Canadian GP Preview. By Bob Constanduros
Firstly, my apologies for the lateness of this preview but you may know that after the Monaco Grand Prix I was admitted to hospital in the UK for heart surgery. Although it wasn’t urgent, it had to be done – who knows what might fail and when and I only emerged during this week.
So for the first time in 553 Grands Prix, I shall be missing a race – well, four actually because I shall miss the next three as well and come back in Hungary. What I’m really looking forward to is seeing how the race is covered on TV and getting the same information as the rest of you via Sky or Channel 4. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing how Crofty and whoever make FP2 interesting. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a real turn-off of a session…
And it will be interesting to see the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve without actually being there. It very often follows Monaco on the calendar which is a relatively slow circuit with no room for error, whereas Montreal is a relatively quick circuit with only limited room for error. When things go wrong here, they go pretty drastically wrong and after the damage of Monaco, this can be pretty costly too.
It’s also quite a challenging track in a number of ways. Firstly, it’s rarely used so it can be pretty dirty and therefore slippery. Compounding that is that it is the first low downforce circuit of the year, so there’s not much aero grip either. The reason for that is that there are a number of very quick straights, particularly the return straight back to the final chicane, bordered by Champions’ wall. And that, in turn, takes its toll on brakes. Lewis Hamilton retired for just that reason three years ago.
So it’s quite an engineering challenge, to give the drivers as much confidence in their cars through the tight little chicanes on the outward journey, while at the same time ensuring that they stay on the track and don’t stray too far off it or perhaps just brush the walls – no forgiving Armco here as in Monaco. In fact quite a lot of ageing Armco has been replaced by solid walls for this year.
At least providing some grip will be Pirelli’s tyres and here they are bringing the three softest in their range, as used in Monaco. There has been some criticism of Pirelli’s choices this year in that many have felt that the hardest compound is too hard and a waste of time. In Canada, the choice of soft – the hardest in this instance – has seen everyone take either one or two sets of softs – apart for three for Wehrlein – but it’s in the softer tyres that there’s a bigger variation.
For instance, Stoffel Vandoorne has only chosen a single set of super softs and ten sets of ultras like his teammate. At Red Bull, they’ve evened it out a bit more: five sets of super softs and seven sets of ultras. Ferrari have gone for one set of softs, three of supersofts and nine of ultras whereas the Merc men have both gone for eight sets of ultras, four of supers for Hamilton but three for Bottas and just a single set of softs for Hamilton whereas his teammate has two sets.
Of course, this could be hugely affected by the weather but it looks pretty nice in Montreal for race weekend. It’s going to be pretty warm at night – minimum around 18 degrees – and some lovely sunshine for qualifying and race day when it could get up to 28. That’s Montreal at its best but with relatively high track temperatures.
With the low downforce nature of the circuit, teams will be bringing quite a few developments to the track and that’s particularly the case at Mercedes. Hamilton’s lack of pace at Monaco was particularly mysterious and the driver gives no hint of getting to the bottom of it. He’s a five time winner here in Canada and he’s been on pole five times as well – one of three circuits where he’s won five times, the others being China and Hungary. He had his first pole and first win here in 2007. But that little question marks hangs over whether he can challenge the Ferraris here or not.
The Scuderia is the most victorious here in Montreal with ten wins and 30 podiums over the years which is phenomenal. They’re on a roll at the moment; can they be stopped? Sebastian’s been on pole here three times and won from there in 2013 while Monaco poleman Kimi Raikkonen’s best qualifying here has been a trio of third places but he won from seventh on the grid in 2005.
Red Bull should have had a revised Renault engine here of course, and may feel that their current power unit doesn’t have the puff on that long return straight. Daniel had his first Formula One win here in 2014 and is still seeking to get on the top step of the podium this year while Max started fifth and finished fourth last year.
Bottas, incidentally, has twice finished third here, while there are a couple of other interesting past podium occupants. Alonso won from pole in 2006, while Romain Grosjean had his equal best ever finish here in second place in 2012 and Sergio Perez was third in 2012.
It’s a race where anything can happen and often does but 19 cars finished last year even if only 14 finished three years ago. We’ve had a virtually safety car and a full safety car over the last five races and last year’s strategy saw a mix of one and two stops for the first six.
With Sebastian Vettel way out in front in the drivers’ championship and Ferrari’s recent one-two putting them in a good position in the constructors’ series, it is clearly up to Mercedes to get up there and challenge them. Can they rise to the challenge? There’s still a long way to go yet on varied circuits. I can’t wait… See you on the sofa!