#F1 Circuit Profile: 2014 Canadian Grand Prix – Circuit Gilles Villeneuve – Round 7

By Track Profile Specialists: Alistair Hunter

Canada Circuit Gilles Villeneuve Montreal © ScoopWeb

The Formula One season continues with a brief adventure into North America this weekend, with the popular Circuit Gilles Villeneuve hosting the next stage in what occasionally appears to be a titanic championship battle between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.

Last year Sebastian Vettel took his third victory in 2013 at the track, but I suspect that money probably wouldn’t be on him to win this edition of the race. His team might have a better chance through Daniel Ricciardo, but ultimately Red Bull Racing are 141 points behind Mercedes, a deficit that really illustrates Mercedes’ domination this year.

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 any sign of a contract has not been confirmed, especially with the supposed addition of four races to the calendar next year. However, studies have 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.

FORMULA 1 GRAND PRIX DU CANADA 2014 - Circuit Characteristics

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 Lewis Hamilton

The Canadian Grand Prix with Pirelli

Just as was the case for Monaco, the Pirelli P Zero Yellow soft and P Zero Red supersoft tyres have been nominated for the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve: a semi-permanent facility, which combines bespoke sections of track with normal park roads. But Montreal is a very different proposition to Monaco, with much higher average speeds, frequently changeable weather conditions, and a low-grip surface that often catches out even the most experienced drivers – many of whom have had contact with the famous ‘wall of champions’ in the past. Other important factors affecting the tyres in Montreal include braking, with heat from the brakes warming up the tyres (although this year, the behaviour of the brakes is different, with the new brake by wire system). There are also some notable kerbs in Montreal, which force the tyre to absorb impacts as part of the car’s suspension.

Paul Hembery © PirelliPaul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director:We’re expecting the tyres to be worked a lot harder in Canada than they were in Monaco, with a lot more energy and greater forces going through them due to much higher speeds. This should lead to the maximum possible mechanical grip, which is certainly what’s needed in Montreal.

There’s a high degree of track evolution and we frequently see a lot of sliding – especially with reduced downforce this year – which obviously puts an increased amount of stress on the tyre. But we are still expecting to have contained wear and degradation this weekend, even on the two softest tyres in the range. Canada always tends to be an unpredictable race where strategy can make a real difference, also because of the high probability of safety cars.

As we saw in Monaco, taking the right strategy opportunities when they present themselves under unusual circumstances is a key element to success at any circuit that falls outside the usual mould, with Canada being a prime example. Historically, there’s a reasonable chance of rain, in which case judging the crossover points – sometimes without previous data, if each previous session has been dry – becomes crucial.

Jean Alesi © PirelliJean Alesi, Pirelli consultant:Montreal is quite a special and unusual circuit, with high speeds and an interesting mix of a street circuit and a permanent track. From a driver’s perspective, the most important thing is to maintain the rear tyres in the best possible condition.

“There aren’t really any long corners, so the stress on the tyres in Canada is primarily longitudinal, under acceleration and braking. You have to be very careful getting on the power, otherwise you can wear out the tyres and then braking becomes very difficult too.

“It’s not a physically demanding track for the driver but it demands utmost concentration under braking, especially at the chicane before the pits, where the famous ‘wall of champions’ is waiting. Personally, I’ll always remember Canada for my win in 1995: it was my only F1 win, on my birthday, and with the legendary number 27 on the car, just like Gilles Villeneuve. The emotion was unbelievable.

The circuit from a tyre point of view
Traction and braking are the two key points that affect tyres in Montreal, with the increased torque and diminished downforce of the 2014 cars making the track even harder to master this year. The biggest risk is wheelspin, with the action of the tyres against the track overheating the tread. Late braking can cause flat-spotting if a wheel locks up – however, the design of the 2014 tyres have made them a lot more resistant to this phenomenon.

The cars tend to run a low downforce set-up in Montreal, to maximise a top speed of over 300kph on the straights. The trade-off for this is less aerodynamic grip through corners, meaning that the cars slide more and are more reliant on mechanical grip from the tyre compound to get round the corner.

The supersoft tyre is a low working range compound, capable of achieving optimal performance even at low temperatures. The soft tyre is a high working range compound, suitable for higher temperatures and more strenuous track conditions. The weather in Canada can be variable, often causing the race to be interrupted. The 2011 Canadian Grand Prix, Pirelli’s first race in Canada of the current era, was also the longest in Formula One history, due to repeated stoppages.

One of the biggest challenges for the tyres in Canada is the fact that the asphalt is extremely inconsistent, made up of a number of different surfaces that offer variable levels of grip. The job of the tyre compound is to smooth out these differences to offer as consistent a level of grip as possible.

Sebastian Vettel won for Red Bull last year, having qualified on pole. He claimed victory with a two- stop strategy (supersoft-medium-medium) having used the intermediate tyre in a wet qualifying session. While Pirelli is nominating the soft rather than the medium tyre alongside the supersoft this year, all the 2014 compounds are slightly harder than their predecessors.

Circuit Gilles Villeneuve with Pirelli

The Canadian Grand Prix with Brembo

ID Card of Montreal Circuit offered by Brembo

Turn 13 is considered the most demanding for braking systems.

Montreal is without a shadow of a doubt the most demanding test bench for the single-seater braking systems. It is a “stop and go” type circuit characterised by sudden braking sections and acceleration. The braking sections, all hard and very close together, determine an extremely high operating temperature for the discs and pads which do not have time to cool sufficiently in the short straight stretches.

These characteristics, combined with a significantly high percentage of time spent on the brakes, determine a very hard mix for the braking systems, also due to the fact that the aerodynamic load (in other words, the resistance to forward progress) is not one of the highest.

The scenario can get even worse when there is a tail wind on the two main straight stretches which can significantly increase the straight line speed, putting the brakes to an even more severe test. A critical point is the chicane before the famous “wall of champions” where control going into the turn is fundamental to avoid hopping the kerb. On this turn an excellent feeling with the brakes can make the difference between a good time and retiring with a crash!

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.

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

First up at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is the Canadian Touring Car Championship (CTCC), which is the series’ second event this year after their previous round at the former F1 circuit in Ontario known as Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Currently Remy Audette leads the Super Class after two victories last time out, driving a Honda Civic Si for Audette Racing Team.

For Formule 1600, Tristan DeGrande leads by 24 points after finishing second in the first race of the season before following that up with a victory. The Spectrum Honda driver had previously come second in the 2013 edition of the championship, including a race victory at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve last year.

Masters HGP opens its season at the circuit this weekend, ushering in a series that will have four race weekends evenly split between Canada and the United States. The race will involve a variety of historic Formula One cars, highlighted by Ferrari 312 H5s previously driven by Gilles Villeneuve himself, according to the press release by the promoter ahead of their inaugural race.

Finally, the Ferrari Challenge enters its fourth round of competition this year in Montreal, with the series also set to link up with Formula One for their eighth and penultimate round in Austin. Ricardo Perez leads the Trofeo Pirelli after winning the previous race, while Chris Rudd leads the Coppa Shell.

Canada Results

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
2013 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull – Renault

4 responses to “#F1 Circuit Profile: 2014 Canadian Grand Prix – Circuit Gilles Villeneuve – Round 7

  1. “Memorable Moments”

    Funny you missed the 1991 race where ” Our Nige” while leading on the last lap, decided to wave to the crowd, stalled the engine and came to a halt 3 or 4 hundred yards from the finish line, which allowed his great friend Piquet to win. I was at the race and me and my friends couldn’t stop laughing.

  2. I played the Canadian GP on F1 2011 (Xbox) and I got the feeling—correct me if I’m wrong—that Gilles Villeneuve is in a way Monaco meet Monza. You have the same slow-style corners and close barriers as in Monaco, but also the long straights and high speeds of Monza. In other words, for me Gilles Villeneuve is as close as it gets to a high-speed Monaco.

    What do others think?

  3. After spa, this is my favorite f1 circuit. The numbers of hours I spend here, virtually, since I was a kid are unbelievable 😆 always good racing here and it would be a shame if they decide to drop this classic. Tilke can do what he want but with something as thrilling as this he’ll never come up. Never.

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