As Saturday morning practice ended, the track was drying; the sky remained cloudy, although the sun was trying to break through. Each of the sessions had been run in different conditions – wet, drying, mostly dry – and the teams had also been testing the new tyres for a few laps once they finally were able to put on slicks, so we really had no idea what to expect in qualifying. The only drivers to post more than one top-three time during the three practice sessions were Lewis Hamilton and Romain Grosjean, and Paul di Resta’s Force India had topped the time sheet on Friday morning, a sure sign that the practice times were not necessarily a reliable benchmark.
Of course, a few minutes before qualifying was to begin, the skies opened up again and sent us scrambling for rain coats and ponchos. Some people seem to think it is acceptable to bring umbrellas to a sporting event where everyone is packed into seats with barely enough room for their legs and beer coolers, and the folks in front of us unfurled their parapluies as soon as the rain started, blocking most of our view of the track. They were quickly shouted down and our view was restored. The rain did put a damper on the wine and chips party that our classy neighbours were enjoying, though:
As for the qualifying session, most of the drivers tried to put in a couple laps on slick tyres, but the track was too wet and everyone was forced to switch to intermediates. Rainy qualifying sessions usually mix up the expected grid order, and this day was no exception. Paul di Resta and Romain Grosjean did not make it out of Q1 and, most surprisingly, Valtteri Bottas placed his Williams third on the grid (he had not previously qualified higher than 14th). Jean-Éric Vergne and Adrian Sutil out-qualifying Kimi Räikkönen was also somewhat shocking.
Sebastian Vettel put his Red Bull on pole, posting the fastest times in Q1 and Q3. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Roseberg also continued their run of excellent qualifying performances for Mercedes, finishing second and fourth, respectively. On the way back to the Metro, we discussed our worry that Vettel might make a good start and pull away without anyone being able to challenge him – a scene that has become familiar over the past three seasons.
After a quick shower and change at the hostel, we returned to Crescent Street for an autograph session with double world champion Emerson Fittipaldi. When we arrived, there were some people milling around the stage, but it was not really busy, and there was no line-up, nor any sign of where the line-up should be. Eventually, we asked someone who looked like they should know what was going on and were directed to a gate at the side of the stage. I had been expecting an hour wait, but we ended up fifth or sixth in line. After Mr. Fittipaldi appeared, said a few words about Montréal, and conducted a draw for a fancy watch (neither he nor the host could pronounce the winner’s name), we were allowed up on stage. As he signed a card for me, I told him what an honour it was to meet him while a security guard yelled something about “no personal photos”. It was still exciting to be so close to an F1 legend (I was a few feet away from Fernando Alonso on the pit wall after the podium ceremony for the 2006 Canadian GP, when he came down to celebrate his victory with the fans – sorry, no photos of that).
We then retreated to the hostel to take advantage of their happy hour specials: two beers for four dollars or something like ten shooters for $20. We stuck with the beer. At that point, it was supper time, so we met up with an old friend from Ottawa and headed to Rue Peel, a few blocks east of Crescent, to avoid some of the crowds.
It had started raining again, so we took shelter at McLean’s Pub, which proved to be a very good decision. The upstairs bar was full of televisions, so we watched the Stanley Cup play-offs. The food was fantastic and the Guiness was even better! Once our waitress started doing rounds of shots with us, the night quickly devolved into something like this:
Needless to say, it was a late night and we may or may not have lost a man or two along the way; some casualties are to be expected on Grand Prix weekend, though. Luckily, aside from the various support series, there is not much going on at the track on Sunday mornings before the race, so we could sleep in a bit.
When we did wake up, it was cloudy and it had rained overnight, although it was not raining then. The forecast called for an overcast, but relatively dry day, which was a nice change from Friday and Saturday. Our hostel provided a breakfast of sorts, which basically included a loaf of white bread, coffee, juice and some croissants. I had been adding one more of the latter each day, so after firing down three of them, we headed for the track.
We arrived at the track in time for the drivers’ parade, where they are driven around the track in convertibles to wave to the fans and, sometimes, sign autographs for the marshals. Unfortunately, I missed getting a photo of Jenson Button for TPL mascot little Jense, but here is Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg:
Finally, the sun also started to break through. For the first time on the weekend, I broke out the sunscreen and, as you can see, the track was completely dry. Unfortunately for the unwashed masses in general admission, their ground did not dry quite as quickly.
After a spectacular CF-18 fly-over, it was time for the most exciting moment of any Grand Prix weekend for a blog called The Parade Lap: the actual parade lap! Actually, parade laps are only really exciting if you are Red Bull chief designer Adrian Newey. The start of the race was uneventful and all the cars got away cleanly. In fact, there were no retirements until lap 43, after Giedo van der Garde had played bumper cars with half the field.
Sebastian Vettel proved that our fears were well-founded, as he quickly pulled away from Lewis Hamilton and no one got close to him for the rest of the race (some rain or a safety car would have helped). The most exciting battle to watch was between Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, for second place after the last round of pit stops. Alonso closed relentlessly on the Mercedes and eventually passed him on the start/finish straight (using DRS) with seven laps to go. Despite qualifying third, Bottas dropped slowly back through the field and finished 14th.
The crowd in our grandstand seemed to enjoy Vettel’s victory, although he was booed on the podium, presumably by the Ferrari fans.
We did not hang around for long after the race, and the crowd waiting to get on the Metro was as big as I have ever seen.
When we made it back to our car, the automated parking machine only charged us $20 for the entire time we had been parked, from Thursday night to Sunday afternoon, which was a nice bonus. We were back home in Ottawa by 8 p.m., only a little the worse for wear. Now that you have seen what it is like to actually experience a Grand Prix weekend, hopefully we’ll see you all at the track next year!