Circuit Profile: 2013 – Canada, Montreal, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve – Round 7

By Track Profile Specialists: Alistair Hunter

2013 Formula One Grand Prix du Canada Round 7

Canada Circuit Gilles Villeneuve Montreal © ScoopWeb

During the 60s, the Canadian Grand Prix alternated between two circuits, Mosport Park one year and Mont-Tremblant the other. However, by 1970 Mont-Tremblant was considered too dangerous and the Canadian Grand Prix moved to Mosport Park.

Mont-Tremblant Circuit © Open Wheel RacingIn 1977, the French Canadians, motivated by the incredible success of Gilles Villeneuve, decided it was time to built a new race track. As time and money was against them, building a new circuit simply wasn’t feasible. This lead them to come up with a simple, yet effective solution … take Ile Notre-Dame, an island created from the rock excavated to create the Metro system, located in the St. Lawrence River that flows through the city of Montreal, connect all the island’s roads, and make a circuit.

The island had been the home of the 1967 World Fair (Expo’67) and was full of futuristic looking buildings, the most notable of which still exists today as a casino, one of the main attractions in the area. After being used as a rowing and canoeing basin for the 1976 Olympics, the setting and the potential circuit would create, everyone agreed, a perfect venue for a Grand Prix.

After $2m was spent on upgrading the circuit to Formula One standards, it was the venue for the first race in October 1978. Following the death of Gilles Villeneuve, in 1982, the track was renamed in his honour.

The Canadian Grand Prix that took place for 30 years at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve was dropped from the 2009 Formula One calendar and replaced with the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. On November 27, 2009, Quebec’s officials and Canadian Grand Prix organisers announced a settlement with Formula One Administration and signed a new five-year contract spanning the 2010–2014 seasons.

If it will continue beyond this date is not clear yet, as negotiations are still ongoing, with reports suggesting that the Federal Government of Ottawa is refusing to increase its contribution to holding an annual event. However, it has been proved in the past that the event is worth 100 million dollars to the Montreal economy and that not holding the race in 2009 saw some companies struggle, so there will certainly be some voices in favour of racing at what has become Formula One’s established foothold in North America.

In 2004 Rubens Barichello, driving his Ferrari 2004, set the lap record at 1:13.622, while in 2011 the Canadian Grand Prix became the record holder for the longest World Championship Grand Prix as well as having the lowest average speed (74.844 km/h or 46.506 mph) and highest number of safety cars deployed (6), due to a delay caused by rain, eventually ending in a fantastic victory for Jenson Button.

Circuit Characteristics
The Gilles Villeneuve circuit in Montreal is an interesting circuit, with a mixture of long, fast straights and slow corners. Minimum speed around the circuit is 65kph, with a maximum of 318kph reached on the Casino straight just before the Wall of Champions and the pit straight – average cornering speed is 106kph, and last year the winner, Lewis Hamilton, won the race averaging 207kph.

Circuit Gilles Villeneuve © FIA

The circuit is 4.361km long and has 14 corners, prompting a Formula 1 driver to make 56 gear changes per lap, which means 3920 gear shifts per race event. Over the course of the full race distance (305.270km – 70 laps) the driver will also change direction more than 910 times!

Due to the high speeds and slow corners, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is known to be very hard on the brakes, with drivers spending around 15 seconds of the total lap time braking, corresponding to 20% of the lap, spent on the brakes. The biggest single braking-event comes at Turn ten, a tight, first-gear, right-hand hairpin, where the cars must slow from 295 kph to just 60 kph for the apex of the corner. This means the cars lose approximately 235kph in just 140m. When maximum braking is applied, the peak forces are around 5.5G.

Comparing this to the time a driver is on full throttle, 59%, puts this into perspective. The long straights of the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve demand an efficient low-downforce aero package and a strong engine that’s high on top end horsepower, whereas the slow hairpins and tight corners require stability under braking and good traction throughout the turns.

One of the points on the circuit that drivers continue to adore and despise in equal measure is the infamous Wall of Champions, which has caught out several of their predecessors. The final corner saw Damon Hill, Michael Schumacher, Jacques Villeneuve and Ricardo Zonta crash out in 1999, and since then it has has a reputation for catching drivers out in the event that they make a little error while attempting to drive the perfect lap. Sebastian Vettel, Jenson Button, and Juan Pablo Montoya were some of the more notable casualties of the wall in recent years.

A lap with Mark Webber

Pirelli and the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
Pirelli will bring the P Zero White medium and P Zero Red supersoft tyres to Montreal, both of which are tyres with a low working range, which makes them perfectly matched to the likely weather conditions at the semi-permanent Canadian track. Temperatures usually are quite cool, and there have been a number of wet races in the past, which means that the Cinturato Green intermediates and Cinturato Blue wet tyres might also make an appearance.

In addition, Pirelli will also bring two sets per car of a prototype medium tyre, which features a revised rear construction likely to be used for the rest of the season, for use on Friday only.

Paul HemberyPaul Hembery: “Canada is always one of the most unpredictable races of the year and this is partly because it is so challenging for tyres, mostly due to the heavy braking and traction demands of the circuit. Coupled with a high degree of track evolution over the weekend, effective tyre management has always been a key to success in Montreal, right from when the circuit was inaugurated in the late 1970s.

We’d expect two to three pit stops per car, but we’ll only be able to make a precise forecast after Friday once we’ve seen some running out on track. It’s a circuit where weather conditions often play a key role: our very first Canadian Grand Prix in 2011 actually turned out to be the longest race in Formula One history because of heavy rain and a subsequent race stoppage. Last year was dry, but we witnessed a new record with the seventh winner from seven races.

Because of the high degree of tyre wear and degradation, we would expect to see a number of different strategies at work, as was the case last year – with teams deciding whether to go for a ‘sprint’ strategy or to do fewer stops and put the accent on endurance. Last year the ‘sprint’ approach won the race, but with so many different parameters at work, the teams will have to analyse the data – not to mention the weather forecast – very carefully before committing to any particular tactics.

Often a flexible approach works best in Canada, so we can also expect many teams to be leaving their options open, allowing the drivers to really make the difference when it counts.”

Jean Alesi - PirelliJean Alesi: “Canada will always be an incredibly special place for me, because of course it’s where I won the race in 1995, driving for Ferrari, with the number of Gilles Villeneuve: number 27.

It’s hard to describe the emotion, but it was just an amazing feeling of joy and an incredible atmosphere, with the crowd running onto the track afterwards… Canada is always a place where the fans are absolutely fantastic; it’s a great feeling to go to a country where Formula One is embraced so enthusiastically.

For a driver it is a really big challenge too: as so many of the grandstands are close to the track and the walls are very close as well, so it feels a bit like Monaco in some ways. But of course it’s a lot faster than Monaco and this is why it is challenging for the tyres as well. The main characteristic is acceleration and braking: you cover a really wide range of speeds from flat-out on the straight to very slow corners.

It’s important to manage the tyres properly and have a good strategy to cope with these demands. I think we’re in for a fantastic race, this is a grand prix I always really look forward to.”

The circuit from a tyre point of view
Pirelli P Zero Medium WHITEAlong with Singapore, Korea, and Monaco, Canada has a very high safety car probability. This is one of the reasons why a flexible strategy often pays dividends there. A safety car can change the complexion of a race entirely, and while this wasn’t the case in Monaco two weeks ago, in Canada there are many more opportunities for overtaking.

The race winner last year (Lewis Hamilton) stopped twice, while the second- and third-placed finishers stopped only once. The strategies all the way down the top ten were half and half: five out of the top ten stopped twice and the other five stopped once. Last year was a different tyre nomination though: soft and supersoft.

With a semi-permanent track that is not used extensively during the year, there’s a risk of graining. This occurs when a cold tyre that is not up to temperature slides excessively against the track surface instead of finding grip, and causing an unusual pattern of wear. This phenomenon is mostly seen at the start of the weekend when the track is at its most slippery, without any rubber laid down.

Technical tyre notes
Pirelli P Zero Supersoft REDOne of the reasons why Canada is so demanding for the tyres is that the cars tend to run low downforce to maximise their speed on the straights. This means that the tyres are doing all the work when it comes to getting the car round the corners, putting the emphasis on mechanical rather than aerodynamic grip.

Montreal is a particular challenge for the rear tyres, due to the heavy traction demands out of slow corners and the hairpin. It is very easy to produce wheelspin if a driver is too eager on the throttle, which accentuates rear tyre wear. The track is also quite bumpy, which also provokes wheelspin as the rear tyres break traction.

Adding to the punishment for the tyres in Canada are the kerbs, a well-known feature of the track. The kerbs in Canada are high and aggressive, with the cars hitting them at approximately 130kph through the final corner, close to the famous ‘wall of champions’.

A lap with Pirelli

Memorable Moments

1988 – Brazilian Ayrton Senna nearly took back to back victories at the Ile Notre Dame. However, the Honda engine in his McLaren failed and Belgian Thierry Boutsen took his first victory in Formula One for Williams. It was also the first victory for Williams and Renault as partners, who would become one of the most dominant forces in the sport.

Jean Alesi - Canada 1995 © Ferrari1995 – On his 31st birthday, Jean Alesi won his first and only Grand Prix of his Formula 1 career, after Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill had issues with their cars. This was one of the most popular Grands Prix of the season, especially since Alesi was driving the number 27 Ferrari when he won, which had previously been piloted by Gilles Villeneuve (see Notable Drivers below); since the sport is going to undergo what seems to be a dramatic engine change next year, it is important to bear in mind that this was the last race to be won by a car using a V12 engine.

2007 – Lewis Hamilton takes the first victory of his Formula 1 career in his rookie year as a Formula 1 driver. Also, on lap 67, Takuma Sato overtook McLaren-Mercedes’s Fernando Alonso, to cheers around the circuit, just after overtaking Ralf Schumacher and having overtaken Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen earlier in the race. The race saw Sato move from the middle of the grid to the back of the pack reaching as high as fifth place before a pit-stop error caused him to move back to eleventh.

Sato fought up 5 places in the field in the last 15 laps to finish sixth. Sato was voted “Driver of the Day” on the ITV website over Lewis Hamilton’s first win. The race also saw an atrocious crash involving Robert Kubica.

2008 – Robert Kubica takes his first and only win as a Formula 1 driver while driving for the BMW Sauber team, finishing ahead of his teammate Nick Heidfeld in a result that would put him forward into championship contention. The race also marks the only victory for Sauber as either an independent team or a constructor with BMW, and also saw Lewis Hamilton crash into Kimi Raikkonen in the pit lane.

2011 – Jenson Button won after rain delayed the race. After two collisions, one of which with his team mate, Button stormed from the back of the field twice to take victory on a drying track, taking advantage of changing conditions and the correct tyre choices to overtake Sebastian Vettel on the last lap after a minor error from the German, a victory that looked unlikely, considering he was in 21st place with thirty laps (43% of the race) to go.

Notable Drivers

Gilles Villeneuve

Gilles Villeneuve © Gilles Villeneuve Museum/Gaetan SavignacIn 1978, Gilles Villeneuve, in his first season with Ferrari, was yet to win a Formula One race. Having joined the team from McLaren, he was teamed up with Carlos Reutemann who had already won 4 races that season.

At his home race in Canada, Gilles Villeneuve, qualified third behind Jean-Pierre Jarier and his teammate-to-be Jody Scheckter. At the start of the race he dropped back to fourth due to a fast starting Alan Jones who moved up into second. On lap 18, first Scheckter and then Villeneuve (on lap 19) found a way past Jones.

Villeneuve then passed Scheckter on lap 25 and with Jarier retiring on lap 51 with an oil pressure problem, he had the race all but won. He was engulfed in a sea of well-wishers. The Ferrari team personnel shook his hand, hugged him, and clapped him on the back.

He had won his first Grand Prix at his home race, a memorable debut victory indeed.

Robert Wickens

One of the latest Canadian drivers to come close to appearing in a Formula One race is Toronto-born Robert Wickens. After competing in various North American feeder series, he moved to racing mainly in Europe, as in 2009 he was second in Formula Two, albeit 51 points behind Andy Soucek, and was also runner up in the 2010 GP3 series. He then won the Formula Renault 3.5 series championship the next year after battling with his teammate Jean-Eric Vergne for the top spot.

His involvement in Formula One took place during the 2011 Abu Dhabi race weekend and Young Driver Test. Marussia Virgin Racing took the opportunity to evaluate the young Canadian in place of Jerome d’Ambrosio in the first practice session, where he completed 23 laps and finished 23rd, around half a second behind his teammate Timo Glock, but ahead of Rubens Barrichello, who had not set a time.

In the test following the Grand Prix, he teamed up with the Lotus Renault team to set the third fastest time of the day, over two seconds behind Jean-Eric Vergne (Red Bull) and around a second closer to Jules Bianchi (Ferrari). However, he disappeared back to Marussia for Thursday’s test, outpacing his teammate Charles Pic by four tenths of a second to avoid finishing last. Previously, he had revealed he was in ‘off the record’ discussions for a F1 drive that had been helped by him being the only North American at the time with a valid FIA superlicense, noting that it “could pay dividends”; however, very little has been heard regarding him in a Formula One seat recently.

For 2012, he became part of a newly-reformed Mercedes Benz Junior Team in the DTM series, with Roberto Merhi and Christian Vietoris, and would benefit from the expert advice of Michael Schumacher. He would become the second Canadian driver on the grid, following the lead of now-defending champion Bruno Spengler, who had previously been linked with Prodrive F1, McLaren and Mercedes.

Wickens’ best finish was third in the second round of the championship this year with the HWA team at Brands Hatch, although he has not been able to finish in any other points-scoring positions in the championship so far this year.

Support Races
The Grand Prix Du Canada will be supported by the Ferrari Challenge, CTCC, Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge and Formula 1600.

First up at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is the Formula 1600 race, which is the second round of their Quebec-based championship. Going into the double header this weekend, Jack Jr Mitchell – a Team USA scholarship driver, who hopes to join the Mazda Road to Indy – is leading the championship due to a first and a second place allowing him to open up a two point advantage to Tristan De Grand, who qualified on pole for the first race and has had a second and a fourth place finish, and Thomas McGregor, who qualified on pole for the second race and finished third in both races.

Scott Nicol - CTCC © (Photo: Velocity Motorsports Club)

The 2nd round of the Canadian Touring Car Championship (CTCC) will see the Super Class, Touring Class, and B-Spec drivers battle it out for the win. Scott Nicol currently leads the championship by a “mere” 20 points after a near perfect race at the season opener held at Motorsport Park. Nicol dominated the weekend in Super Class with pole position followed by a victory in both races. With six races still to come, he will have a tough fight on his hands to keep the lead.

In the the 3rd round of the Canadian Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge, Spencer Pigot will look to increase his lead over Chris Green. Pigot has a slim lead of 4 points over Green after winning the opening race and finishing second, with the third placed David Ostella only a further 2 points down from Green.

Following them is the fourth round of the Ferrari Challenge North America, which you can enter for only $10,000 dollars, although you do need to submit notice to them fourteen days beforehand, so I guess this is a little bit too late. If the prices stay the same, you can enter for the whole season at either $45,500 or $55,500. Toronto driver John Farano currently leads the championship by sixteen points, after picking up a victory at every round this year, and is followed by Venezuelan driver Carlos Kauffmann, who shares the same Ferrari dealership of The Auto Gallery. This series will be joining Formula One again at the Circuit of the Americas later in the season.

Canada Results

Year Driver Constructor
2003 Michael Schumacher Ferrari
2004 Michael Schumacher Ferrari
2005 Kimi Raikkonen McLaren – Mercedes
2006 Fernando Alonso Renault
2007 Lewis Hamilton McLaren – Mercedes
2008 Robert Kubica BMW Sauber
2009 Race Not Held Race Not Held
2010 Lewis Hamilton McLaren – Mercedes
2011 Jenson Button McLaren – Mercedes
2012 Lewis Hamilton McLaren – Mercedes

One response to “Circuit Profile: 2013 – Canada, Montreal, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve – Round 7

  1. Backing up the Judge here, if Merc go for an aggressive strategy just like Lewis did last year, they have a good chance for the win. Otherwise, I can see Vettel scoring his first victory there.
    Ferrari showed in Monaco that have problems with traction off slow corners and Lotus will most likely try to make a 1 stop work.

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