Will Formula get more Montreal mayhem in 2013?

Nico-Rosberg-Monaco-2013-(7)The Canadian Grand Prix has traditionally been one of the most exciting and action packed races on the Formula 1 calendar and with the sport having suffered so much criticism of late it is crucial that it bounces back with a solid race this weekend.

It’s difficult to read much into the Monaco weekend but for Lotus and Ferrari it will surely have served as a wake up call with Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen both struggling throughout the weekend. The championship challengers’ lacklustre race saw them finish seventh and tenth, respectively. This allowed Sebastian Vettel to open a 21 point lead at the head of the standings.

Sebastian-Vettel-Monaco-2013The German however has never won in Canada but he has held the pole position for the last two years. Having finished runner up to Jenson Button in the marathon 2011 edition he will start this weekend as the favourite once again. Ferrari however should be strong with the F138 likely to excel this weekend.

Where Lotus will figure remains to be seen; the team has built another solid car that is very good in most areas but exceptional only in terms of tyre life. This of course gives them a significant advantage in contemporary Formula 1 and with multiple high speed braking areas and heavy acceleration zone Montreal places a great strain on tyres. Lotus could once again be in the box seats once the five red lights go out.

The Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve

Sergio-Perez-Monaco-2013-(1)Formula 1 moves from one extreme to another this weekend with the tight and twisty confines of Monaco replaced by the more flowing nature of Montreal. Whereas overtaking is next to impossible at Monaco, unless you’re an exceptionally combative Sergio Perez!, Montreal offers numerous genuine overtaking opportunities.

Once again there will be two DRS zones in Montreal with one detection point. The detection point is after turn nine with the activation zones on the exit of the hairpin and the start finish straight. This should make overtaking relatively trouble free for the drivers but hopefully not as easy as it was two years ago when it was all but impossible to defend against an attack.

This will be the 34th Canadian Grand Prix held in Montreal and it has tended to be a good barometer of the sports leading challengers. Of all the victors in Montreal only Robert Kubica, Ralf Schumacher and Jean Alesi have failed to win a world title. The most successful drivers in Montreal history are seven times champion Michael Schumacher, triple champions Ayrton Senna and Nelson Piquet and Lewis Hamilton. `

Sergio-Perez-Monaco-2013-(4)In spite of the weather playing a key role in previous years-torrential rain in 2011 and baking heat in 2008 that saw the track break up in places-the cream has consistently risen to the top in Canada and this weekend should be no exception.

With high speed straights and slow speed corners Montreal is one of the toughest tracks on the calendar on brakes; only Singapore is regarded as more testing. The tyres also are worked hard by the low grip nature of the track surface making for a stern test for the Pirelli rubber. With the Italian manufacturer having come under so much scrutiny of late it is unlikely that the spotlight will be any less intense this weekend.

Engines are also under pressure in Canada with the ultra long straights and heavy acceleration zones from slow corners testing the 2.4 litre V8 power plants. Remi Taffin, Renault’s head of track operations, spoke about the challenges facing engine manufacturers:

Frank-Williams-post-qualifying-Barcelona-2012The circuit Gilles-Villeneuve has the quickest single lap time of the season, taking just 75 seconds on average. This is due in part to the relatively short length, but also to the long straights of the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve. The straights are connected by tight hairpins where the cars brake down to a little under 60kph, so the RS27 must combine good top end power with effective engine braking and pick up on the entry and exits to the corners so acceleration is not compromised down the straights.”

Lotus and Ferrari look to claw back Red Bull

Sebastian-Vettel-Monaco-2013-(8)Sebastian Vettel’s commanding championship lead came about due to unique circumstances in Monaco. The Ferrari struggled once the track evolved on Saturday morning and Fernando Alonso had an uncharacteristic race where he seemed defenseless at times. The ease with which Jenson Button and Adrian Sutil overtook him showed how little confidence that the Spaniard had in his car.

Montreal however should be a good race for the team and the double world champion should be able to bounce back with a much more competitive showing. Formula 1 is a “what have you done lately” sport and Monaco showed that Ferrari’s F138 is not quite as complete a car as Maranello had hoped but on the balance of the opening six races it is clearly still one of the most complete cars on the grid and with and good tyre wear Alonso and Felipe Massa should be in contention once again.

Fernando-Alonso-Monaco-2013-(7)For both Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen the key in Canada, and the upcoming British and German races, will be to take points off Vettel. They need to get within ten points of the reigning champion by the summer break otherwise the championship could be exceptionally difficult to win.

Raikkonen was more competitive than Alonso in Monaco and the Finn was unfortunate to lose his fifth place after needing a late pitstop to repair damage from the crash with Perez but the 2007 champion saw positives from his last race even if they weren’t reflected in the bottom line:

“We had a bad result on Sunday in Monaco; that was clear for anyone to see,” said Raikkonen. “It could have been even worse, but it could have been much better as well. Kimi-Raikkonen-Monaco-2013-(3)We came out with one point so at least we got something back after losing the solid fifth place, but that’s not much consolation. The car felt good for qualifying and the race which is a positive as it was another circuit – and a difficult circuit – where we’ve been able to have the car pretty much as we wanted. We still lack just a little bit of speed in qualifying sometimes, but our race pace was good again; not that you can show that when you’re stuck behind slower cars like we saw in Monaco.”

Raikkonen’s teammate, Romain Grosjean, will go to Canada looking to forget his miserable Monaco weekend that once again brought his driving to the fore. Monaco was a microcosm of Grosjean’s career-moments of tremendous speed but also costly crashes. The Frenchman pushed to the limit in Monaco and the track bit him on numerous occasions. It has to be disheartening for the former GP2 champion given that he had done a good job of avoiding accidents so far this year and had some strong races.

Romain-Grosjean-Monaco-2013-(1)All that was forgotten in the aftermath of Monaco and talk of his contract being reviewed at regular intervals through the season suddenly became the biggest post Monaco story for the team to deal with.

His crash with Daniel Ricciardo during the race resulted in a ten place grid penalty this weekend so he faces a mountain once again in Montreal if he is to score points. Even so Grosjean was in reflective mode this week once the dust had settled from his Monaco outing:

“It was certainly a rollercoaster [in Monaco], and one where we could have achieved a lot more with the pace of the car,” said Grosjean. “No-one wants to make contact with the barriers at Monaco and it’s a fine balance between going fast and going too fast; there’s such a tiny margin for error as I found out. The positives are that we significantly improved the car again to make it more predictable over the weekend and that helped me a lot.

“I think we had the pace to be in the top three, but unfortunately we didn’t get the qualifying position we wanted and it’s almost impossible to move up the order in Monaco. I got caught out behind Daniel [Ricciardo] and will have to suffer quite a harsh penalty of ten places on the Montreal grid, but we’ll be working hard to devise the best strategy to work back up the order.”

Can Mercedes maintain Monaco Momentum?

Nico-Rosberg-Monaco-2013-(4)Nico Rosberg dominated Monaco. The German was fastest in every practice session, qualified on pole and romped to a fully deserved victory…yet the race produced more questions than answers about the Mercedes.

Had the Barcelona tyre test given them an advantage? Have they started to switch their tyres from the left side to the right side? Was their victory mostly by virtue of Rosberg being able to take it easy on the tyres and only push at certain points? Will they be able to carry their form forward?

Rosberg’s win was, in all likelihood a combination of these factors. Qualifying on pole position gave him a distinct advantage in Monaco and he was able to play out his strategy accordingly and win the race. Montreal is hard on tyres and much easier to overtake on so it’s highly unlikely that Mercedes will be able to carry their form forward and challenge for the win again.

Nico-Rosberg-Monaco-2013-(11)However, if the team can show progress compared to Barcelona and have both drivers finish in the top six within 30s of the race leader it will be clear that definitive progress has been made and that the summer could be brighter for the Brackley based outfit.

Speaking ahead of this weekend’s race Rosberg did little to dampen expectations about the team’s chances in the coming races:

“The circuit itself is one of my favourite tracks on the calendar and I love the challenge of driving there,” said the German. “It’s a very difficult layout to drive because of the low downforce levels required for the long straights and it will be tough on the tyres. Monaco was a fantastic weekend for the team and I’m so proud of the victory that we achieved there. We’ll be hoping to maintain that momentum in Canada this weekend and will be going all out for another strong performance.”
His teammate, Lewis Hamilton, has been victorious twice in Canada but until he can fully understand the Mercedes he is likely to be struggling for points this weekend.

Lewis Hamilton Jenson Button Monaco FP3 2013The 2008 world champion knows that managing the tyres will be key for his hopes this weekend:

“The circuit itself is really special; it’s very high-speed, great fun to drive and it’s definitely a track where late braking helps,” commented Hamilton. “It’s not too far off a Monaco-style circuit where you need a similar set-up to bounce off the kerbs so we should be quite competitive, although looking after the tyres will be our main challenge.”

Force India aiming high

Adrian-Sutil-Monaco-2013-(2)The start of the season saw Force India fly under the radar to a certain extent but while they have been unfortunate in some races, Adrian Sutil’s early retirements, they have produced a very tidy race car that works on a wide variety of tracks.

The team goes to Montreal now expecting to score points rather than racing with the hope of points as had been the case in the past. Ahead of this weekend Team Principal, Vijay Mallya, is aiming for the podium:

“I think we are now knocking on the door of our first podium finish since 2009, and it’s time to do that all-important step,” said the Indian. “Montreal would be a great place to do so – it is a track that favours overtaking and our car has shown the race pace to finish among the leaders, so everything is possible.”

In Monaco Paul di Resta had a spirited drive to ninth after a qualifying mix up left him an early casualty in 17th on the grid. His teammate however was arguably the only driver to compete with Rosberg for driver of the day honours. Having crashed during Saturday morning’s practice session the German had a superb afternoon to qualify ninth and raced well on Sunday to claim a fifth place finish after battling past both Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button with well judged moves.

Paul-di-Resta-Monaco-2013-(3)When asked about his Monaco performance Sutil commented:

“After four difficult races I was ready to get this result,” he said. “We had several missed opportunities, but I tried my best to stay positive because I could see the potential of the car. So it felt very good to have a race where I could deliver a strong result. But it was not the easiest of weekends for me because I lost track time on Saturday and I damaged my front wing on the first lap of the race. So, all things considered, it was very satisfying to come away with fifth place.”

The rustiness that he undoubtedly felt in the early races has clearly been removed and in Monaco he looked like the confident driver that showed promise in his early career. Sutil always goes well in the wet and if it rains on Sunday Mallya’s ambition of a podium finish could be met in the team’s 100th Grand Prix.

It’s a milestone that di Resta noted in his thoughts for the upcoming race but prime in his mind is the competitiveness that they have enjoyed thus far in 2013:

“We’ve been competitive on every track this year and that’s a credit to the team, so we expect to be at our usual level once again,” said the Scot. “It’s traditionally a track that has suited us, so we go there confident that we can fight towards the front once again. 100 races is a significant achievement and it’s great to see how much the team has grown during that time.”

No sign of McLaren revival

Jenson-Button-Monaco-2013-(1)Through six races of 2013 McLaren has made progress with their troublesome car but the team is still struggling to be anything more than a midfield runner and this weekend should be no exception. Slow speed traction and an ability to ride the kerbs are essential in Montreal and these are two areas that the team is struggling with at present.

For his part Jenson Button continues to lead the team but the former world champion must be starting to show signs of impatience within the privacy of team meetings. After his fuel pump problem in Monaco qualifying Button was clearly exceptionally disappointed, he walked from the garages to the paddock without removing his helmet, but if it rains in Canada he might be able to overcome the deficiencies of his machinery and score a healthy helping of points. The battle with Force India in the Constructors’ Championship is close and McLaren needs to make a stand as soon as possible otherwise they will slide even further behind their new found rivals.

Jenson-Button-Monaco-2013-(7)Speaking about his chances this weekend Button said:

“Like Monaco, the Canadian Grand Prix can be something of an enjoyable lottery,” commented the 2011 race winner. “But whereas Monaco is a low-speed, high-grip place, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is the opposite: high-speed and low-grip. It’s a mix that always comes together to provide the fans with great racing, which is another reason why it’s become one of the most popular races of the year.

“Going back to Canada always brings back happy memories of my race there in 2011. Coming through from last to first really does show that anything’s possible in Formula 1. While we won’t be heading to Montreal with a winning package, we’re making steady progress, and there’s always that added motivation that you can pull off a surprising result at this race.

Sergio-Perez-Monaco-2013-(3)On the other side of the McLaren garage sits Sergio Perez. The Mexican is clearly fired up and motivated to show that he deserves his chance with one of the sports leading teams but his incident rate is piling up and it’s clear that he is building a reputation for himself with rival drivers.

Kimi Raikkonen’s comments about looking to punch Perez however shows that rivals are now acutely aware of the Mexican and know that they need to be on guard at all times for an attack. It’s a similar strategy to what we saw Ayrton Senna use in his early career and it meant that when rivals saw his yellow helmet in their mirrors their attention was taken away from driving at the limit and focused on the Brazilian. If Perez can cultivate this in the coming races he could be very well placed if McLaren can develop this year’s car to be competitive.

Sergio-Perez-Monaco-2013-(2)“There may not be much to show from Monaco but it was another positive race for me,” admitted Perez. “We had stronger pace throughout the weekend, and I felt that I raced hard and fairly, earning my positions the hard way – by competing for, and winning, them on the track.”

Ultimately the buck stops with Martin Whitmarsh for McLaren’s failings in 2013 but given the success that the team has enjoyed with the Englishman any speculation about his future is nothing more than idle gossip. Whitmarsh has ran McLaren efficiently since taking over from Ron Dennis and the team principal still has the full backing of his former boss.

The team is the most successful in Canadian Grand Prix history with 13 victories and while they are a long way from adding to those successes rain and safety cars could make this one of the team’s strongest races of the season so far.

Rookies continue to adapt to Formula 1

Jules-Bianchi-Monaco-2013-(3)Canada is, like Monaco, a track lined with barriers and memories of accidents. The most famous corner is obviously the “wall of champions” but this year’s crop of rookies will be tested at numerous other parts of the track.

Getting used to racing through the changing light of the trees of the first sector or learning how to attack the kerbs at the final corner, without hitting the aforementioned wall, are just two of the challenges facing the drivers but to a man they are all looking forward to the race.

Esteban Gutierrez has shown some signs of promise of late and the Sauber racer will have some past experience on hand this weekend:

Esteban-Gutierrez-Monaco-2013-(3)“So far I have driven once at the track on Île Notre-Dame, and that was in 2007 in Formula BMW,” said the Mexican. “It went quite well with one podium finish and a fourth place. It’s a really nice circuit and I like it a lot. The track is slippery and tyre management will yet again be very important, which gives us an opportunity to put a good strategy together.”

Giedo van der Garde sprung a surprise in Monaco and nearly made it through to Q3 with a canny tyre strategy in the principality. This weekend however the Dutchman knows that he will once again be relegated to back marker status but having been the team’s reserve driver last year and spending time in the simulator he has some confidence ahead of the race:

Giedo-van-der-Garde-Monaco-2013-(2)Canada is a track I’ve never raced at but one I went to last year with Caterham as Reserve Driver,” said van der Garde. “I sat in on all the briefings and debriefs last year so I have quite a bit of information about what it’s going to be like from 2012, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time on my sim at home trying the track, but you obviously don’t really know what it’s like until you drive around it, but it will only take a couple of laps to get used to it. 
“It’ll be interesting to see where we are after Monaco. I was glad to bring the car home, but after the best Saturday of the year so far we obviously wanted to finish higher up. Even with that, there were some good signs in the race that we are making decent progress. Personally, for me it was another step in the learning curve [to have] enough pace to get the car into Q2 and to record one of the fastest laps in the race in the early stages. Montreal is a medium to low downforce track and with the constant updates we’re making to the package we took to Spain, I think we could be ok.”

Setup challenges facing engineers this weekend

Mark-Webber-Monaco-2013-(9)Compromise is always key with a Formula 1 setup. With the exception of the likes of Monaco and Singapore where a team will look to get as much downforce as possible on the car or Monza where top speed is the key requirement most circuits need a balance between speed and grip. Canada is no exception.

Drivers need to have a high top speed to defend and attack on the long straights but they also need a car that can deal with the multiple slow and medium speed corners; almost all corners are taken at less than 160 kmp/h.

Tom McCullough of Sauber spoke about this compromise:

“The circuit is comprised of long straights and slow speed corners, which encourage overtaking, and also contribute to it being one of the hardest for the brakes. The circuit efficiency requires a lower drag level rear wing compared to Monaco, but you still need a strong car in low speed corners.”

Valterri-Bottas-Monaco-2013-(2)Mike Coughlan, Williams’ Technical Director, meanwhile discussed the strategic challenges of Montreal:

Montreal has the lowest pit loss time of the year, at 15.9 seconds,” said Coughlan. “This typically favours higher stop strategies, however there is a relatively high chance of getting a safety car around here. The track roughness is the lowest of the season and coupled with low tyre energy this can lead to a high tendency towards tyre graining. Weather is also a factor here as the low temperatures can cause trouble for the tyres due to the circuit layout and rain is always a threat.”

Formula 1 revolves around Pirelli tyres

Nico-Hulkenberg-Monaco-2013-(4)Tyre tests, tyre failures and tyre dominated races have left Pirelli appearing somewhat disillusioned with Formula 1 of late but the Italian tyre manufacturer is returning to what could be seen as the origin of their product.

The thrilling 2010 race was hailed as “the future blueprint of Formula 1” after Bridgestone made a rare error in their tyre compounds and the race produced a thrilling race with lots of action, overtaking and pitstops. The paddock hailed it as a breakthrough and tasked Pirelli with reproducing such a race in future. This is what Pirelli has achieved yet they have been criticised of late for “boring races.”

It’s a fine line for the company to manage and overall in their three years in the sport they have done a magnificent job of producing exciting races and some of the best wheel to wheel battling we have seen since the introduction of aerodynamics in the late sixties and early seventies.

Max-Chilton-Monaco-2013-(2)Paul Hembery, Pirelli’s Motorsport Director, however is looking forward to Canada, and their new prototype compounds, rather than commenting on the recent testing scandal:

We’ll be bringing the P Zero White medium and P Zero Red supersoft tyres to Canada,” said Hembery. “Both of them have a low working range so they should be well-suited to the likely temperatures and track conditions we will encounter in Montreal. On top of that, we are bringing two sets per car of a prototype medium compound tyre, which the drivers will be able to use in free practice on Friday only.

“Canada has always been one of the toughest circuits of the year for the tyres as there is a lot of traction and braking, while the cars also tend to run low downforce, meaning that the emphasis is on mechanical rather than aerodynamic grip. Historically there’s often been uncertain weather in Canada too, which means that we might see the Cinturato Green intermediate and Cinturato Blue wet tyres out again.

Kimi-Raikkonen-Monaco-2013“There’s usually a big degree of track evolution over the course of the weekend, as the circuit is not used much outside of the grand prix. This makes a big difference: as more rubber gets put onto the track, there’s more grip, so lap times – along with tyre wear and degradation – come down.”

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