With Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes on the ropes after a disappointing Monaco Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel will look to land a knock out blow in the title race at a track where Lewis has dominated since he burst on the scene in 2007.The seventh round of the 2017 Formula One World Championship takes us to the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, named after the legendary Canadian driver who won here to the delight of the locals in 1978 for Ferrari. The circuit races around the Ile Notre-Dame, a man-made island in the Saint Lawrence River in Montreal, built from rock excavated for the Montreal Metro in 1965.
Last year saw Ferrari throw away a likely shot at victory as they out-thought themselves when the virtual safety car was triggered by a Honda engine failure for Jenson Button, and they will be confident that after ending their long barren spell at Monaco last time out that they can make amends this year and end a similar poor run of results in Canada, where Michael Schumacher is still the last driver to taste victory for Ferrari, way back in 2004.
Mercedes locked out the grid last year, but a fast starting Sebastian Vettel got the jump on both of the Silver Arrows to rocket into the lead at the start of the race. Nico Rosberg got the better start of the Mercs, but was not able to get the better of Lewis Hamilton, with the pair banging wheels as Nico tried to go around the outside of Lewis at the first corner, with Nico consequently running wide and dropping down the order. Vettel looked like he could give Ferrari a win, but the decision to pit under the virtual safety car on lap 11 ended Ferrari’s chances, as Lewis stayed out and on a one stop strategy was never threatened, Ferrari having given Vettel too much work to do in losing track position. Vettel wound up coming home in second place, while Valtteri Bottas put in another super display in Canada to grab third for Williams ahead of Max Verstappen in the lead Red Bull, with Verstappen frustrating Nico Rosberg by holding onto fourth place as Rosberg had dropped even further back after suffering a puncture. Still, with all that trouble Rosberg was able to finish ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, the Iceman having to settle for sixth place after another race where he was not able to run at the pace of his team leader.
The race has seen six drivers take their maiden grand prix victory over the years, including Lewis Hamilton back in 2007 and Daniel Ricciardo in 2014 (the others were Robert Kubica in 2008, Jean Alesi in 1995. Thierry Boutsen in 1989 and Gilles Villeneuve in 1978). Michael Schumacher holds the record for the most wins with 7 – but Lewis Hamilton has been supreme here ever since his arrival in F1, and after last year’s victory Lewis is getting within sight of Schumacher’s record having now racked up 5 wins of his own. Apart from Hamilton no current driver has won here more than once, with Daniel Riccardo (Red Bull 2014), Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull 2013), Fernando Alonso (Renault 2006) and Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren 2005) all enjoying a single victory here.
This year sees the Canadian Grand Prix celebrates 50 years since it first appeared on the F1 calendar back in 1967. The race existed prior to being a round of the F1 championship – the inaugural Canadian Grand Prix was held in 1961 in Mosport Park, with Peter Ryan taking the victory in a Lotus-Climax – a result which would lead to Ryan having his one opportunity to drive in a Grand Prix at the US Grand Prix in Watkins Glen later that year. The first Canadian Grand Prix on the F1 calendar in 1967 saw Jack Brabham the winner at Mosport Park. In the early years the F1 race was alternated between Mosport Park and Mont-Tremblant, but Mosport took the race full time from 1971.
In 1975 the race was cancelled, after the Formula One Constructors Association teams (led by a certain Mr Bernie Ecclestone) refused to attend the race due to contractual issues. The teams had demanded more money, in a move viewed as an early test by Mr Ecclestone of the bargaining power of the teams and to act as a warning marker to the European venues (no teams, no race). An inspirational story for the smaller teams in dire financial conditions today!
The race was back on in 1976, and stayed at Mosport until 1978, when the race was moved to its current home on the Circuit Ile Notre-Dame. Gilles Villeneuve took the first race at the new circuit for Ferrari, and the circuit was renamed in his honour after his tragic death in 1982. The track has hosted a Formula One Grand Prix every year since then with two exceptions, 1987 where a commercial dispute between rival sponsors put paid to the race, and again in 2009 after the organisers failed to agree terms with (that is, would not pay the requested fee to)…Bernie Ecclestone, now in his role as CEO of F1. Interestingly when the teams bemoaned the loss of the Canadian Grand Prix Bernie mused that if the teams wanted to race there so badly they could agree to race there for less money, an interesting turnaround from 1975 indeed!!
Over the years there have been few changes to the circuit, with the main changes being the relocation of the pit lane from just after the hairpin to its current location with a realignment of the run down to turn 1 for the 1988 race, while the hairpin was brought forward to increase run off area in 2002.
The track is flat, with just over 5 m of elevation change, and is characterized predominantly by its long straights punctuated by hard braking for hairpins or chicanes. In between, the circuit winds across kerbs marshalled by barriers and walls that invite contact from drivers pushing to extract the maximum from their cars. This year’s race sees an increase in the use of Tecpro barriers in place of the old style gurardrails, and while these will still punish the drivers for any moments lapse in concentration, there will be some respite for the drivers this year as some of the gravel traps have been removed and replaced with asphalt!
The circuit is low in grip, expect to see plenty of spins during the practice sessions as the track is rubbered in, and is one of the hardest on the calendar in terms of braking with the performance and reliability of the brakes set to be tested to the maximum. The final chicane represents one of the hardest braking points on the entire F1 calendar. There is also always the threat posed by local wildlife, who seem to enjoy coming out to watch the race – and while after last year’s race we can now safely say that Sebastian Vettel brakes for seagulls, we can also say that Anthony Davidson does not brake for groundhogs, with a collision with one of the ‘locals’ costing Davidson what would have been a career best result in 2007!
There are plenty of potential overtaking opportunities over the course of the lap.
From the starting grid there is a very short run down to Turn 1, with the track winding to the right on approach to the left hander, which feed straight into Turn 2, the long right handed Senna curve. Last year Lewis Hamilton showed Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg that the inside line is more important than a great getaway, and we can expect plenty of action here on the opening lap. Once into the race, the first corner presents an opportunity for overtaking, coming at the end of the second DRS activation zone. It has seen plenty of wild attempts over the years, Nico Rosberg and Jarno Trulli performing a perfect display of synchronised spinning here in 2007 as Nico attempted to go around the outside and Jarno got squeezed onto the inside kerb, while Felipe Massa and Sergio Perez suffered a huge collision here in the closing stages of the 2014 race as Felipe attempted to gain a late place.
After winding around the Senna curve there is a short burst up to a tight right left flick through turns 3 and 4. The combination of kerbs on entry and wall on exit make this section a likely flashpoint! It’s also proved to be a spot where the most optimistic driver can have a go but it’s unlikely to be a smooth pass- Jenson Button prodded Alonso into the wall on the exit of turn 4 during his magic ride in 2011 while Adrian Sutil got himself in a spin trying to go around the high qualifying Valtteri Bottas here in 2013.
From here the track snakes left then right through the trees towards before arriving at turn 6 and 7, a tight left hander immediately followed by a flick to the right, with kerbs and walls again inviting trouble for anyone pushing too hard to gain speed onto the following straight. The cars burst forward and disappear briefly under a bridge before heading into the fast right left combination of turns 8 and 9, again plenty of kerbing to launch a car pushing too much into the waiting wall on the exit of turn 9.
Out of the exit of turn 9 the cars spring pass the DRS detection point and wind to the left down to the chicane at turn 10. This is a favoured spot for wild overtaking attempts. It was on the run down to the chicane that Robert Kubica had his horrific accident in 2007 after going off the track trying to go around Jarno Trulli. The hairpin should provide plenty of action throughout the race, and will be a spot to keep an eye on during the first lap as the field are all bunched together.
From the chicane the cars blast down the back straight and the first DRS activation zone, before breaking hard at the last chicane. Scene of many a desperate overtaking manoeuvre over the years, world champion Nico Rosberg showed us the right and wrong way to overtake at Turn 13 last year, making light work of Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari up the inside, but spinning as he tried to go the long way around Max Verstappen’s Red Bull. With the wall of champions waiting on exit to start another lap, watch for drivers having to bail out of this turn if they get their approach wrong, which can prove all too costly, as Daniel Riccardo discovered last year, with Valtteri Bottas using the opportunity to get the jump on Ricciardo on the run down to Turn 1 in his charge to third place for Williams.
TYRES WITH PIRELLI
Following two events in Europe, Formula 1 heads to the Canadian Grand Prix, widely acknowledged as one of the most unpredictable races of the year. Just like Monaco, the three softest compounds in the P Zero Formula 1 range are present: soft, supersoft and ultrasoft. But this semi-permanent track is much quicker, with top speeds exceeding 300kph, and so poses a bigger challenge for both cars and tyres. With a slippery surface, changeable weather and a relatively high incidence of safety cars – thanks mainly to the famous ‘wall of champions’ – a wide variety of race strategies has been seen in the past. But this year, we have a brand-new range of tyres and different characteristics…
THE THREE NOMINATED COMPOUNDS
1/ Purple ULTRASOFT
2/ Red SUPERSOFT
3/ Yellow SOFT
THE CIRCUIT FROM A TYRE POINT OF VIEW
- Canada is all about traction and braking: longitudinal rather than lateral forces. This affects tyres and especially brakes.
- Warming up the front tyres effectively is one of the keys to a quick lap time in Canada.
- Being a rarely-used semi-permanent track, the surface tends to evolve rapidly.
- Some graining has been seen in the past: this is now less likely with the new family of 2017 tyres, based on previous experience.
- Weather can range from heat to full rain.
MARIO ISOLA – HEAD OF CAR RACING “Montreal has many unique features, but with its smooth surface, it actually contains some similarities to Sochi. Last year the winner did one stop, while the second-placed driver made two stops using all three compounds, which just goes to show the very wide variety of strategies that are possible. Finding the right set-up, with the correct aerodynamic and mechanical balance, is never easy in Montreal: this is one of the key factors to making the tyres work effectively there. It’s also important to take an openminded approach to strategy, given the variable weather and safety cars that are historically possible.”
- This is only the second time this year that the teams have been able to choose their own tyres, with Ferrari and Mercedes making slightly different choices.
- In Monaco, Red Bull had its well-known floating motorhome: in Canada, Pirelli has a floating fitting area!
- The current lap record in Canada stands at 1m13.622s (from 2004). Given last year’s lap times and the improvement seen so far, there is a strong chance it will be broken.
- Pirelli has been expanding its sporting horizons: as well as being a partner and sponsor of Formula 1, the Italian tyre firm also became sponsor of the recently concluded Giro d’Italia cycle race and Team Emirates New Zealand in the America’s Cup.
MONTRÉAL MINIMUM STARTING PRESSURES (SLICKS)
20 psi (front) – 18.5 psi (rear)
EOS CAMBER LIMIT
-3.50° (front) | -2.00° (rear)
2011 – Jenson Button took an amazing win on the last lap from Sebastien Vettel in a wet-dry thriller, Jenson recovering from last place after busy race that saw him clash with team mate Lewis Hamilton resulting in Lewis retirement from the race, incur a drive through penalty for speeding under the safety car, have a further collision with Fernando Alonso that caused Fernando to retire and forced Button to pit. Michael Schumacher shined in one of the better performances of his second stint in F1, looking at one point like he might even be able to push for victory before eventually finishing fourth.
2008 –Robert Kubica took his sole Grand Prix victory in a BMW-Sauber, but it could so easily have been taken away from him. During an early safety car period the leaders dived into the pits, Kubica got out just ahead of Raikkonen but as the pit exit was closed Raikkonen and Kubica had to stop and queue up alongside each other at the exit waiting to be released. After a slower stop Hamilton came flying out of his pit box and unaware of the closed pit lane clouted into the back of Raikkonen, taking both out of the race. For good measure Rosberg followed into the back Hamilton, losing his front wing in the process! Kubica survived and went on to claim his only F1 victory.
1999 – Birth of the ‘Wall of Champions’ – Mika Hakkinen took the chequered flag, but this race will be remembered for giving us the name ‘Wall of Champions’ – the wall on the outside of the final chicane, with Hill, Schumacher and Villeneuve all hitting the wall in the same race.
1995 – Jean Alesi took his sole Grand Prix victory on his 31ST Birthday. Michael Schumacher led most of the way but his Benetton developed an electrical problem 11 laps from the end, promoting Alesi to first. Amazingly this was only win for the talented Alesi.
1991 – Nelson Piquet’s last grand prix win. Nigel Mansell led from the start and had the win wrapped up, but Mansell started his celebration early and as he waved at the crowd on the last lap his car stalled at the hairpin and Piquet inherited the win with Mansell classified in 6th.
1989 – Thierry Boutsen secures his first ever grand prix win in a race run on a soaking track. The race produced quite an unusual start, as the initial start was aborted due to stalled cars on the grid, a number of driver pitted to swap to slicks on the second warm up lap as the rest of the field lined up on the drying grid. Nigel Mansell and Allesandro Nannini then exited the pits and charged back on the track before the race had started while the rest of the field lined up on the starting grid! Mansell and Nannini would both be disqualified. In appalling conditions, Ayrton Senna put on a wet weather masterclass to dominate the field, but retired from certain victory with an engine failure, handing Boutsen his first win.
After Kimi Raikkonen lost out on winning the Monaco Grand Prix after Ferrari gave him an unfortunate strategy call, it would certainly look like Ferrari are placing all their eggs in Sebastian Vettel’s basket as they push to capture a first drivers world championship since, well, Kimi Raikkonen managed the feat in 2007! Kimi does not have a great track record in Canada, and it’s hard to see him in anything other than a supporting role for the remainder of the year. Mercedes, unlike Ferrari, emphasize winning as priority regardless of the driver – but nonetheless will be under pressure to focus on one driver as challenger to Vettel. Lewis Hamilton could make their life easier by getting on top of Valtteri Bottas, and fortunately for Mercedes Lewis has absolutely dominated in Canada, so should be expected to lead the Mercedes charge here. Sebastian Vettel himself has been somewhat unfortunate in claiming only as single victory here, but with Mercedes still struggling to get to grips with the Pirelli tyres, especially the Ultrasoft, it looks like Vettel and Ferrari will enter the weekend as favourites for the win. Indeed last year Ferrari looked to have the pace to take the victory only to hand Mercedes the advantage when they made a bad call on to pit during the Virtual Safety Car. With its close walls and limited run off areas, the safety car is always likely to make an appearance in Canada, so Ferrari’s strategy team will need to be sure they have all their ducks in a row (or should that be seagulls?) to ensure they don’t let another win slip through their fingers. It’s likely to be a two horse race in Canada, with Red Bull set to struggle with a lack of power. Outside the leading contenders, McLaren welcome back Fernando Alonso after his Indy 500 exploits – and while McLaren will suffer with a lack of power as well, don’t bet against a rejuvenated Alonso grabbing McLarens first points of the season – if he can make the finish that is!
F2 and GP3 will stay in Europe, but there will be plenty to watch during the build up to the F1 race, with the entertainment provided by the Formula Tour 1600 series, the Ferrari Challenge and the local Porsche GT3 Cup Canada., as well as the Masters Historic Racing, which will see vintage F1 cars to whet the appetite for the main event.
|2014||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull-Renault|
|2013||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|
|2008||Robert Kubica||BMW Sauber|