Formula 1 returns to Montréal: Canadian Grand Prix preview

By Gareth Llewellyn

(Photo: PH-Stop)

Formula 1 returns to Montréal for the first time since 2008 this weekend with many questions still to be answered in the race for the championship title.

Turkey showed that competition in F1 is very much alive and well with inter-team battles, first between Red Bull drivers Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, then Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton.

Webber leads the drivers’ championship, but McLaren are just one point ahead of Red Bull in the constructors’ championship following the Red Bull collision in Istanbul.

The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, named after the Canadian McLaren and Ferrari driver, is a popular destination on the F1 calendar with both the drivers and fans.

The 2005 race was the most-watched F1 Grand Prix in the world, and third most-watched sporting event behind the Super Bowl XXXIX and the famous Champions League Final between Liverpool and AC Milan.

Of the current grid, four drivers have tasted success in Montréal—Renault’s Robert Kubica won last time out in 2008, Hamilton won in 2007, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso won for Renault in 2006 as he defended his title, while Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher won the race a record seven times for Ferrari in 1997 and 1998, and from 2001 to 2004.

Thanks largely to Schumacher’s wins, Ferrari are the most successful constructor at the circuit with 10 victories, followed by Williams with seven, and McLaren with six.

BMW won the 2008 race, blighted by problems with the track breaking up in turn 10, with Kubica leading team mate Nick Heidfeld to a 1-2. Pole-sitter Hamilton crashed into the back of Kimi Räikkönen, and was then shunted by Nico Rosberg in a dramatic incident at the end of the pit lane on lap 19.

Both Hamilton and Räikkönen retired, while Rosberg was able to replace his front wing and continue once the pit lane had reopened. With Heikki Kovalainen finishing ninth, it was the first time since the 2006 US Grand Prix that no McLaren driver had finished in the points.

The Montréal circuit is a temporary street circuit featuring fast straights with tight corners, making it hard on both engines and brakes—something teams could struggle to manage this year as they carry a full tank of fuel from the start. Factor in old-school limited run-off areas compared to the modern Tilkedromes and you know that we should be set for several incidents across qualifying and the race.

The race should favour Mercedes-powered McLaren with an advantage down the straights over Red Bull’s Renault engine, but the Red Bull will be better riding the bumpy surface, and is aerodynamically the better car.

McLaren have an advantage with their F-duct, an innovation that is unlikely to feature on the Red Bull until Valencia, and also have the momentum after a one-two in Turkey.

With Red Bull having a lot to prove to fans after the problems in Turkey, they could push too hard and lose it. Montréal is a punishing venue for any driver not 100% for every second of the lap.

Behind the battle at the front, Mercedes have shown good form of late and Schumacher’s experience will help his team push Ferrari.

Again, they have the extra power down the straights which could make the difference. Renault and Force India should battle it out to round out the top 10.

As well as reliability on engines and tyres, the drivers could be a problem with several rookies visiting Montréal for the very first time. Indeed, for some, the first practice session will be the first time they have even had a chance to drive a lap of the circuit.

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