Marvellous Montreal plays host to the Canadian Grand Prix this week. Can Sebastian Vettel extend his title lead or will Lewis Hamilton bounce back?
It’s all about the speed … and brakes
It’s tough to follow the glitz and glamour of Monaco on the Formula 1 calendar. But, in its own way, Montreal offers a unique atmosphere and an unparalleled driving challenge.
The Canadian Grand Prix will be celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and the crowds are expected to be as large as ever. Highly knowledgeable, the spectators get close to the action particularly in the grandstands on Turns 1 and 2 where the cars approach the left-hand Turn 1 and the 180 degree right-hand Turn 2 at high speed and jostle for track position ahead of the flat-out run to Turn 3.
And this is why the drivers love the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and the spectators turn out in huge numbers each year – fast straights, heavy braking, and plenty of overtaking opportunities.
It’s technically challenging because the long straights mixed with hard braking make getting the optimal car set-up difficult. It’s also the first truly high-speed race of the season with the cars exceeding 300km/h (186mph) on four occasions while simultaneously being one of the toughest tracks of the year on the brakes with seven braking zones.
“The race will be tough on brakes, tough on engines and tough on the drivers, and with the potential of Safety Cars in the mix, there’s a lot to think about in terms of strategy and set-up this weekend,” explains McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne.
Mercedes Expect Tricky Race’
The welcome return of genuinely competitive racing this season has undoubtedly hurt Mercedes who now find themselves in the unfamiliar position of playing catch-up to a rampant Ferrari.
That Ferrari claimed the top two podium positions in Monaco while Mercedes struggled to get Bottas home in fourth and Hamilton in seventh – the first time in 22 races the team failed to make the podium – underlines just how much the Scuderia have taken a leap forward in their car development.
For the first time in many seasons Mercedes is now looking for ways to bridge the gap on their rivals.
“Everybody at the factories is working absolutely flat out to assess the current difficulties we are facing – to define our objectives, work with the data we have and then come up with the right solutions,” said team boss Toto Wolff.
“Some of these fixes will be short term, others may take longer. We’ve had bruising weekends before and it’s about showing resilience and getting up after falling.”
“It’s painful, but we are not the favorites for this year’s championship. At the moment it’s Ferrari. They have a very strong package and we need to rise to the challenge to prove once again that we are the team to beat.”
Lewis Hamilton has won the last two Canadian Grand Prix but Wolff is adamant that the Englishman will not get special treatment to aid his bid to win the championship.
“We have two excellent drivers and we will hold true to our philosophy of letting them race each other to drive the team forward – even if sometimes it can be difficult because you can’t always have the one who is ahead in the championship winning.”
Others Expecting Tough Race
The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is a power limited track so the emphasis is more on speed and braking, and less on downforce. This will suit Ferrari and Mercedes but will put pressure on Red Bull who have tended to do better on high downforce tracks like Monaco and Barcelona.
“I think we are certainly understanding the car better, we are developing the car better, we are getting performance on the car and that has worked to good effect,” said Red Bull’s Team Principal Christian Horner.
“I am a little worried about Canada and Baku, because they are completely different challenges.”
“So the next three circuits for us are really tough – Canada/Baku/Austria – they are going to be our biggest challenge of the calendar apart from Monza.”
This sentiment is also shared at McLaren where Honda are not playing up their chances of a strong showing.
“Despite the beautiful nature of the Gilles Villeneuve Circuit, this power-hungry, demanding track will not play to our strengths. With its power-oriented nature, stop and start corners, abrasive surface and long straights, it will no doubt be another challenging race weekend for us,” said Yusuke Hasegawa
Renault are also saying that they “certainly don’t expect an easy race” so the Canadian Grand Prix may well throw up a tight fight between Ferrari and Mercedes and an intriguing battle to be the best of the rest.