that put Vettel out of reach for Alonso.
Lotus was nowhere because their car is so gentle on its tyres it was simply hopeless in getting up to temperature in the rain, with the surface water cooling the tyres – so both drivers qualified too far back to have a chance of chasing down Vettel. Even in the dry, Kimi Raikkonen couldn’t get his tyres up to temperature and was lapped by Vettel, finishing ninth after running 1.5 seconds off the pace.
Mercedes, meanwhile, were the opposite. Their rear tyres are understood to run around 20 degrees hotter than any of their rivals – the reason for which they are desperately trying to unearth right now. Even in these lower ambient temperatures they had to drive significantly slower to keep the tyres in the right window = and that put Vettel even more firmly in the box seat as they slowed down the rest of the field.
The different tyre types are designed to work in different temperature windows and Canada showed how just a couple of degrees can make all the difference – it’s just most teams didn’t take the gamble.
The track temperature was just high enough to make the medium, not the supersoft, the best tyre for the day – the tipping point is believed to be around 25 degrees – but teams did not have the data from practice to understand that was the case.
They expected to need the supersofts because the ambient temperature was not hot enough to warm up the mediums – but in fact it was, and moreover it was easier to keep them in their optimum window, so they were also faster than the supersofts.
Force India gambled on that and it allowed Paul di Resta to rise from 17th to seventh. Lotus’ Romain Grosjean, starting from way back, also took a similar approach, but as soon as he got on the supersofts his car ate through them and he had to stop again.
It just shows how critical tyre decisions are in different conditions – and how important it is to have a car that can cope with as many varied conditions as possible.
So it’s not because Red Bull dominated in Montreal that proved they are probably championship favourites – it's because they seem to be able to deliver consistent results across the widest range of conditions.