This coming weekend, Formula 1 arrives in Canada for round seven of the 2019 season. Clear patterns down the field are now established and our perceptions on team-mate rivalries well set.
Time then, for a number of drivers to challenge those perceptions and prove to their teams, their rivals, the media and the public that what we’ve seen so far won’t necessarily be the same story we see repeated for the rest of the season.
So many memories for the Pole in Montreal. This was, after all, the place at which he scored what turned out to be his one and only grand prix victory, for BMW Sauber in 2008, just a year on from cheating death in a spectacular barrel-rolling crash at the same circuit.
The significance of returning here once again as an F1 driver surely won’t be lost on him, and certainly not on everyone else who follows F1. But the circumstances couldn’t be tougher.
The Williams team is in turmoil right now, and there’s little Kubica and rookie team-mate George Russell can do about it. In such a scenario, how on earth can we really judge how Kubica is doing during his incredible comeback from the terrible injuries he sustained in a rallying accident eight long years ago?
The comparison to Russell – five-one in qualifying in the young Brit’s favour – is probably not even a gauge given the team’s struggles to even deliver identically handling cars to its beleaguered drivers.
At least in Monaco, a track at which his doubters believed his arm limitations would harm him more than anywhere, Kubica challenged the perception that he’s in Russell’s shadow. He actually had the edge on pace around the tight street circuit, and it was only misfortune and circumstance in the race that allowed Russell to run ahead of him. Robert was encouraged by the performance, and said so.
So now back at a circuit that holds so much personal history, it would be a perfect time to consolidate that form. Even if they are seconds off the back of the field, Kubica could really do with outqualifying and outracing his team-mate this weekend. It’s the only way to shut the doubters up once and for all.
Ferrari’s young star has made such an impression this year and after Bahrain can count himself unlucky not to be already a grand prix winner. But in Monaco last time out, there were signs of increasing frustration and even an ounce of desperation in his driving.
The passing moves on Lando Norris and Romain Grosjean were brilliant in their commitment and sheer verve – but inevitably he came unstuck in the end. At Monaco, if you keep going for the big moves you’re going to tag a rival or the wall eventually. Leclerc’s move on Nico Hülkenberg at Rascasse had worked on Grosjean, but against the Renault it resulted in a half-spin and puncture.
Hindsight tells us he should have pitted straight away. But Leclerc wasn’t aware of his puncture until he’d started the next lap, then in his desperation to make up for all he’d lost – mostly because of his team’s ineptness in qualifying rather than his own driving – he pushed way too hard on three wheels, damaged his car, left debris all over the place and caused a safety car.
In Montreal he needs a cool head, show the maturity we’ve seen before, then outqualify and outrace Sebastian Vettel in the manner he’s already shown he can muster. The pressure right now is on Ferrari rather than Leclerc himself, and he has time this year to learn and make the odd mistake. But he won’t see it like that. After such calamity in Monaco, it would surely settle his state of mind to hit back straight away with a big performance we won’t forget.
The Frenchman has scored a pair of 10th places in the previous two races, in Spain and Monaco, to get off the mark in 2019. But with Haas team-mate Kevin Magnussen on 14 points and in eighth place in the drivers’ standings, Grosjean needs a decent score in Montreal to claw back a concerning gap. He’s also lagging four-two in terms of their qualifying comparison.
Both Haas drivers are adamant their car is better than it has looked so far this year, and that in terms of potential they have much more to discover than Haas’s current sixth position in the constructors’ standings might suggest. Making the best of the Pirelli tyres appears to be a bugbear, and the team lacks the consistency it should enjoy with two campaigners who have so much experience to draw upon.
Grosjean endured a confidence-sapping spell early in 2018, but rallied in a manner that convinced Haas to re-sign him for this year. He’s been at the team from the start – this is his fourth year with the American squad.
But for Haas to keep its faith in him for a fifth season, you sense he needs to raise his game once again this summer and contribute significantly to Haas’s target to be best-of-the-rest behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull – one up from its fifth in the constructors’ standings last year. In that perspective, Grosjean is once again driving for his career right now.
Does F1’s own ‘manager’s son’ really have to deliver, given that father Lawrence Stroll owns the team? In truth, yes – because even in such a favourable scenario, patience will only last so long before the questions become too uncomfortable to bat away. On home soil, he could really do with a result.
Then again, so could the team after a pair of poor races mired towards the back of the field. The Silverstone-based squad currently looks a long way from its in-the-pink peak when, as Force India, it was F1’s leading midfield team.
But if anyone is going to lift Racing Point, it looks more likely to be Sergio Perez right now. The vastly experienced Mexican is comprehensively on top in the intra-team battle, having outqualified Stroll in all six races so far.
Despite the family dollars, Stroll could nearly always argue his place in F1 was deserved on merit, such was his usually decent form at Williams. It’s high time he reminded us of that again at his new team.
The young Italian at Alfa Romeo is another who needs to post a reminder of his capabilities heading to Canada. Giovinazzi is five-one down on Kimi Räikkönen in their qualifying comparison so far and has been fairly anonymous so far during his first full season in F1.
The team’s early promise this year has faded, which hasn’t helped, and it sits ninth in the constructors’ standings, only above desperate Williams. But the problem for Giovinazzi is that all 13 points have been contributed by Räikkönen.
These are tough situations for young drivers, who need to shine early on in their F1 careers if they are to avoid slipping away into oblivion. But how can Giovinazzi do so if he doesn’t have the car under him to score points?
The only answer, as with Kubica and Russell at Williams, is to beat your team-mate. That has to be Antonio’s target this weekend.