• Canadian Grand Prix preview

More to come in Montreal

ESPN Staff
June 7, 2012
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Two years ago the 2010 Canadian Grand Prix offered an insight into what Formula One could be like. The refueling ban at the start of the 2010 season had made race strategy fairly simple (one stop from softs to hards when the performance of the two tyres crossed over) but in Canada the surface of the circuit meant teams and drivers had to deal with higher levels of degradation. The result was a thrilling race won by Lewis Hamilton, and when Pirelli took over the reins as tyre supplier the following winter it was specifically asked to create tyres that reacted in the same way at every venue. Pirelli obliged, but one and a half years later it seems as though some fans have tired of unpredictable and exciting racing and want to return to the simple one-stop precessions of the past. If you are among their number it might be wise to turn your attention away from Montreal this weekend as the Canadian Grand Prix - complete with overtaking opportunities, a slippery surface and unpredictable weather - promises to be one of the most exciting races of the season.

On form

Nico Rosberg has scored more points than anyone else over the past four races, capitalising on the performance of the Mercedes when the car's set-up has been bang on in China and Monaco, but also scoring solid points when the car has not looked as competitive. He is currently fifth in the drivers' championship, 25 points off Fernando Alonso at the top, but has the potential to close that gap over the coming races as Mercedes builds on its recent successful updates.

Out of form

After a promising start to the season, Jenson Button has struggled for form recently. He has scored just two points at the last three races, has failed to make Q3 at his last two attempts, but most worrying of all, does not appear to know why. Set-up options that were working at the start of the year no longer have the same effect and he is struggling to get sufficient temperature in his tyres. Last year Canada was the scene of one of his greatest victories, but he'll need to find a big step forward if he's hoping for a repeat this year.

One to watch

Michael Schumacher had a strong race in Canada last year © Sutton Images
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With questions over his future surfacing again, Michael Schumacher's pole position lap in Monaco was a timely reminder that he still has what it takes to compete at the front in Formula One. The Mercedes should suit the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve this weekend and Schumacher has a good track record in Montreal, with seven victories and six pole positions. He desperately needs points and is in a car that should be capable of scoring a podium this weekend or possibly a win.

Talking points

Red Bull's floor An FIA technical directive last weekend made clear that the controversial holes in the floor of the Red Bull do not comply with the governing body's interpretation of the regulations. Red Bull had been running the holes since the Bahrain Grand Prix, passing scrutineering without trouble at each event, but in Monaco its rivals questioned their legality. McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes stopped short of issuing a protest, but made clear that a clarification was necessary before Canada. Red Bull has played down the importance of the holes, and their advantage is believed to be measured in hundredths of a second rather than multiple tenths. Nevertheless, on the current grid every little helps.

Protests A student group recently announced its intention to disrupt major events held in Montreal in order to protest the Quebec government's decision to raise university tuition fees. The conflict is entering its fifth month and is currently at an impasse with the Canadian Grand Prix being named as the next target. Thursday's usual pit lane walk for fans has been cancelled and there are threats of disruption to the subway system that serves the track. Whether the threats will be followed through remains to be seen, but the organisers have already been hit by a decline in ticket sales.

The driver market F1's "silly season" is in full swing with rumours of drivers moving teams being leaked and denied at each race. The keys to the driver market are McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes' Michael Schumacher, Red Bull's Mark Webber and Ferrari's Felipe Massa, who are all out of contract at their respective teams at the end of the year. If any one of them leaves their team - either by being pushed or by jumping - it will open up a seat in one of the fastest cars on the grid and would inevitably result in a long queue of prospective drivers at the motorhome door. Hamilton's stock is the highest of the four, but whether he wants to leave McLaren is almost as tricky a decision as where he would go if he did. Meanwhile, Schumacher must decide if he wants to continue in F1, although Mercedes insists there is no rush for him to make a decision. Once those two make their intentions clear the pieces of the puzzle should start to fall into place, but don't hold your breath.

Power is important on Montreal's long straights © Sutton Images
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Straight-line speed Most teams will bring Montreal-specific upgrades to their cars this weekend aimed at minimising drag and maximising top speed on the long straights of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Mercedes' double DRS should provide a big advantage in qualifying, but in the race will be limited to the straight between the hairpin and the final chicane as only one DRS zone will be used this year. It's also a track that rewards powerful engines and Mercedes-powered cars have won three of the last five races on the circuit.

Fast facts

  • The lap record at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is 1:13.622, set by Rubens Barrichello in 2004
  • Only three of the last ten Canadian Grand Prix have been won from pole
  • A safety car has featured at least once at the last four Canadian Grand Prix
  • 67% of the lap is taken at full throttle and most of that is at high revs, putting extra strain on the engine

Trivia

  • The circuit is located on an artificial island, Ile Notre-Dame, which was built in less than 10 months from 15 million tons of rock to host the 1967 World's Fair
  • The circuit used to be called the Circuit Ile Notre-Dame after the island it is built on, but was renamed in 1982 following Gilles Villeneuve's death at Zolder that year
  • The wall on the outside of the final chicane is known as the 'Wall of Champions' after former world champions Damon Hill, Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve all retired after crashing into it during the 1999 race
  • There have been 16 safety car periods in the last ten years of the race, with just three grands prix in the same period going uninterrupted.

Circuit

The circuit is loved by the F1 fraternity, partly because of the great city in which it is set, but mainly because of the exciting racing it so often produces. A lack of run-off areas means even the slightest mistake is punished and safety cars are common to allow marshals to clear debris. Overtaking is possible and will most likely happen into the final corner, or failing that, into turn one. Turn ten is the heaviest braking zone as cars decelerate from 295kph to 60kph in just 140m and brake wear is always a factor, with teams sacrificing about 0.2s per lap in performance by running larger brake ducts to help cooling.

FIA driver steward

Ex-Lotus driver Martin Donnelly will be the driver steward this weekend, his second appearance on the panel after he oversaw last year's Korean Grand Prix. His own F1 career lasted just two years after a horrendous accident at Jerez in 1990 cut his career short.

© Sutton Images
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Weather

Thunderstorms are expected on Friday and could play havoc with the team's setup time if they result in wet running during FP1 and FP2. The rest of the weekend is expected to be dry but cloud cover could see fluctuations in track temperature which will provide another headache for teams trying to balance their setup between qualifying performance and race pace. Rain cannot be completely ruled out on Sunday with the chance of precipitation at 20%.

Betting

Despite three disappointing results at the last three races, Lewis Hamilton is the bookies' favourite for victory in Canada with odds of 7/2. Championship leader Fernando Alonso is 9/2 while Sebastian Vettel is 6/1. Monaco race winner Mark Webber has tempting odds at 9/1, while either of the Mercedes duo could be worth a punt with Nico Rosberg at 7/1 and Michael Schumacher at 9/1. Another tempting bet is Felipe Massa at 10/1 for a podium finish, although it would be his first top three result since the 2010 Korean Grand Prix. If that doesn't tempt you, how about Kimi Raikkonen at 10/1 to set the fastest lap?

ESPN prediction

Nico Rosberg has been a consistent performer over the last four races and updates to the Mercedes in Monaco are likely to mean he's on the pace again this weekend. He will also have the advantage of the W03's double DRS in qualifying, not to mention the power of the Mercedes engine on the straights.
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