Last year the Canadian Grand Prix opened up the championship battle – runaway leader Fernando Alonso failed to score and his closest rival Kimi Raikkonen claimed maximum points. What Michael Schumacher would give to do the same to reduce Alonso’s advantage this weekend.
Following the Indianapolis 2005 debacle, all eyes are on the F1 circus during the next two North American rounds to produce some truly world-class racing and secure its place in the United States. And they haven’t got the scintillating GP2 series to help themâ€¦
The European Grand Prix, when Schumacher scored his last win, already seems a long time ago. Alonso responded to Schumacher’s devastating pair of wins in the best way possible, with three victories on the trot. The emphatic manner of his Silverstone triumph – the Spaniard’s first ‘triple’ of a win from pole with fastest lap – will have added to Schumacher’s pain.
The Canadian Grand Prix is followed immediately by the United States Grand Prix the next weekend, and together they bridge the halfway point of the season. Whatever happens, Alonso will still be the championship leader in two races’ time. But Schumacher can be hopeful of inflicting damage on Alonso’s lead over the next two races.
Both the Montreal and Indianapolis tracks reward straight-line speed. And that has been Ferrari’s greatest strength at every race this season. Schumacher won at Montreal in 2003 in a wounded car, thanks to its high straight-line speed. A repeat is definitely on the cards for this year.
The same can probably not be said for McLaren – data from other teams suggest the Mercedes engine is the Achilles heel once again.
One development since Silverstone that could shake up the field is the FIA’s belated decision to legislate against ‘flexi-wings’. Ferrari, McLaren and BMW were among the teams believed to be benefiting from wings which deform at speed and fall outside the ‘spirit’ of the rules. The stewards will be checking for the presence of ‘separators’ to prevent the slot gaps between the wings from closing under pressure at speed.
Who this will affect most is hard to predict. Ferrari’s wings were the subject of intense speculation early in the season. And BMW’s conspicuous step forward in performance at Silverstone raised some eyebrows – but that too could have been down to superior engine performance.
Certainly drivers who have to do both Canada and the United States with the same engine – under the ‘two-race’ rule – could be at a disadvantage. This includes Alonso and the ever-luckless Jenson Button, but not Giancarlo Fisichella, Michael Schumacher, or Raikkonen.
Honda’s hellish season continued at Silverstone with neither driver scoring points – they are now fighting a rearguard action against BMW in the constructors’ championship. The battle between these two, Williams and Toyota forms the ‘best of the rest’ behind Renault, Ferrari and McLaren, and they can only hope to score big points if the leaders run into trouble.
At BMW, Jacques Villeneuve is facing the sad prospect of starting what may be his last ever home Grand Prix. His body language throughout the weekend may give strong hints as to how well negotiations for next year are going.
Although the top drivers are in stalemate regarding the driver market for 2006, further down drivers like Vitantonio Liuzzi are staking their claims for next year. Liuzzi has comprehensively had the upper hand on team mate Scott Speed this year – Speed will have to start a fight back here and at his home race a week later if he is to stand a chance of taking Christian Klien’s Red Bull in 2007.
The Montreal circuit has a habit of throwing up surprising results and unconventional races. Its semi-permanent nature and the proximity of walls to the circuit punish even slight errors – as Alonso discovered to his cost last year.
In the middle of what has been, on balance, an unspectacular season, a surprise result and a dramatic race would be more than welcome.