It is a rare weekend when the bike boys go head to head with the F1 drivers – well sort of. On Sunday 8 June the calendars coincided but due to the time difference between Spain and Canada, fans of both forms of motorsport did not have to make a choice of which race to follow.
By the time the cars came to the grid at the circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, the boys in leather were partying (or licking their wounds) in Barcelona. It’s hard to imagine the race winner – Dani Pedrosa – being life and soul even at his home race although for once he did display some excitement and enjoyment on the podium and in the post-race interview. He is well-known in the paddock and amongst the fans of MotoGP as being more than a little dour. In contrast, Valentino Rossi could not have been more thrilled with his second place.
A race-long battle with Australian Casey Stoner had provided almost as much entertainment for the crowd as Valle’s unbelievably tasteless new leathers and helmet design. “I cannot ride a bike race in T-shirt and shorts” Rossi said, so in tribute to his beloved Azzurri, he sported Euro 2008 leathers mimicking the kit and topped off with a lid painted like a football. “I even have the footballer’s tattoo” he told us, showing off the XLVI on the right inner forearm of his leathers.
It’s hard to imagine any single one of Formula One’s drivers expressing their personalities in the way that Rossi does, and it’s one of the reasons why he has so many fans and why they are all hoping that he signs another two-year contract with Yamaha.
As far as the rest of the race went, well Pedrosa stormed into the start as soon as the lights went out and went on to ride a peerless race – at one point leading by over seven seconds before easing off to stroke it round and win by just over four seconds. It was a faultless performance, but despite the fact that this was a Spanish rider winning in Spain, the race director showed respect for the fans and the other competitors and allowed us to see not only the battle for second between Rossi and Stoner – which was a cracker, but also tussles further down the field.
Rookie James Toseland had a great race fighting with his team mate Colin Edwards, Honda’s Nicky Hayden and Suzuki’s Chris Vermuelen to take his third sixth place – a great taster for the next race at Donington where JT will be racing for the first time on a track he knows.
There were crashes galore as de Angelis and Capirossi tangled and de Puniet took himself out. Elias was black-flagged for a jump-start and with so many down, Marco Melandri, perhaps in his last race for the factory Ducati team after a disastrous start to the season found himself in the points.
It was a cracking race, exciting right down to the last lap. Rossi had stalked Stoner for eight laps before making his move for second, and even then there was no feeling that Casey had given up. No surprise that over 115,000 people had turned up to watch this show, and they sure got their money’s worth.
Across the pond then for part two of the day’s motor fun. Plenty for Brits to get excited about as Lewis Hamilton had stolen pole off Pole Robert Kubica in the dying moments of Saturday’s qualifying, and last year’s World Champion Kimi Raikkonen was in third, looking almost as off colour as he’d been in Monaco.
As the cars assembled on the grid, it was almost unbelievable that the track was still being mended – problems with the surface at turn 10 – the Hairpin. In the sport that commands multi-millions of pounds it is scarcely credible that the organisers had not provided a fully functioning track. Before the start there were warnings that the safety car might have to be deployed, not for the normal reasons of accidents to the cars, but because the track might not hold up.
But this is Formula One and let not the state of the track get in the way of the commercial need for the race to get underway. On the grid only Ferrari’s Felipe Massa was prepared to talk to ITV’s Martin Brundle and he was refreshingly frank, saying that it was a bit of an adventure into the unknown. So they did their formation lap and then with Jensen Button and Sebastian Vettel starting from the pitlane, they all set off, following Lewis Hamilton’s clean lead away from the lights. Nico Rosberg made up a place but apart from that it was a crawl round and nothing could have been more of a contrast to the fast and furious place-changing first lap of the GP boys.
Lap five and still nothing had happened. The leaders were in their original starting places and strung out by two or three seconds per place. The mid-field provided a bit of action – Heidfeld fighting Barrichello and Glock and Piquet having a little fight for position – but for pride only.
A third of the way into the race and unless someone fucked up, it would be all about pit stops and strategy. A far cry from out and out racing as we’d seen in Barcelona.
On lap 15 we had an incident. Luckless Adrian Sutil, punted out of a fine fourth place in Monaco by Kimi Raikkonen, had a mechanical failure in his Force India car and parked it. In a bad place.
Brought out the safety car and Hamilton’s lead was neutralised and ironically it was Kimi Raikkonen who benefited the most. Or should have done. All the front-runners piled into the pits but as they pulled away, for some reason, unsighted maybe, Hamilton smashed into the back of Kimi while the red light was still on and that was race over for the pair of them. The innocent – there’s always one – was Nico Rosberg who had been doing a grand job but had his afternoon ruined. A new nose required and bye bye podium or points.
Nick Heidfeld, out played all season by team mate Kubica, made hay and took the lead from Barrichello and Nakajima. With the big guns either out or compromised it looked as though we might have a bit of a race on.
But no. Unlike a bike race where you can guarantee that once on the track it’s all down to rider skill, with a bit of rubber wear to worry about, this was F1 and so far from a race, what we had for the final laps was strategy.
There was one genuine fight. At half distance, David Coulthard held fourth ahead of Jarno Trulli, Timo Glock and Sebastian Vettel. On the same strategy this was about pace. Barring accident this was how the race would finish. Alonso had third behind the BMWs until he binned it – whether that was driver error or the same brake problem that saw Renault retire Piquet I don’t know. It could have been the same sort of error that saw Nakajima on the marbles and … gonski.
22 laps to go and Kubica had enough time to make a pitstop and rejoin in the lead. Coulthard was buzzing around happily in third and the only excitement was what Massa could do. The Ferrari was obviously faster than the cars ahead and as Kovalainen put a move on Barrichello, Massa just drifted into the slipstream and took them both in the overtaking manoeuvre of the day. He was up to fourth and chasing Coulthard down.
Then Fisichella lost it into the first chicane – driver error or mechanical problem, doesn’t matter. Brought out not the safety car, but double waved yellows and almost everyone dived into the pits for a final stop.
The three leaders, Kubica, Heidfeld, Coulthard came out still ahead. Barrichello lost places to Trulli and Glock which was bad news for Honda but good for Toyota. Massa somehow nicked a place off Trulli but this was minor stuff.
BMW had come through the chaos for Robert to take a maiden F1 win, and the first for a Pole (not surprisingly as he is the first Pole to compete in F1!) and moreover make it a one-two with Heidfeld taking second spot.
Coulthard, in the evening of his F1 career confounded all critics, yet again, by being on the podium and the Big Two – Ferrari and McLaren scarcely garnered a point.
However, despite this unexpected and rather delightful result of the Canadian Grand Prix, it had none of the genuine excitement of Barcelona. The results were more to do with errors and team strategy than genuine driver skill and utter courage.
In the post-race interviews no-one was “very ‘appy” and no-one wore repulsive pink and blue Azzurri race overalls with roman numerals on their forearm.
Look – I have no doubt that F1 drivers are immensely skilled and brave, but they don’t race elbow to elbow like the boys and they just don’t seem to care as much about what they do and what the fans think.
So come the weekend this season when MotoGP goes head to head with F1, and it will happen, always does, I know what I’ll be watching and I know where my heroes are.
In leather, on two wheels, and the main man is the one whose name begins with a big fat V.