From the slowest circuit to the first of the quicker ones; Formula One moves from Monaco to Montreal this weekend and the first of the North American races, the 46th Canadian Grand Prix and 35th at Montreal. Before that, the race was held at Mont Tremblant (2) and Mosport (8). Of course, it’s had a regular home here for ages, provided Bernie’s been able to reach agreement with the promoter – there has been the odd gap between races.
It is, in a way, quite an old fashioned race: the paddock is pretty crammed, there isn’t a massive run-off and the access – from very nearby Montreal – is frankly awful, even worse this year thanks to ever present roadworks. (Roads don’t last long here thanks to drastically low winter temperatures around the minus 30s for months on end).
The timing of the race is pretty crucial too. It’s important it’s warmed up but not too much. It can still be cold in the mornings but like today, it’s glorious when the sun comes out. We can still get loads of rain too, so you can have a real mixture. Indeed, Friday is supposedly the worst of our days here, so there could be some rain at some stage.
But it is a popular race not only with the locals but North Americans in general. Even before the US Grand Prix returned to the calendar, loads of Americans would come up to Montreal for a long weekend of Formula One and parties. Grand Prix Tours, one of the main US tour companies, regularly hosted 1000 guests in the heyday – it’s a bit less now. They love the party atmosphere in the city which really lives the Grand Prix as Adelaide used to. The only disadvantage is that Montreal is expensive; my hotel will cost more than my hotel in Monaco.
We all have to get on shuttle buses to the circuit; there’s precious little point in having a car. If you do have one, you have to park it up a hill at a considerable angle. One of Allsport’s slipped back into the rowing basin one year, much to everyone’s great amusement. In the good old days, there was a rowing race across the basin between the teams using only material that they had brought with them. Of course, it degenerated into a fairly major water fight and then spectators on a raft would find themselves cut adrift. All far too much fun; it no longer exists.
The circuit isn’t very long but it is pretty quick; over 300 kph on four occasions but many of the real corners – as opposed to the slight curves which the FIA still counts as corners – are pretty tight chicanes, plus the hairpin of course. It does mean that there’s fairly drastic braking which in turn means an emphasis on brakes; wear is critical but so is temperature. Brake ducts are carefully chosen but they can cost as much as 0.2s per lap and they are finely tuned.
Fuel consumption is pretty high too. It’s old tarmac so that’s quite aggressive as well. Pirelli are bringing the softs and supersofts that they’ve brought to Montreal in the past and took to Monaco also. They’re expecting a two stop strategy as last year, although the regular appearances of safety cars in Montreal could upset that. They’ve appeared at five races out of the last nine, 14 in total. It means that while there have been four winners from pole, others have come from as low as seventh (Raikkonen in 2005, Button in 2011 and he had been last quite a few laps earlier).
So all in all, quite a challenging circuit, and that’s before you cope with the lack of run-off. OK, there wasn’t much run-off in Monaco; there’s a little more in Canada but the drivers are travelling at about twice the speed. It’s a circuit that can bite and bite hard; if you go off and hit a wall, you’re going to do some damage.
One of the reasons why this preview is a bit late is because I wanted to see how Lewis was post-Monaco. He pretty much brushed off all questions about losing the race in the Principality, saying that he couldn’t care less about Monaco. Yeah, pull the other one. He sure cared at the time and surely you don’t forget that easily. Nico arrived here looking pretty dishevelled after a seven hour flight from France on his own. Curious to see him in the immigration queue and not too many people recognised him. Nico raced from pole to second last year so will have go one better to score his hattrick. Lewis, however, may have only finished four out of seven races here but he’s had three poles and three wins and has only been off the front row once.
What has everyone waiting with bated breath is that Ferrari have used three of their tokens for engine development. In-season development was previously banned and how much engine development is still closely regulated, but teams are now allowed a total of 42 tokens for engine development of which 32 can be used throughout the year. Some have already been used but now Ferrari have used three. It’s expected that these are used in the area of combustion which produces power so the question will be, how much? The thing about engine development is that it is virtually guaranteed; it isn’t like aero development which is a bit more suck-it-and-see. So let us see just how much difference it all makes. Raikkonen won here from seventh on the grid in 2005 and actually has the best record of anyone with ten finishes out of 11 races; Vettel has finished six out of six races with three poles including one which resulted in a win in 2013.
I think you can expect to see Williams bounce back here; Ricciardo won here last year; both Perez and Grosjean have been on the podium here in the past. There’s a few rookies here of course, including both Scuderia Toro Rosso drivers, both Marussia drivers and Felipe Nasr, so there’s certainly the possibility of red flags if they get it wrong. All in all, it could be a lively weekend, even if the sun continues to shine. Let’s hope so.
By Bob Constanduros