By: Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
The Circuit de Gilles-Villenueve hosts round seven of the 2011 FIA (Federation Internationale de L’Automobile) Formula One World Championship. The track is located on the Ile Notre-Dame, a man-made island in the St. Lawrence River that is part of the city of Montreal. The circuit was originally named the Ile Notre-Dame Circuit, and was renamed to honor one of Formula One’s most popular drivers, Canadian Gilles Villeneuve, father of Jacques Villeneuve who won the Formula One title in 1997. His father Gilles died in 1982 during the qualification for the Belgium Grand Prix at the circuit of Zolder.
The Canadian Grand Prix is popular with drivers as it poses some unique challenges, the fast long straights and tight chicanes and hairpins make it a stop-and-go circuit and it is difficult to find the ideal car set-up. Engines and brakes will be tested to the limit, and heavy tyre wear is expected. FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting about the circuit, “The Canadian Grand Prix is traditionally a very exciting race and one that is probably above average in terms of incidents, which always keeps everybody working at the race very focused. The marshals here are extremely enthusiastic and they are always very pleased to welcome Formula One back to Montreal.”
McLaren won the race last year in a convincing way, on Saturday Lewis Hamilton took pole position, and Hamilton and Jenson Button crossed the finish line in first and second position on Sunday, while Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber took fourth and fifth position. Red Bull has always said they would not rule the 2011 season forever, and this could be the chance for McLaren to gather the maximum amount of points they so desperately need to catch up with the Austrian team who are now 61 points ahead of the Woking-based McLaren team for the Constructors’ Championship. Hamilton is currently 58 points behind Vettel who is leading the Drivers’ Championship with 143 points.
In fact, Vettel has all but seven of the maximum of 150 points on his tally, which mans he won five races and scored one second place this season. But team principal Christian is cautious about the rest of the season, “Seb has got a healthy lead. But the points with the new system are quite deceptive. His 58 points lead under the old points system is just over 20 points, so that is just over two race wins.” And he is aware of the fact Red Bull’s rivals are now catching up quickly, “Things can change very, very quickly. He has got himself into a great position, and he is seven points off a maximum score, but as we have seen in the last two weeks he has been pushed all the way by different competitors.”
Vettel thinks the track will be challenging for the entire field, “The track should provide all the teams with a fresh challenge this year, as it will be the first time we run the cars with a completely different aerodynamic set-up to deal with the long straights, but the RB7 should be pretty tidy.” And he admitted there is still one trophy missing fore Red Bull, “I qualified on the front row there last year, but it’s a track that Red Bull Racing has yet to crack on Sunday afternoon.”
Webber has admitted he has been struggling with the new Pirellis, “They are very different and the drivers are very sensitive to that. When you're at this level and trying to gain an edge with tiny details, the small changes can make big differences. But it's up to the drivers to adapt.”
It might also be the last time Red Bull can use their superior off-throttle blown diffuser, as the FIA has announced these diffusers are no longer permitted after the Canadian Grand Prix, and many believe Red Bull who use the Renault engine, would suffer most in terms of lap time. Red Bull’s Adrian Newey ‘explained’ the Renault engine opens to full throttle when the accelerator isn’t pressed by the driver, to ‘cool the exhaust valves’ and argued banning the system would have an impact on the reliability of the Renault engine. But FIA President Jean Todt has no plans to change his mind. “It [exhaust blowing] is a pointless consumption of fuel,” he commented after the Monaco GP.
Hamilton has started this race from pole position three times, and won twice. Hamilton is already looking forward to the race, “I've always got on really well with the track, the layout seems to suit my driving style. Our car should be well suited to this track; we have a great engine, the best KERS system in the sport and excellent traction out of slow corners. All in all, it’s set to be another good weekend for us -- I’ll be looking for a strong result on Sunday.”
His British team colleague Jenson Button has never won the Canadian Grand Prix, but is equally optimistic about his chances. “I had a good race in Montreal last year -- the car was great in the race and I was able to pull off some nice moves to score our third one-two of the year for the team,” he said. Can he beat Red Bull and win this race? “I’ve never won in north America and I think we have the pace, the development and the momentum to have a good shot at changing that next weekend. I’m really looking forward to it.”
FIA doctors determine if Sergio Perez and Vitaly Petrov are fit to race
After Sergio Perez’ crash during qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix, the Mexican is adamant he is ready for the race in Canada. He spent two days in hospital, but he remained optimistic.
I know the final decision is up to the FIA doctors
“It was quite a big shunt but it is part of the game and luckily nothing big happened. I lost consciousness in the accident but I am looking forward to the next race,” he said last week. Perez has already arrived in Canada and he feels confident ahead of the race, “I feel very good and fit. Of course I want to race in Montreal, but I also know the final decision is up to the FIA doctors.” Perez will be examined by FIA doctors on the Thursday before the race, and they will decide whether he is fit to race.
Vitaly Petrov also had a nasty crash in Monaco and was also transferred to a hospital. But Petrov indicated that he has no problems anymore. “Physically I’m feeling fine with no problems. I’m feeling better than I was after the race in Monaco. My ankle is fine and I don’t see any problems for the race here in Canada,” he reported.
Mercedes and Lotus Renault
Montreal is familiar grounds for seven-times World Champion Michael Schumacher, as he has won the Canadian venue seven times, more than any other driver. He started the race 16 times, which resulted in together 12 podium places. “The circuit itself is very much a stop-and-go scenario with much of the focus on top speed and braking,” the German said. “We also have the two DRS zones this year for the first time, so it will be interesting to see the impact that this makes. It is really difficult to have an idea of how our car will perform in Montreal, he commented.
Nico Rosberg is also confident ahead of the race, “I'm looking forward to the weekend, and I hope that we can move up and be back competing where we belong. The spirit within the team is great and we will fight for a better result than in Monaco.” But he knows it is a very demanding circuit, “The Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve is a nice race track; but it's also very challenging and hard on the engine and brakes.”
Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn, “The Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve is the first real high-speed circuit of the season, where the brakes are important and engine power is a factor.” He was also positive about the overtaking opportunities, “We have two DRS zones which will increase overtaking at a circuit where passing was already possible. With the combination of DRS and the tyres, this should lead to an exciting and eventful weekend.”
Lotus Renault have scored two podium finishes this season, but the team led by team principal Eric Boullier flailed to impress during the last two races at Spain and Monaco.
Nick Heidfeld has been warned by Boullier to ramp up his performance during qualifying, as he always seems to be slower than his Russian colleague Petrov. In Monaco both drivers failed to make it into Q3, but the Frenchman is confident Canada will be a different experience. “We’ve got a better understanding of the Canadian Grand Prix now, after what we learnt when we were there last year, so I’m pretty sure both cars should be able to finish in the top eight,” Boullier said.
Heidfeld agrees, “Canada is not as unique as Monaco but it does still stand out in its own way. It has slow chicanes and fast straights, so it is going to be a different kind of drive than the last race.” The German was also optimistic about his chances, “We tend to have fast straight line speed which should help us. I look forward to every race, but this is a very special one because I’ve finished second here before.”
Petrov has only raced here once, last year, and is aiming to perform better this year. ”The track does have long straights, which will offer us a chance to show our quick straight line speed, but there are also slow corners so it will be important to brake well to help preserve the tyres - it’s a real balancing act here in Montreal,” he commented.
So with both Mercedes and Lotus Renault all geared up for better results, there is another team that has vowed to improve their performance.
Ferrari expects ‘a step forwards’ in Montreal
Although Ferrari has recently reshuffled their technical department, the Italian team is certainly not out of the woods yet, Fernando Alonso is currently fifth in the championship, 74 points behind leader Vettel. His Brazilian tem colleague Felipe Massa is in eighth position with 119 points behind Vettel, and has scored 45 points less than Alonso. In the Constructors’ championship the Maranello-based team is now third, 129 points behind the number one, Red Bull, and 68 points behind the number two, McLaren. If Ferrari wants to keep their championship hopes alive, it is now time to score, and Alonso has hinted the next two races are crucial for the team.
Ferrari’s Pat Fry compared the circuit in Canada with Monaco, “The Canadian race can be a bit like Monaco in that it’s all about traction and braking, although brakes come under far more stress here. Traction and how the car uses the tyres at corner exit will be the key to the life of the rear tyres.” He hopes to make a step forward this weekend with new upgrades. “It is a normal constant stream of updates, and there are a few different parts coming through -- a few little bits on the diffuser and a few bits on the rear wing. A reasonable performance step hopefully, if everything goes to plan,” he explained.
Alonso thinks the circuit will suit Ferrari, “Even though it has some very fast stretches, the Canadian track suits cars which can jump over the kerbs without losing too much balance and cars that have good traction on the exits of the slow corners. Those are both characteristics that are among the strong points of the 150° Italia.” About his chances to score a podium place he was cautious, “It remains very difficult because I expect McLaren and Red Bull to be very strong but we must not count anything out.”
Massa admitted he has a poor Canadian Grand Prix track record, “My results have not been that good here, the best being a fourth place in 2005. At the very least, I would hope to aim for my best ever Canadian Grand Prix result this weekend and to finish on the podium would be great.” About the challenges the track poses he said, “The track presents all sorts of interesting challenges and it is not very easy to set up the car, because the track surface evolves all through the weekend, starting off with virtually no grip at all on Friday morning. You need a car that works well over the kerbs, has good traction out of the slow turns, but this is actually a fast track, so you need good top speed too,” said.
Circuit de Gilles-Villeneuve - Monreal - Canada
|Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve||Montreal, Canada|
|Circuit length||4.361 km|
|Corners||15 turns - 6 left, 9 right|
|Longest straight||750 meter|
|Total number of race laps||70|
|Total race distance||305.270 km|
|Estimated top speed||316 km/h|
|Average speed||222 km/h|
|Tyre compounds||Super Soft [Option] and Soft [Prime]|
|Lap record||Rubens Barrichello - Ferrari - 1:13.622 (2004)|
|2010 Pole Position||Lewis Hamilton - McLaren-Mercedes - 1m15.105|
|2010 Race Winner||Lewis Hamilton - McLaren-Mercedes - 1h33m53.456|
|Speed limits in the pit lane||60 km/h during practice sessions, 100 km/h during qualifying and race|
|FIA Stewards||Emerson Fittipaldi (BR), Gary Connelly (AUS), Tim Mayer (USA)|
|Speed limits in the pit lane||60 km/h during practice sessions; 100 km/h during qualifying and race|
Montreal, Canada three-day weather forecast
|Day||Forecast||Min Temperature||Max Temperature|
|Friday June 10||Cloudy with sunny intervals and moderate temperatures||12C||20C|
|Saturday June 11||Cloudy with light rain, cool weather||18C||18C|
|Sunday June 12||Cloudy and heavy rain showers, cold weather||9C||13C|
Pirelli tyre report
Pirelli will once again this season bring the new super soft tyres to Canada, the red marked super softs are the Option tyres, and the yellow marked soft tyres are the Prime tyres. The circuit is also a challenge for Pirelli, it is a fast circuit with a low-grip surface, with areas of maximum braking and maximum traction. High tyre wear is expected and Pirelli doesn’t think long stints on one set of tyres as seen in Monaco will be possible.
Again Pirelli will supply all teams with two additional sets of new medium compound slicks which they can test during Friday’s practice sessions, and as usual both sets should be returned before the third free practice session on Saturday.
Pirelli Motorsport Director Paul Hembery, “The characteristics of Canada mean that we’re unlikely to see a one-stop strategy this weekend, but we’re hoping that the racing will be just as close and that the opportunities for overtaking will give teams even more possibilities than Monaco in terms of race strategy.”
Mercedes team principal Brawn about the tyres, “All of the teams suffered with big tyre problems because of graining last year, so it will be interesting to see how the new Pirelli tyres behave next weekend. It's not easy to predict whether the tyre situation will follow what we experienced in 2010 or whether we will have a different situation.”
And what did the most experienced driver on the grid, Williams driver Rubens Barrichello had to say about the Pirellis in Canada? “The circuit can be hard on tyres because the cars run on low down force and the tarmac is quite low grip, the Brazilian said. And added, “The track has some change of direction, is very hard on brakes and has two hairpins that make good traction very important. Turn 1, for example, is a corner that you carry a lot of speed into and then you brake hard into the hairpin in first gear. The minimum speed is low but traction is hard on tyres”
Race notes from the other teams
Force India have set their sights on scoring points this weekend, and team principal and team owner Vijay Mallya revealed they have a few updates planned. “We have been busy in the wind tunnel developing the low down force spec of our aero platform, which will hopefully allow us to challenge for more points. There are also a few more subtle detail changes to the bodywork as we continue to extract more and more performance from the car,” the Indian said.
Sauber is also looking forward to Montreal, as they believe the circuit will suit the Sauber C30. James Key, Technical Director, ”Last year we had some interesting strategies developing because tyre degradation was quite high, but it’s not clear if this will also be the case with the Pirelli tyres.” Sauber also has a few updates for the car, “Our car will have some modifications to adapt to a lower drag setting, but we will tune that according to the track grip and the conditions. We hope for a good race weekend again.”
Williams finally scored points in Monaco, and could even have scord more points if Hamilton would not have pushed Pastor Maldonado into the barriers at Sainte Devote. Maldonado has no experience with the Canadian track, but his team colleague Barrichello knows everything about the circuit. “It is important to get a good car set-up with a focus on managing the brakes and getting maximum traction. The minimum speed is low but traction is hard on tyres and there are a lot of hard braking areas throughout the lap,” the veteran stated. And his favorite part of the circuit? “The hairpin is probably one of the most exciting parts of the track as the fans that base themselves there are great,” he replied.
Team Lotus owner Tony Fernandes has revealed he will have some important news regarding his recent acquisition of the Caterham sports car manufacturer, it is rumored he will rename his GP2 team using the Caterham branding. Italian driver Jarno Trulli, is certainly poised to get started in Canada, “It's a very quick lap and one of the toughest tracks of the season on the brakes, so cooling and stability under braking both play a big role, particularly in the race. It will be interesting to see how the tyre strategies play out over the weekend and I think it'll be another great race, hopefully for us as well!”
The Marussia Virgin team have been struggling all season, and have broken the bonds with chassis designer and builder Nick Wirth. Team Principal John Booth is nevertheless confident his team will find some more speed this weekend, “We have a low down force package for this race to suit the characteristics of the circuit and we have made some good strides with our car setup in recent races,” he said.
Team Principal Colin Kolles of the HRT team, is hoping to improve the F111. “This should be a better weekend for us, it’s an opportunity to prove our reliability and show some improvement in our performance,” he said. “The team has come a long way since the start of the championship but we have to make bigger steps. In order to achieve this improvement we will be coming to Canada with some new aero parts that suit the circuit characteristics and a new exhaust system.”
For the first time this season the FIA has set up two DRS zones on the semi-permanent Gilles-Villeneuve circuit. The first zone is between Turns 10 and 13, and drivers can use the system on the long back straight that leads to the chicane for the start/finish straight. The second zone is located on the start/finish straight itself, but there is one important restriction: a driver who has been overtaken in the first zone, is not allowed to use DRS in the second zone to regain his place he lost in the first zone.
Toro Rosso driver Sebastien Buemi thinks DRS will make all the difference this weekend, and it will be no surprise he thinks overtaking will become very easy in the first DRS zone. “Up to 200kph, whether you have the DRS on or off, there really isn't much difference. It's only when you get up to 280-300kph and hold that speed for a long time that you get the big advantage,” he explained. And added, “The DRS is going to work immediately, and with that 10-15kph extra, you're going to be able to pass easily, on the inside or the outside.”
However, McLaren’s Paddy Lowe, is not convinced two zones are required. He thinks the second zone is a sort of extra bonus to the driver who has overtaken his opponent in the first zone. “In theory if you've overtaken on the first straight, ironically, the guy ahead will be able to continue to use the DRS on the second straight, even though he has already overtaken and he will open up an even bigger gap. We'll just have to see how that pans out,” he said.
What to expect?
Hamilton has always said he wanted a direct fight with his Red Bull rivals, but it could also be he will repeat last year’s performance and will be way ahead of Red Bull instead of chasing them. The race this year will be very different, with the new Pirellis and the KERS and DRS systems which should make it easier to overtake, especially with DRS now working in two zones, and hopefully overtaking will not be too easy.
The good news it that although one team has dominated this season, the races have nevertheless been unpredictable, and the overtaking action on track has certainly improved compared to 2009 and 2010. The Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve has become a classic track, along with European circuits like Monza, Spa-Francorchamps and Silverstone. Tragedy and victory often go hand in hand, and the now injured Robert Kubica had his biggest Formula One crash at this circuit, but won the race the next year.
It was also on this circuit where Ferrari driver Frenchman Jean Alesi scored his first and only win in his 12-year Formula One career, and with rain showers forecasted this weekend, it could again be an outsider who will go home with the trophy on Sunday, and not one of the favorites, Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari. Alonso is known for his dogged determination, and will certainly grab any opportunity to finally score the first season win for Ferrari. The race starts at 14:00 local time, follow all the action this weekend on Motorsport.com.