Record crowds are expected to welcome Formula One back to Canada following a two-year pandemic pause, and the series returns to Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal attempting to rectify the aches of Mercedes and its 37-year-old champion.
The FIA on Thursday at last addressed the “porpoising” effect that has bogged down several of the new 2022 cars, most notably Mercedes and seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton.
But F1's governing body did not act until after the Brit was seen gingerly climbing from his car in Baku, Azerbaijan, following three days of bouncing up and down around the circuit.
“My back is killing me!” Hamilton at one point screamed over his radio last Sunday.
Both he and teammate George Russell had warned the bouncing of their cars was putting their health in danger — and potentially creating a safety hazard — and Hamilton said he completed the race on pure adrenaline.
“That’s the only thing. Just biting down on my teeth through pain. Just adrenaline," he said. "I can’t express the pain you experience. At the end you’re just praying for it to end.”
He posted a photo Thursday of physiotherapist Angela Cullen helping him stretch and said it was the first day he'd been able to go for a run since the race in Baku. Around the same time, the FIA announced a technical directive that will force teams to raise their cars higher off the ground in an effort to combat the bouncing.
The FIA said it decided to intervene "following consultation with its doctors in the interests of safety of the drivers. In a sport where the competitors are routinely driving at speeds in excess of 300km/h (186 mph), it is considered that all of a driver’s concentration needs to be focused on that task and that excessive fatigue or pain experienced by a driver could have significant consequences should it result in a loss of concentration.
“In addition, the FIA has concerns in relation to the immediate physical impact on the health of the drivers, a number of whom have reported back pain following recent events.”
Hamilton, who lost last year's F1 title to Max Verstappen in a controversial season finale, has struggled all year with Mercedes' new car. He's sixth in the standings and has scored just one podium, and Hamilton is routinely outrun by younger teammate Russell. The 24-year-old is fourth in the standings with three podiums.
Red Bull boss Christian Horner has wondered if Mercedes isn't overplaying the porpoising to cover for its inferior 2022 car. And others have noted that Mercedes itself could ease the physical toll on Hamilton and Russell through setup changes — alterations counter to the competitive edge the team is seeking with its current configurations.
F1 last raced at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in 2019 because the series could not compete in Canada during the first two years of the pandemic. The return is the hottest ticket in Montreal and the series expects the three-day Canadian Grand Prix weekend to draw the largest crowd in history.
The Sunday race is sold out and, after the addition of two new grandstands, F1 said organizers expect a record 320,000 fans over three days.
F1 is headed into only its ninth race of the season and jobs are at stake. Canadian driver Nicholas Latifi is one whose future could be decided this weekend.
The Williams driver will be racing in his first grand prix on home soil, but there's speculation Sunday's could be his last with the the team. The driver from Toronto has zero points and is ranked 21st in the standings — in a 20-car field. Nico Hulkenberg filled in for Sebastian Vettel for the first two races this season and outperformed Latifi, so he's ranked higher in the standings.
Latifi has acknowledged his seat is not secure. It's a similar situation at Haas, where team principal Guenther Steiner has said second-year driver Mick Shumacher must improve.
Schumacher has not scored a point and missed a race because of of a crash, and now Schumacher supporters are maintaining the Haas boss' open criticism of the young German is not helpful.
Meanwhile, at McLaren, the only thing that's clear is that Daniel Ricciardo must start running closer to the front.
Both team and driver agree they've got a contract through 2023, but boss Zak Brown admitted to “mechanisms" each side holds that could theoretically free McLaren from retaining the popular Australian next year.
Ricciardo finished eighth last week, one spot ahead of teammate Lando Norris, and has maintained his job is secure.
“My contracts clear with the team,” he said in Baku, “until the end of next year I’m fully committed. I’ve certainly voiced that. And it’s obviously now just on track to show it and show these moments and these races that I know I’m capable of.”
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