F1’s return to Montreal was cheered by fans when it was announced last November.
Following an exciting race in Istanbul, and with the championship battle finely poised between McLaren and Red Bull, the stage is set for one of Montreal’s typically unpredictable races.
The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is brilliant in its simplicity: long straights, tight corners, and minimal run-off which ensures drivers can’t get away with mistakes. It’s a recipe for incident-packed races.
While Red Bull have largely held the upper hand on performance over the first seven races of the year, McLaren enjoyed a surge in form at Istanbul.
This weekend, as team principal Martin Whitmarsh admits, many will consider them the team to beat. This track should play to the MP4/25’s strengths and exaggerate the RB6’s weaknesses at the same time.
Good straight line speed is vital – and with an efficient F-duct and the powerful Mercedes engine McLaren’s car has frequently been among the fastest in a straight line this year. Red Bull are yet to use their version of the F-duct in a race and believe their Renault engine is 20-30hp down on the Mercedes.
The RB6’s strongest suit – the phenomenal speeds it can sustain through fast corners – is far less of an advantage at a circuit which has mainly slow chicanes and hairpins.
All of which leads you to wonder – could this be the first race the year where something other than an RB6 starts on pole position?
Lewis Hamilton has started from pole on both his previous visits to the Montreal circuit, scored his first ever win here in 2007 and looked set to claim another before his notorious pit gaffe two years ago. He goes into the weekend on the back of his first win of the season knowing another win would get him ahead of his team mate in the championship. Could he be the man to do it?
In the race, another of the RB6’s weaknesses will be severely tested – reliability. The is the hardest track of the year for brakes, even tougher than Bahrain and Singapore. We’ve already seen Red Bull suffer brake problems once this year, costing Sebastian Vettel points in Spain.
The question of team mates
Expect the situation between the team mates at McLaren and Red Bull to be closely scrutinised this weekend following the fall-out from the Turkish Grand Prix.
Whatever your interpretation of the Red Bull collision and swapping of positions between the McLaren drivers, it’s clear that there was more going on between the drivers and their teams over the radios than we knew about while watching the race.
And it’s possible we could see a rerun of events from Istanbul if the Red Bulls start the race in front of the McLarens, with the latter’s superior race pace allowing them to put their rivals under pressure.
Istanbul also exposed the question of fuel consumption – how far teams can under-fuel their cars so they can be quicker in the early stages of the race, then lean out their engines towards the end of the race to ensure they don’t run out of petrol.
According to Williams, cars use the same amount of fuel at Montreal (2.37kg per 5km) as at Istanbul, which costs them the same amount of time (0.06s per lap).
How much fuel to put in the car is therefore a question of compromise – one that could leave a team vulnerable at the beginning or end of a race, depending on how they call it.
Will the track hold up?
F1’s last two race at Montreal were affected by the tracking breaking up. The problem was worst in 2008 when the surface became badly damaged in several places during qualifying.
Will we see a repeat of those problems this year? The track has been resurfaced since then but the problems caused by Montreal’s fiercely cold winters remains.
F1 cars will give even greater punishment to the track this year than they did two years ago. Slick tyres mean they have more rubber in contact with the track, the minimum weight limit has been increased and the cars will be carrying full tanks of fuel from the start of the race. The cars are producing at least as much downforce as they were two years ago.
And there are four more cars in this year’s race than there were in 2008, putting yet more pressure on the track. This new surface better be up to it.
The extra cars may also give the leaders a headache when it comes to lapping traffic. At 4.3km, Montreal is the second-shortest track F1 has visited this year.
Read more: Montreal track re-surfaced after break-up
Drivers to watch
Four drivers to keep an eye on this weekend. Name your top picks in the comments.
Jenson Button – Since his last win in Shanghai, Button has faced a resurgent Hamilton in the other McLaren. There isn’t much to choose between them on raw pace but Hamilton has out-qualified him in the last three races and his uncompromising pass on Button at Istanbul cemented an impression that he holds the upper hand at McLaren right now.
Rubens Barrichello – How well will the Cosworths perform at this power track? Looks for Barrichello to provide a clue as the likely high water mark for the Cosworth-powered teams this weekend.
Vitantonio Liuzzi – The pressure on Liuzzi is telling as he’s switching back to an earlier chassis this weekend in a bid to solve his problems with the VJM03. Was a second slower than Adrian Sutil in qualifying at Istanbul – can he finally start to turn his season around this weekend?
Sebastien Buemi – Has developed a bad habit of getting involved in first lap scrapes which he needs to kick to avoid being eclipsed by his team mate.
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