https://www.traditionrolex.com/35 2023 F1 Midfield Tales from Canada – Upgraded Williams, Inspired Albon – Kunal's F1 Blog
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2023 F1 Midfield Tales from Canada – Upgraded Williams, Inspired Albon

Williams were the charm of the F1 mid-field in Canada, writes Ashwin Issac in his F1 mid-field tales post for the Canadian Grand Prix.

2023 Canadian Grand Prix

Budding Formula 1 tech-journalist Ashwin Issac pens his ‘F1 Midfield Tales’ from the 2023 Canadian Grand Prix. ‘F1 Midfield Tales’ will be a combination of data and analysis that will aim to dissect the uber-competitive F1 midfield race-after-race.

Preface

‘O Canada! Where pines and maples grow ’, where groundhogs and at least once a year Formula 1 cars prowl. Yes, we are west of the Atlantic this weekend for a Grand Prix weekend.

The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on Notre Dame Island in Montreal, Quebec, Canada has been a  fan and driver favourite over the drivers. It has been a host to many memorable races and has been a mainstay in the F1 calendar.

The track layout is relatively simple; straights are divided by chicanes and a hairpin, making this a low downforce, power circuit. The chicane entry and exits are close to the walls and to maximise performance drivers to ‘kerb ride’ the chicanes as exits of these switchbacks are important for the overlap lap times.

There were no changes made to the layout of the track but a couple of walls were extended for safety reasons which the drivers and fans were not very pleased with. The pit wall was extended obstructing the iconic view of the first complex of curves for the TV viewers and the inside wall at the exit of turn 2 was also extended which made re-entry to the track after an off very awkward for the drivers, the drivers were displeased and that wall was shortened for the race on Sunday. Here’s the track layout for reference:

This week, Williams brought the biggest upgrades among the midfield, close to 50 new parts on Albon’s car. In my F1 Mid-field Tales post for Spain, I did dissect how Williams were struggling for form.

All the cars had a low downforce setup. Let’s examine how the weekend unfolded for the F1 midfield in Canada.

Observations from the F1 midfield in Canada

For the comparisons, data with similar variables are selected for a viable analysis. For instance, the fastest sectors by a team and not individual drivers are considered for the qualifying examination. Lap times are collected for the same tyre compound at comparable race periods.

The weekend had mixed weather throughout, FP1 was dry and in hindsight had optimal conditions for practice representing race day conditions, but in a strange turn of events, after a red flag induced by the technically stricken Alpine of Gasly, the CCTV system around the track was not functional and sighting safety the session was rundown with the groundhogs of Notre Dame having the most track time.

For that reason, FP2 was extended by 30 minutes and was scheduled earlier as the rain was forecasted at the end of the session. The teams didn’t have substantial running in the last 5 minutes subjected to torrential rain.

FP3 was wet to start and remained wet throughout the session, many teams experienced the new extreme wet tyres for the first time but most of the running was done on the intermediate tyres, a good rehearsal for the following qualifying session.

Qualifying battle between the F1 midfield in Canada

The qualifying session was wet as it was forecasted. The tricky conditions opened doors for upsets and inspired performances.

Q1

Q1 was wet to start but the drivers were comfortable in intermediate tyres with a dry line appearing towards the end but not convincingly enough for a lap on the dry soft tyres. This presented stable conditions for a fair comparison between all the drivers of the midfield.

Here’s a bar chart representing their lap times and their deficit to the leader of this pack and their teammates:

  • Alexander Albon with his significantly upgraded Williams was the fastest in these conditions. His teammate in the old configuration of the Williams and with his lack of experience was more than a second off the pace.
  • Norris was close behind, the McLaren tends to excel in such muggy conditions, with his rookie teammate not far from him.
  • The Alpine was a bit off the pace in these conditions and with Gasly impeded dangerously by Carlos Sainz they didn’t have an ideal start to the session.
  • Alfa Romeo in the hands of Bottas was competitive but Zhou after his stuttered start to the session never recovered to clock any lap times as fast as his teammate.
  • Haas were not happy with the inters, they were close to half a second off the time posted by Albon.
  • Yuki and De Vries in their Alpha Tauris failed to make an impression in Q1 and because of their slow laps, none of them proceeded to Q2.

Q2

With an evident dry line appearing on the track, there was an opportunity for the soft tyre to be used but all the drivers head out to start Q2 on inters except for the intuitive Albon. 

His gamble to start on softs paid off because the soft tyres were the fastest option at the start, the ones who bolted on them the quickest were the fastest as the rain started to come down later in the session. 

Lando assessed the conditions quickly and immediately opted for the softs without setting a lap on his inters, others opted to stay and post a banker lap on the inters and then moved to the soft tyres.

Here’s a bar chart signifying Albon’s advantage and the advantage of moving early to the soft slick tyres:

  • Albon set his fastest lap, which was the fastest overall lap of the qualifying session, on his third attempt. His tyres reached close to optimum working temperatures at the third lap on the dry line.
  • Lando was the second driver to give it a try on the slick sets and he posted his fastest lap on the second attempt after which there were already some spots of rain. Piastri, even though bolted on his set of sets a lap later did a decent enough job to get into Q3.
  • Hulkenberg and Ocon were late on the softs but still managed to set times good enough to progress into Q3.
  • Kevin and Bottas’ fastest times for Q2 were set on inters and when they were on the softs they couldn’t switch them into operating temperatures as they were late and the rain had already altered the track conditions.

Q3

The track went back to being wet and not suitable for dry tyres hence the drivers left the pits on their intermediates. As they were on their out laps the intensity of the rain increased and the state of the track worsened to extreme conditions.

Those who left the pits early and were able to bring their tyres to some gripping temperatures were able to set some significant times, there was a subsequent red flag as Piastri collected the wall at the exit of turn 7. 

The circumstances meant that some of the drivers were barred from posting a second timed lap but Haas’s Hulkenberg managed to do so along with Ocon and Verstappen, this classified Verstappen and Hulkenberg as P1 and P2 with Ocon not capitalising on this opportunity. 

Unfortunately, the same red flag penalised Nico for breaching a track speed protocol under those conditions.

There were further penalties handed out to drivers reshuffling the starting grid for the race start.

The Race between the F1 midfield in Canada

On Sunday the track was completely dry and there was no threat of rain for the race duration.

The choice of tyre by the majority of the drivers was the mediums, only Bottas and Gasly had different ideas, Bottas’ started on a set of hard tyres and Gasly opted to start on the softs.

The race started off with no incidents with Yuki pitting immediately to bolt on a set of hard tyres. On the sixth lap, Logan had to stop his car because of a terminal technical problem which enforced a VSC but the car was cleared quickly by the always amazing track marshals.

On Lap 11 George Russell hit the wall at the exit of turn 9 leaving a lot of debris on the track forcing the stewards to deploy the safety car, this prompted most of the grid to make a pitstop moving to the hard tyres. Unfortunately for Gasly, he had pitted a lap before for his new set which shuffled him to the back negating what would have been an advantage. Bottas stayed out to claim track position, which turned out to be a great move for his strategy to work.

The Hard tyres on the second stint didn’t inspire great performance as the drivers were struggling to switch them on, the resulting DRS trains after the restart was another reason for the teams to call their drivers to the pits to reshuffle the pack but they covered each other to maintain track position.

For the third stint, all of the drivers were again on hard tyres except for Magnussen who was on mediums, there were outliers in Bottas and Albon, with Bottas’s strategy mentioned before, Albon and his team decided to stay and hold position and extend their second stint on the hard tyres in the hopes of keeping the others behind on fresher tyres, it worked because of the Williams straight line speed advantage which it difficult to overtake him. This meant that there was another DRS train behind him.

  • Stint 3 (Hard Tyres)

DRS trains are not ideal for comparing race pace as the lead car dictates the pace of its followers. To make a comparison of the race pace of the midfield teams the drivers who were not on a DRS train were selected and only stint 3 on the Hard tyres was chosen as the constant because the first stint was short and married by a VSC and a SC period, the second was also short and insignificant with the pack closed.

Here’s a bar chart comparing the midfield race pace on the last stint:

  • Pierre Gasly in his Alpine was clearly the fastest driver, he was catching a DRS train ahead.
  • Piastri had the second-fastest car among the midfield for this stint; he too was on the heels of the DRS train led by Albon.
  • Yuki had a similar pace but seemed to be inconsistent.
  • Albon’s lack of pace on his old set of Hard tyres is clearly evident.
  • The Alfa of Zhou was slow given that he was not caught up in a train of cars.
  • Haas’s Achilles heel is on display again with its high wear rate and lack of race pace.

Conclusion – F1 midfield tales for Canada

The race was not a blockbuster compared to today’s spoilt standards but there were segments of great entertainment throughout the weekend. There was a lot of skill displayed by the drivers in difficult conditions and in the race, nobody gave an inch to each other.

The star of the weekend and the F1 midfield in Canada was Albon with his inspired qualifying performance and his gritty defensive drive complementing the offensive strategy offered to him by his team. This layout enhances the attributes of the Williams car and with a positive review of the upgrades by Albon, they might have taken a big step in the midfield race.

Based on race pace, Alpine are still the team to beat in the F1 midfield after Canada. If they can get both their cars in their rightful place on the grid, they will be a headache to the teams above them.

McLaren again showed their liking to muggy conditions, in race pace, they were the second fastest car, it will be intriguing to see if their performance is dictated by the conditions alone.

Alpha Tauri struggled in the qualifying session but in terms of race pace, they were competitive at least in the impressive hands of Yuki Tsunoda.

Alfa Romeo had a mixed race weekend with their experienced driver in Bottas showing a good turn of pace, he was attributed to an excellent strategy, on the other hand, Zhou was on the back foot.

Haas have a lot to think about and need to go back to their drawing boards to find a solution to their decapitating lack of race pace. No matter where they qualify, they drop down the grid like an anchor.

We will return to Europe for the Grand Prix in Austria in two weeks. The Formula 1 circus will be eager to get their fill of schnitzel and we can’t wait to add another chapter to the 2023 Formula 1 World Championship.

Hi, I am an automotive engineer, MS Automotive Systems Engineering, Loughborough University, UK. I have an undying enthusiasm towards automobiles, I am zealous about motor-sports as I consider it to be the pinnacle of automotive engineering. I believe my zeal attributed with my technical knowledge can be translated into content meaningful to individuals who share that same passion. I want to be a contributing member of the motor-sport community and I will use this medium to serve that clique.

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