Make or break in Montreal

Make or break in Montreal

It's that time of the season again when Formula One packs its bags and jets off for the back-to-back North American rounds of the championship. First up is the Canadian Grand Prix at Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, a popular venue where ...

It's that time of the season again when Formula One packs its bags and jets off for the back-to-back North American rounds of the championship. First up is the Canadian Grand Prix at Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, a popular venue where braking, and breaking, can be crucial. Can anyone put the brakes on Renault's title charge?

Beautiful Montr?al, seen from the track.
Photo by xpb.cc.

The Montreal track is well known as a car-breaker. It's quite bumpy, has long, fast straights followed by slow corners and the lower downforce settings, the first race of the season to require them, tend to make the car feel twitchy. There's also the infamous Wall of Champions at the last corner, which is quick to punish a driver's lapse of concentration.

"The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve provides a very specific layout, featuring very long straights and almost exclusively slow corners," said Toyota's Pascal Vasselon. "So the contrast between the two extremes of speed makes it the hardest circuit of the season for brakes. The challenge is to achieve good high speed braking stability without too much low speed understeer."

Due to the low downforce levels most teams have been testing new aerodynamic packages in preparation for Montreal. "We have a full car upgrade for Canada in the shape of front and rear wings, winglets, nose and diffuser revisions which were all tested and successfully signed off at the Monza test," said Williams technical director Sam Michael.

It's a high speed circuit and Bridgestone tested tyre construction durability at Monza. "We gained some encouraging feedback from those tests and as a result we will be taking a combination of current and new tyre specifications," said technical manager Hisao Suganuma. "These specifications will be from the softer side of the compound range to suit the smooth surface."

Fernando Alonso.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Renault is hoping to shake off the problems that the team has suffered in Canada in recent years -- double retirements in 2004 and 2005 -- and Fernando Alonso is keen to score a top three finish for the first time. "I have never finished on the podium there, and that was one of my goals for 2006," said the championship leader.

Alonso is not about to believe that he can back off and manage the points gap to rival Michael Schumacher, as he expects Ferrari to be strong in the next races. "We are still attacking, still being aggressive, putting new parts on the car and trying to push the limits at every race," he said. "That's the only approach we can afford to take this season."

Ferrari usually goes well in North America and Schumacher can rack up yet another record in Canada if he takes the victory -- that of the first driver to win the same Grand Prix eight times. "I believe that we could do well but we will have to wait for Friday for a real sense of things," said the German. "Only then will we have an idea of how things will go."

"Our aim is clear: we want to do well and keep going in the title race. It will certainly not be easy; nothing is in Formula One. I am looking forward to it and we can expect a tight race. How will we do in the end? We will do just great!"

Kimi Raikkonen.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Kimi Raikkonen won at Montreal last year but while McLaren appears to be improving, can the team challenge for the win this time? The Finn was running second behind Alonso at Silverstone but was not close enough to attack and he eventually fell to third when he was outpaced by Schumacher's Ferrari in the second round of pit stops.

"Despite the speed, you do need to be quite precise here, as it is part road circuit so the Armco are very close to the edge of the track," Raikkonen commented about the Canadian track. "It was fantastic to win last year, and we had a solid weekend at the last race in Silverstone, hopefully we can put in another good result this weekend."

Honda had a dismal time at Silverstone, where Jenson Button was rather embarrassingly dropped in the first round of qualifying and neither he nor teammate Rubens Barrichello reached the points. Honda announced this week that Shuhei Nakamoto has been appointed to the role of senior technical director -- currently unconfirmed reports say that Geoff Willis has now left the team.

Button is optimistic that the car will run well with less wing on the lower downforce settings. "We've done some good work in testing and I'm generally pleased with the results, but we'll have to wait and see how things go at the weekend," he said. "The critical thing is to make sure we get the very best out of what we have."

Jacques Villeneuve.
Photo by xpb.cc.

BMW Sauber got both cars home in the points in Great Britain and appears to be making progress. Jacques Villeneuve is looking forward to racing at home this coming weekend. "It is a special weekend, and seeing how everybody is happy to be in Canada makes me proud," he said. "The crowd is fantastic for any driver. You can be from any country and they will cheer you on."

Although owner Alex Shnaider is originally Russian and MF1 is based in Britain, Canada is like a home race for the team as Shnaider is now a Canadian citizen. "I am very encouraged by the progress the team is continuing to make and I would like to wish everyone who has worked so hard a successful weekend," he commented.

At the back of the grid, Super Aguri continues its efforts to keep up and at least managed to get both Takuma Sato and Franck Montagny to the finish line at Silverstone. The best the team can hope for is probably the same in Montreal but at the moment even reaching the chequered flag is a small reward.

Montagny goes to Canada from a second place podium finish at last weekend's Le Mans 24 Hours. "I am looking forward to visiting Montr?al and to the Canadian Grand Prix as the circuit is very different, with different characteristics, and I think that our performance should be better there," he said. "It will of course be another very challenging and hard race for us, but I hope a good one."

Hopefully it will be a good race for everyone -- certainly there are some out there that could really do with a good result. Renault technical director Bob Bell believes that if the French squad can maintain its advantage over the next two races, rivals are going to have a very tough job to make up the difference. But will Renault's Montreal misfortunes strike again?

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Takuma Sato , Jenson Button , Michael Schumacher , Rubens Barrichello , Jacques Villeneuve , Kimi Raikkonen , Franck Montagny , Fernando Alonso , Gilles Villeneuve , Geoff Willis , Shuhei Nakamoto
Teams Ferrari , Sauber , McLaren , Williams