Six races down and six different winners. Montreal is traditionally the most exciting race of the season but is it possible that the Canadian Grand Prix will provide a seventh different winner to open the season?
The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve lies in the middle of theSt Lawrence Riverwhich was used for rowing events during the Montreal Olympics.
It is traditionally one of the most demanding tracks of the season with tyres, brakes and engines taking a pounding over the course of the weekend. With the high kerbs needing to be attacked at numerous points, such as the final corner, the challenge facing drivers in difficult but one that they all look forward to.
Caterham’s Heikki Kovalainen echoed the thoughts of everyone when he asked for his opinions on racing in Canada:
“Montreal is a very cool track,” said the Finn. “It’s a temporary street circuit with a couple of long straights and low downforce settings and that makes the cars pretty tricky in the faster corners and into the braking areas, but it’s a great track to race on. As with everywhere we race you have to find a good balance to get the best lap times, but you need a setup that means you can really attack the kerbs, particularly in the final corner as you head back to the start /finish line. You also need to make sure you have maximum speed down the back straight, so we’ll look closely at the gear ratios we use and balance seventh gear against the speeds we could be doing with DRS and KERS both engaged.”
There will only be one DRS zone this year, as opposed to the two last year, with the entry to the hairpin acting as the DRS detection zone, where driver have to be within one second of the car ahead. The overtaking zone will be 600m long on the way into the final chicane.
This area has been shortened from 650m last year following complaints that it made overtaking too easy. The run into the final chicane has however always allowed cars to get quite close to one another and even with a shortened DRS should allow for a lot of overtaking.
The Magnificent Seven?
If anyone is to become the seventh different winner the smart money has to be on Lewis Hamilton. The 2008 world champion has opened the current campaign in solid fashion with six points finishes but returning to the scene of his first F1 victory might be the spur he needs to claim a victory.
Hamiltonhas started from pole position at three of the last four Montreal races and with McLaren traditionally very strong in Canada he could be very well placed to challenge on Sunday.
The McLaren driver is fourth in the championship standings but having taken three podiums from the opening six races he knows that claiming a win is important to his title challenge. However having spent recent season mired in a spiral of costly errors it is unlikely that he will be willing to overstep the limit to claim the win.
After enduring a problematic title assault in recent seasons Hamilton knows that points win prizes and a failure to score points at races is far more costly than a failure to win races. The newfound maturity has played a crucial role in allowing Lewis to move on from difficult races this year and concentrate solely on the “endgame” of winning a second title.
The Finn has had a promising return to the sport and has looked very competitive at some races, Bahrain and Barcelona, but his refusal to take part in Thursday’s opening practice has cost him a lot of favour within his Lotus team.
Raikkonen refused to use an updated steering rack, he claimed that it lacked feeling and made the car undrivable. This cost him dry weather running in the Principality and played a key role in his inability to challenge for a decent haul of points in Monaco.
The Lotus team has been strong so far in 2012 but the former Renault team know that claiming a first win since 2008 is now crucial for their season.
Montreal has traditionally been a happy hunting ground for the Enstone based team with Fernando Alonso winning in 2006 and the squad enjoying a host of podium finishes at the Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve.
Romain Grosjean has had a mixed season thus far. The Frenchman’s pace has not been in doubt, a stunning second row start inAustraliaopened the season, but Monaco showed again the frailties of Grosjean.
Having shone throughout practice and qualifying his race was over after barely 100 yards having clattered with Michael Schumacher off the starting line. Mistakes like this, and his other early laps crashes, have made it perfectly clear that while he has the talent he still needs to mature.
Montreal however could offer him a good platform to showcase his ability. The slick and slippery track surface should play to his strengths, like Monaco did, and the Lotus is generally quite fast through the speed traps.
With Schumacher having claimed pole position in Monaco and showed the paddock that he still possess the one lap speed needed in qualifying Montreal could be a terrific opportunity for him.
The car should be strong and with Michael having claimed seven victories in Montreal it has been a very happy hunting ground for the German. His race pace has been impressive over the last two years but if he finally cracked the qualifying conundrum and can replicate his Monaco form elsewhere he is surely a threat for race wins.
“On the back of a successful weekend in Monaco which saw Michael qualify first on Saturday and Nico finish in second place on Sunday, everyone at the team wants to keep the momentum going and get the racing underway in Montreal next weekend,” commented Brawn.
Engineering challenges facing teams in Canada
Sauber Giampaolo Dall’Ara, the Swiss team’s head of Track Engineering, spoke about the challenges facing engineers this weekend as they search for a good balance between top speed on the straights while still giving a driver confidence under braking and through the corners.
“The Montreal track is narrow with walls that are very close in some places. It offers interesting challenges. The first one is to find the right level of aerodynamic efficiency, because the level of downforce and drag is lower than on most of the other tracks,” said the Italian. “The time spent on the straights requires maximising the speed, while the corners, with the exception of the hairpin, are low speed and feature changes of direction. Therefore the car needs to be well balanced under braking, needs good traction and must be reactive.
“The next interesting challenge is the fact Pirelli has decided to provide us with the soft and the super soft tyre compounds as they did in Monaco. We don’t expect any problems with the super soft tyre in qualifying, but then the more difficult part will be to find the right race strategy to get the maximum out of the tyres. What’s different to last year is that there will only be one DRS zone. However, I don’t expect this to make a big difference, because overtaking is normally possible on the Montreal track.”
From an engine perspective Montreal places a tremendous strain on the powerplants and Remi Taffin, Renault’s head F1 operations, clearly knows that his V8 will be firmly in under focus throughout proceedings:
“Canada is a completely different track to Monaco and also unique in itself,” said the Frenchman. “The long straights demand good top end power but the heavy braking zones of the hairpin and chicane need effective engine braking and good pick up on the exit, so it’s rightly called an ‘engine breaker’ because the engine doesn’t get any respite at all. The challenge is to find the right balance between delivering maximum performance and maintaining 100% reliability, just like at Spa and Monza where the risks have to justify the gains.”
Tactics in Canada
With the soft and supersoft tyres being used it will be crucial for teams to know that they can make stops and pit for fresher rubber with minimal time lost. This has played a key role in Canadian races in the past and it would not be surprising to see one or two teams take a strategic gamble on Sunday and make even four stops.
The majority however will run a three stop race and try and to avail of the numerous overtaking opportunities that present itself around Montreal. The first corner, hairpin and final chicane are the prime positions for overtaking and because there are so many opportunities teams might feel that having a faster car, and using an additional pitstop, might make it possible to win using the more aggressive strategy.
Formula 1 revolves around Pirelli tyres
Paul Henbery, Pirelli’s motorsport czar, is looking forward to the challenges of Canada where the same compounds as those used inMonacowill be raced again. The supersoft and soft compounds fared well in the previous race butMontrealshould be a more reflective indication of their performance characterisics according to Hembery:
“We go from Monaco to Canada: two of the most spectacular races of the year,” said the Englishman. “Not only is Montreal a fantastic place to hold a race, but it’s also a great circuit. The soft and supersoft tyres should be able to demonstrate more of their natural characteristics than they were able to inMonaco, where drivers are constrained by very low average speeds and not much energy going through the tyre. This enabled them to complete very long runs even on the supersoft, which should not be the case in Montreal where the tyres have more work to do.
“Tyres have traditionally played a very important role in this race, especially if it rains. We saw how being on the right tyre at the right time enabled Jenson Button to win the Canadian Grand Prix last year even after six visits to the pit lane. That race was far from typical though, so we’ve not yet had experience of running the supersoft in Canada under normal conditions. The practice sessions will be vital for the teams to understand how exactly it works on full tanks in particular. We think we will see several different strategies at work, with teams likely to split their strategies in order to cover every possibility.”
Weather for this weekend
Last year’s race inMontreallasted six hours are a lengthy red flag meant that Jenson Button had to wait until the evening to claim a superb victory.
The weather looks set to play a key role in the outcome of this weekend’s race once again. Showers are expected on Friday and Saturday and while these are expected to clear on Sunday. According to local forecasts however rain is unlikely to affect the race on Sunday.