Buchignani: After the mess in Montreal, F1 flies to France

Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton continue their roll as Ferrari loses its bid for a review of Sebastian Vettel's penalty at the Canadian GP.

Sebastian Vettel steers his Mercedes during Friday practice for the French Grand Prix at Circuit Paul Ricard. Charles Coates / Getty Images

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What better way to leave behind the mess of Montreal than head to the south of France?

Formula One rolls into the Circuit Paul Ricard for this weekend’s French Grand Prix — the eighth stop on the calendar — before it heads off to Austria in the season’s first back-to-back race weekends.

The French Riviera sounds pretty good right about now, doesn’t it? Beats fighting traffic on the Décarie Expressway or, for that matter, trying to navigate Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in a certain red car.

Ah yes, that.

Two weeks after the fact, the controversial penalty imposed on Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel at the Canadian Grand Prix continues to be a major talking point among F1 insiders and fans alike.

Sebastian Vettel steers his Mercedes during Friday practice for the French Grand Prix at Circuit Paul Ricard. The German posted the fourth-fastest lap time of the afternoon session. Mark Thompson / Getty Images

You know the story: The stewards deemed race leader Vettel rejoined the track in “an unsafe manner” after he ran wide while trying to stave off a charging Lewis Hamilton. The five-second penalty added to Vettel’s final time for cutting off the Mercedes effectively handed Hamilton the win.

I didn’t like the call then and I still don’t like it, which seems to be the majority view. Doesn’t matter. Reasonable people can debate all they want, but the stewards have a job to do and they felt they applied the rules as written.

But most would agree, I think, that the controversy hasn’t been good for F1. There is something deeply unsatisfying about a race in which the winner is not the guy who crosses the finish line first.

Not even Hamilton was happy with the turn of events, saying it was “absolutely not the way I wanted to win” and “I probably would have done the same thing” in Vettel’s shoes — though he said he felt the penalty was merited.

His boss, Toto Wolff, agreed “the stewards acted I think according to the rules” — but the Mercedes team principal nevertheless called for changes to allow for “harder racing.”

Lewis Hamilton recorded the second-quickest lap time of Friday’s afternoon practice session for the French Grand Prix, behind Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas. Charles Coates / Getty Images

As for Vettel, his immediate reaction was to scream “they are stealing the race from us!” over the team radio, which is understandable, though the “us” probably applies more to F1 fans of all stripes than to Ferrari.

Don’t forget: Hamilton was pushing Vettel hard at that point, and with 22 laps to go, he was going to make his move sooner or later. This is what the fans wanted to see.

Instead, because the penalty was announced during the race, Hamilton had only to closely follow Vettel to the checkered flag rather than risk attempting a pass that could go badly.

He wins; the fans lose.

At the same time, Vettel should probably direct his anger more at himself than anyone else. Had he not run wide in the first place, there would have been no penalty and no controversy.

Instead, the story continues to make headlines and cause distractions, not to mention confusion.

First, Ferrari announced it intended to appeal the penalty. Then came word it was dropping the appeal and would be asking for a “review” instead. On Friday, the request for a review was rejected by the stewards during a hearing at Paul Ricard.

Now, you might ask what the difference is between an appeal and a review. Let’s just say that when it comes to process and procedure, no one does it better than F1.

Or worse, depending on your point of view.

“I don’t like it,” Vettel lamented after his penalty, taking aim at the sanitization of modern-day F1, on and off the track.

“We all sound like lawyers using the official language,” he said. “I think it is wrong. It is not the sport I fell in love with when I was watching.”

No, it isn’t, sadly.

With the results of the Canadian Grand Prix confirmed, Mercedes has won all seven races of the Formula One season so far. Mark Thompson / Getty Images

Of course, much of his frustration has to do with the fact that, just one-third of the way into the season, Ferrari’s championship hopes seem as good as gone for another year.

With the Montreal results confirmed, Mercedes goes to France having won all seven races so far, five of them with the silver cars finishing first and second.

Hamilton has won five races, including the last three, and sits at the top of the standings with 162 points vs. 133 for teammate Valtteri Bottas and 100 for Vettel in third.

In the constructors’ table, it’s 295 points for Mercedes, 172 for Ferrari and 124 for Red Bull with 14 races to run.

Not to sound lawyerly, but the preponderance of evidence suggests more of the same for the foreseeable future. Case closed.




French Grand Prix live coverage. Qualifying: Saturday 8 a.m. TSN5; 8:45 a.m. RDS. Race: Sunday 7:30 a.m. TSN4; 8:30 a.m. TSN5, RDS.