Here’s everything you need to know ahead of this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix at the famed Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal.
Change of pace from Monaco
Picturesque as the Monaco Grand Prix always is, its collection of slow, winding corners coupled with a lack of overtaking opportunities didn’t exactly make for a thrilling race last month.
Its Canadian counterpart, then, is the perfect follow-up.
The famed Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve is essentially a collection of high-speed straights connected by slow corners – chicanes and one hairpin. The combination of slipstreaming and breaking zones provides plenty of passing opportunities, especially with a well-timed late lunge.
(Courtesy: Formula 1)
The concrete barriers awaiting drivers at most corners, including the famed ‘Wall of Champions’ that has felled some of the sport’s brightest stars throughout the years, mean even the slightest mistake can be punished.
In 1999, for example, Michael Schumacher, Damon Hill, and hometown favorite Jacques Villeneuve – each with championships to their name – all smacked the renowned wall coming out of Turn 13. A tight right-left turn that leads into the pit straight, the iconic piece of track sees drivers decelerate more than 120 mph (200 kph) in a blink. It’s one of the main reasons the circuit is so exhilarating; it can make or break someone’s weekend.
Get it right, and you come flying across the line. Get it wrong, and you add your name to a seemingly ever-growing list.
Toto Wolff, spin doctor
Is anybody better at downplaying expectations than Toto Wolff?
Amid a near-flawless season thus far – Mercedes has racked up 257 points through six races, including five one-two finishes – the Silver Arrows’ team principal is again playing coy over his team’s chances of success.
“We are beginning to see more clearly the strengths and weaknesses of our car,” he said ahead of this weekend’s race in Quebec. “In the past six races, we were very strong in the corners but lost time on the straights.
“This will make Canada a huge challenge for us, as the track characteristics could favor our opponents – there are many long straights, and fewer corners in which to make up lap time. But we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
He’s clearly referring to Ferrari. Don’t let him fool you.
Despite the SF90’s undisputed horsepower advantage, Mercedes – 118 points up on the Italian team in the Constructors’ standings – is once again the favorite heading into the weekend.
Hamilton’s home away from home
Lewis Hamilton loves Montreal.
The 34-year-old, who continues to chase Schumacher’s record of seven world championships, has crossed the line first at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve on six occasions throughout his decorated career; Sebastian Vettel’s win last season halted the Brit’s run of three consecutive victories in Montreal.
Hamilton’s aggressive driving style, use of the curbs, and willingness to almost kiss the walls allow him to extract every last millisecond of pace from this track, and it’s often proved the difference.
His emotional victory in Monaco, which he dedicated to late F1 icon Niki Lauda, saw Hamilton open up a 17-point lead on second-placed teammate Valtteri Bottas. He’s a further 38 points ahead of Vettel.
Most frighteningly for the rest of the field, he doesn’t think he’s peaked just yet.
“I definitely feel that it’s been quite an average performance from myself, maybe above average but generally quite average for the first six races,” he said. “I feel like I’ve got the best I could get. I’ve arrived prepared – the best prepared I could be – but in terms of extracting the true performance from the car, I feel like I’ve struggled a little bit in these six races.”
If only we could all struggle like that.
The five-time world champion is also expecting Mercedes to roll out an engine upgrade in Canada, which should further cement the team’s dominance.
Can Ferrari get out of its own way?
Another race, another totally avoidable blunder.
An error in judgment during the first round of qualifying torpedoed Charles Leclerc’s weekend in Monaco, the latest in a long line of questionable decisions Ferrari has made this season.
Though the track makeup in Montreal should theoretically offer both Vettel and Leclerc a chance to compete with Mercedes, team principal Mattia Binotto isn’t allowing himself to get overly excited.
Quite the opposite, actually.
“We know we’re not competitive enough right now,” Binotto said earlier this week. “And, for the time being, we haven’t got any more changes coming on the car that will have a significant effect on the problems we have encountered since the start of the season.”
Those problems are well known.
Despite a power unit superior to the rest of the field – including Mercedes and Red Bull – a lack of downforce and crucial unresolved tire issues have crippled Ferrari in the corners. That inability to find grip, in particular, could prove costly in Canada.
“The track itself is very slippery, it takes a while for the grip to come up,” Vettel said of the island circuit.
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