1:13.622 = 213.246 km/h - R. Barrichello (Ferrari) 2004
Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault); 1:13.014 = 215.021 km/h
Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes) 4:04.39.537
Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault), 2.709s behind
Mark Webber (Red Bull Renault) 13.828s behind
Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes); 1:16.956 = 204.007 km/h on Lap 69
MONTREAL’S CIRCUIT GILLES VILLENEUVE: ‘A VERY COOL TRACK’
The first point to remember this time round is that 2012 marks the 30th anniversary of the great Gilles Villeneuve’s death. The circuit is named after the six-time Grand Prix winner, the first of whose victories came right here on its introduction to the calendar in 1978. Gilles, perhaps the most-loved driver in F1 history, died in qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder on May 8, 1982.
The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve may well be the hardest test of all for an F1 car’s brakes; while it is technically a street circuit it has four decent straights where speeds reach around 300 km/h, each followed by a tight corner or chicane. Not only that, its kerbs are notorious too, the drivers using them to slingshot the cars out of corners, while the low grip means the tyres slide and tyre wear is high. Pirelli will once again offer their Soft and Supersoft combination, as in Monaco, but…
“… the contrasts between Monaco and Montreal couldn’t be greater,” says Lewis Hamilton, whose first Grand Prix victory was here in 2007. “Although they’re both races that take place in the middle of a city,” adds the McLaren star, “the circuits are very different and each has its own unique personality.” Montreal’s has a lot to do with the warm welcome the French-Canadian metropolis gives F1, which is one of the reasons why Caterham’s Heikki Kovalainen calls this “a very cool track”.
There’s just one DRS zone this year, on the long straight before the final chicane, with that and Turn 10 – the hairpin – offering the best chances to overtake. Average lap speed will nudge the 200 km/h mark. It’s also got the famous (infamous?) ‘Wall of Champions’, on the drivers’ right out of that final right-left flick, where some of the sport’s greatest names have come to grief.
It’s easy to focus on the front-runners and forget the guys who toil around at the back, rarely scrapping for points but still giving everything they’ve got. Among the unsung heroes, HRT have especially fond memories of Montreal as it was here they recorded their best finish so far in F1. It may only have been 13th for Tonio Liuzzi last year, but it meant a great deal – and the little Spanish outfit comes to Montreal off its best result of 2012, 15th for Narain Karthikeyan in Monaco. “Our weakest point is quick corners – and there aren’t many here!” says team principal Luis-Pérez-Sala.
One team keen to get back to front-running will be Lotus, whose Monaco weekend was undistinguished, to say the least. Rumour has it that Kimi Raikkonen is not endearing himself to those other unsung heroes of motor racing, the guys who actually prepare the cars – he asked for a new steering-system for Monaco then rejected it after a single lap. Teammate Romain Grosjean, meanwhile, has to break the habit of getting caught up in start-line incidents, as he did again in Monaco. “After a difficult day like that you want to jump straight back into the cart and have a proper race,” says the Frenchman, for whom this will be his Montreal debut.
Regular front-runners who have never crossed the Canadian line in front are Red Bull. The double World Champions of the last two years have managed just three podiums in their six previous visits. That doesn’t mean they don’t like the place. “I would say Montreal is one of the top five Grands Prix of the year,” says Mark Webber, “because it’s a sensational atmosphere. It’s a really, really good venue and always produces an interesting Grand Prix, for whatever reason.”
It certainly did last year: Jenson Button came from last to first to win the longest Grand Prix in World Championship history, a rain-interrupted, rain-delayed 4-hour 4-minute marathon in which the Safety Car was the leader for long spells. “It’s the perfect place to go racing,” insists the McLaren ace, who last year made six visits to the pits, one of them a drive-through penalty, en route to his most extraordinary Grand Prix success so far.
After Monaco Fernando Alonso leads the title race by just three points from Red Bull partners Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, but the Spaniard will be aware that his Ferrari team hasn’t won here since 2004. That was Michael Schumacher’s seventh victory in Montreal, by the way. Only four other men – our own Alan Jones, Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna and Lewis Hamilton – have won more than once on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
A warm welcome, did we say? Usually – but watch out for some possible disruptions this year as students in dispute with the Quebec government use the high-profile presence of a Formula 1 race to publicise their grievances…