Venue: Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal
Circuit Length: 4.361 Km
Lap Record: 1:13.622 = 213.246 km/h - Rubens Barrichello (Ferrari) 2004
What can you do in four hours and five minutes or so? If you’re Jenson Button you can win the longest race in Formula 1 history. It happened two years ago when Montreal’s notoriously fickle weather saw the race red-flagged after 24 laps; there was an interminable delay while it cleared, then the race was re-started for the remaining 46 laps. To be precise, 4h 4m 39.537s was how long it took Button to win for the third time as a McLaren driver. “Coming through from last to first really does show that anything’s possible in Formula 1,” he says – but don’t expect another McLaren miracle this time.
Named after one of F1’s most popular figures, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is almost as challenging as the last venue, Monaco. Like Melbourne, it’s a semi-street circuit where the barriers can appear intimidatingly close, nowhere more so than in the final chicane with its infamous ‘Wall of Champions’. There are 14 changes of direction, let’s say, rather than clearly-defined corners: Montreal is a set of straights joined by chicanes and a hairpin at either end. “It’s a race that can reward a fighter because it’s often so unpredictable,” says McLaren’s Sergio Pérez.
Q 1: In which year did Gilles Villeneuve win on the track named after him? Answer below.
Montreal brings the fiercest challenge of the year for F1 braking systems. There are seven ‘braking events’, to use modern jargon, six of them requiring the cars to slow from over 250 km/h. About 13% of the lap is spent on the brakes, with no fast, sweeping corners to speak of, and it remains pretty bumpy, especially on the way into Turns 8 and 10. To quote Martin Whitmarsh, CEO of nine-time Montreal winners McLaren: “It’s a showcase for F1 at its best – the track has a natural flow that encourages bold driving, but which punishes mistakes with narrow run-offs and uncompromising concrete walls. The track surface is abrasive and relatively gripless, and the long back straight is perfect for lengthy slipstreaming battles and overtaking.”
Nico Rosberg is the most obvious answer to that question. Three poles in a row, his second victory in commanding style at Monaco – the German, soon to turn 28, can do no wrong right now, as his gunfighter swagger showed when he got out of the cockpit at the end of the Monaco race. His best result in Canada is sixth in 2010 and 2012, mind you, so he will be looking to correct that record this weekend. And the downside is that his Mercedes team is being hauled before an FIA International Tribunal to explain its ‘secret’ tyre test after the Barcelona race, so we’ll be keeping a close watch on that situation.
Also on the up-and-up are Force India, fresh from a double points finish of their own in Monte Carlo. “The race in Monaco showed the sheer class of our two drivers,” says VJ Mallya, “and probably helped silence some critics of the team. I think we are now knocking on the door of our first podium finish since 2009, and it’s time to do that all-important step.” The team has made steady progress since its debut season under these colours in 2008, when it failed to score a point. Since then it’s been ninth, seventh, sixth and seventh, with 109 points in all last year. There are 44 on the board already this season from less than a third of the races – and this one will be the 100th for Force India.
Q 2: Who took that first podium for Force India, and where? Answer below.
Pirelli’s ears will certainly be hot as people in F1 seem to be talking of nothing else these days. Now the Italian company is bringing ‘experimental’ medium tyres with a new rear construction to Canada for each driver to try out in the two Friday free practice sessions. Depending on the reactions, they will be introduced from the British round onwards. Otherwise Canada will see the teams use the P Zero White (medium) as the Prime and the P Zero Red (super soft) as the Option this weekend.
Strangely enough, it’s early pacemakers Lotus – remember how Kimi won in Melbourne? – who are under the microscope at the moment. Raïkkönen slumped to 10th in Monaco, not helped by the attentions of S. Pérez, and is now 21 points adrift of leader Vettel, but he has a previous Montreal victory on his record (for McLaren in 2005) and he likes the place. “No-one wants to lose so many points thanks to the actions of another driver, but that race is over; Monaco is just a distant memory and I’m all ready for Canada,” the Finn insists. “Like at every circuit you need to get the set-up exactly right. You need a well-balanced chassis in the medium downforce configuration and you don’t want to be too hard on brakes as there’s a lot of aggressive braking there. It’s something I quite enjoy, the stop and go style of the circuit.”
Teammate Romain Grosjean comes to Montreal under a real cloud following multiple pile-ups in Monaco, not least the one that eliminated Dan Ricciardo. He was second here last year, but team boss Eric Boullier will be looking for signs of a lesson learned – again – by his French driver and the team as a whole. “As long as Monaco was just a minor blip – and there’s nothing to suggest that it wasn’t – there’s no evidence to suggest we can’t return to consistently strong performances and be back in the reckoning for big points,” says Boullier. “One bad race in nineteen doesn’t define your Championship; we just need to ensure that we don’t have another weekend like Monaco.”
Felipe Massa will have a new chassis after wrecking his ‘old’ Ferrari in two monumental shunts in Monaco. According to the team it wasn’t the driver who went cold, at least not in the race: they say a suspension issue showed up when he went into the Ste. Dévote barriers for the second time in as many days but Stefano Domenicali insists it was “an isolated incident”.
Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing); 1:13.784 = 212.777 km/h
1st: Lewis Hamilton (Vodafone McLaren Mercedes) 1:32.29.586
2nd: Romain Grosjean (Lotus F1 Team), gap 2.513s
3rd: Sergio Perez (Sauber F1 Team), gap 5.260s
Fastest Lap: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing); 1:15.752 = 207.249 km/h on Lap 70
Webber / Ricciardo Watch
Mark says in his preview remarks that he’s never been on the Montreal podium – but he has! He was third in 2011, the infamous ‘long race’. He’s been on the front row just once in 10 visits. Last year was Dan Ricciardo’s first Canadian GP: he qualified 14th and that’s where he brought the Toro Rosso home.
A 1: it was the first year they raced on the island in the St Lawrence, 1978, and of course he did it in a Ferrari
A 2: Giancarlo Fisichella finished second in the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix.