Long distance challenge starts in Montreal

Long distance challenge starts in Montreal

The Canadian Grand Prix this weekend heads the next pair of back-to-back races for Formula One, the US Grand Prix at Indianapolis following a week later. Earlier this season there was a good deal of concern that Montreal might not be on the 2004...

The Canadian Grand Prix this weekend heads the next pair of back-to-back races for Formula One, the US Grand Prix at Indianapolis following a week later. Earlier this season there was a good deal of concern that Montreal might not be on the 2004 calendar but, happily, the race was saved. With Indianapolis' date being moved to run in tandem with Montreal, the North American leg of the championship presents a long distance challenge for the teams.

Start/finish line, with the traditional 'Salut Gilles'.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

Renowned as a car-breaker, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is a fast track that requires medium to low downforce. It's also very demanding on brakes, with its high speed straights and slow corners, so cooling systems are vital. The surface is bumpy and has quite low grip, so tyres will be from the softer end of the compound range.

Top speeds reach over 300 kmph so engines need to be powerful. Drivers will lap at an average speed of 200kmph and combined with Montreal's usually high temperatures, reliability is sorely tested -- not good news for Takuma Sato or McLaren! Preparing for back-to-back long distance races is a hard job and the engineering department is just as busy as the rest of the team.

"The logistics are a little tough," said Renault's engine technical director Rob White. "The engines for USA must be built before the Canada engines are used, let alone stripped and inspected. This is not a surprise: the calendar is well known, and does not present any difficulties if the news from strip-down is good. If there are any concerns following Canada, the options to respond are more limited."

The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is generally popular with drivers, as it's demanding but enjoyable. "The circuit itself provides the teams and drivers with a really unique challenge as the down force is quite low generally and you are combining what feels like a street-circuit with a race-track," said Jaguar's Mark Webber. "There are some high-speed sections and then some slow 'street-like' corners. This is good fun for us but it is another story for the car."

It was back to business as usual for Ferrari in Europe, with another one-two finish from Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello. Schumacher gained the lead and ran all the way with it, while Barrichello profited from Ferrari's pit stop strategy. Schumacher sees no reason not to be optimistic for Montreal after a successful test session at Silverstone.

"I am going to Montreal in a positive frame of mind," said the reigning champion. "I mean, why should I be anything other? As I have stated in the past, both Montreal and Indianapolis are circuits that suit our cars, so I expect us to be very competitive."

BAR couldn't match Michael's pace once the German was in the lead at the N?rburgring, but Takuma Sato gave Barrichello some troubles and Jenson Button again ended up on the podium. Sato's engine failure robbed him of his first podium finish but while Honda's reliability is a little shaky, BAR seems closest to Ferrari at the moment.

Takuma Sato.
Photo by Brousseau Photo.

Sato is aiming to make up for that missed opportunity in Europe. "The performance of the team has been very strong over the past few races and I am really looking forward to Montreal and Indianapolis -- and to achieving what I hope will be my first podium," he said.

Renault's Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso finished fourth and fifth in Europe, further consolidating the team's second place in the constructors' standings. But Trulli was slightly disappointed after his win in Monaco and Alonso isn't too happy with his recent results.

Renault has aerodynamic and engine updates due in Montreal, so perhaps the pair will cheer up a bit. "We know the car has improved in both of these areas, but predictions are difficult," said Alonso. "Our car has good traction out of slow corners and is good under braking, which are two important areas in Montreal. I think we should be looking for podium finishes to maintain our championship position."

Williams was not too pleased after Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher came to grief at the first corner in the European GP. Ralf managed not to mention miracles in relation to Montreal but is optimistic of improvement. "I'm convinced that we have made a step forward," he said after testing at Silverstone. "But I don't know how big this will be until we get to Montreal."

Sauber is now ahead of McLaren in the standings, thanks to Giancarlo Fisichella's three points in Europe and both the silver cars suffering engine failures. Nothing new there for McLaren, but Fisichella is upbeat for this weekend. "The car is getting better from race to race and Montreal is another good circuit for me," said the Italian. "I have been on the podium there four times, so I have decent memories of Canada."

Webber managed another couple of points in Europe but 2004 is proving a slow season for Jaguar. Managing director David Pitchforth wants results in Montreal: "Qualifying two drivers as high as possible is the aim for Canada and then capitalising on this to get points from both drivers," he said. "It's important that we start to see the results that we know the team is capable of."

Last year Michael led Ralf over the line for a Schumacher one-two in Montreal, with Montoya and Alonso just a second or two behind. Ferrari's pit stop strategy worked as efficiently back then as it does now, as Michael gained the lead from Ralf by beating him in the first stop. Schumacher Senior's formidable form this season shows no sign of relenting -- can anyone beat him to the top step of the podium in Canada?

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Ferrari , Sauber , McLaren , Williams