After controvery provided the main focus in Monaco it's time to move on to the North American rounds of the championship, starting with Canada. Of course, Montreal and Indianapolis have been known to provide controvery of their own but hopefully...
After controvery provided the main focus in Monaco it's time to move on to the North American rounds of the championship, starting with Canada. Of course, Montreal and Indianapolis have been known to provide controvery of their own but hopefully the racing will be the feature attraction of the back-to-back events. The top of the drivers' standings is still intriguingly close but Kimi Raikkonen needs good results in the upcoming races to keep in the fight -- can Ferrari make a stand after McLaren's dominance in Monaco?
Circuit Gilles Villeneuve has a picturesque setting on an isalnd in the St. Lawrence river but it's reputation is somewhat less pretty. Reknowned as a car-breaker, the 4.36 km track is fast, bumpy, tough on brakes and has barriers that can be as hungry as those round Monte Carlo. Good top speed and a reliable engine are needed for the long straights and a low to medium downforce configuration is generally the norm.
"The overriding character of the circuit is hard braking into slow first and second gear chicanes and hairpins, which make it the most testing circuit of the year for brakes," said Spyker chief engineer Domini Harlow. "Other considerations for the set-up are based around the traction because you've got quite a high maximum speed, and a low minimum speed, so there's a lot of braking and a lot of accelerating in first, second and third gears from the chicanes."
As the brakes are under pressure the heat generated increases tyre temperature. "Similar to Monte Carlo, being more or less a street circuit, Montreal is not used many times so it's very dusty and very slippery, which is why we've opted for the soft and super soft compounds," explained Bridgestone's Kees van de Grint. "It will be a bit of a challenge to make the tyres survive on this track, especially at the beginning of the weekend with the high speeds and the expected high temperatures."
The 'team orders' allegations that blighted McLaren after Monaco appeared to be nothing more than the British media getting petulant about Lewis Hamilton not winning his first race. Cleared by the FIA, McLaren heads to Canada leading the constructors' and drivers' standings with Fernando Alonso tied on points with Hamilton. The team was just about untouchable in Monaco and while many expect Ferrari to shine in North America, as the Scuderia often does, McLaren is optimistic.
"There has been no opportunity to test since Monaco; however the team has been pushing hard off track to keep the momentum going," said Alonso, who was victorious with Renault at Montreal in 2006. "Until last year, I hadn't had great results in Canada, so it was fantastic to win there. It is always a tough race, and you see a lot of retirements because you are stressing the whole car with the high speeds and the hard braking zones."
Felipe Massa did his best to keep Ferrari in touch at Monaco but was a distant third, over a minute behind the McLarens. Raikkonen lost his own chances due to his qualifying error and is now 15 points behind the standings' leaders -- it's not an impossible task to catch up by any means, but certainly it's a gap the Finn could have done without. Massa is currently the main challenger to Alonso and Hamilton, five points down, and he is confident Ferrari will perform in the upcoming races.
"As it (Montreal) is a medium downforce track, it is important to have an efficient car here, which offers good mechanical grip as well as good aerodynamics," said the Brazilian. "In other words you need a bit of a compromise and that can either work out very well or not be so good. In our case, I think the F2007 will run as a very strong package in Canada and actually, also in Indy, where Ferrari has also had good results."
BMW Sauber continues to hold steady as the third best team but the gap between the Swiss/German squad and McLaren and Ferrari is not getting any smaller. Nick Heidfeld is only five points behind Raikkonen in the standings but, no insult to Heidfeld, that's more to do with Raikkonen's problems than BMW's prowess. Still, motorsport director Mario Theissen has good reason to be optimistic heading to Montreal.
"Last year, we crossed the Atlantic in fifth place in the standings," Theissen commented. "In 2007 we will be arriving in Canada as the third best team. In 2006 we were only able to take two points away from the pair of races in North America. This is something we are naturally looking to improve on, and we are aiming to collect as many points as possible on the back of our good result in Monaco in order to further strengthen our position in the championship."
Giancarlo Fisichella did a good job for Renault to come home fourth in Monaco but is it really a resurgeance for the French team or was the R27 just particularly suited to the Monte Carlo streets? The Italian thinks another competitive performance is possible this coming weekend and Alan Permane, chief race engineer, reckons Renault is moving up the ranks. "I believe that on a more normal circuit, we will be within striking distance of BMW," he remarked.
"Until now, we have been racing with one eye on our mirrors, looking out for the midfield pack that includes Williams, Toyota and Red Bull. With the developments we introduced in Monaco, and those we have planned for the next races, I think we have given ourselves a cushion to that midfield group -- and added the performance that can allow us to race aggressively against the cars in front."
There's little between the rest of the teams, at least as far as points are concerned. None of them after Renault have more than seven to their names but the midfield seems pretty close in terms of performance. Even the usual back markers are getting in the act; Toro Rosso's Scott Speed was so near yet so far with a ninth place finish in Monaco, ahead of the Hondas which are still yet to open their scorecard. But North America can produce some surprising results so by the time the next two races are done it could be a very different picture all round.