After the glitz and glamour of Monaco on the Mediterranean, Formula One packs its bags and jets off across the Atlantic for its first visit to North America of the year, for the running of the 51st Canadian Grand Prix, held at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
The circuit, set around the park of the Ile Notre-Dame island situated in the St Lawrence River, and bearing the name of Canada’s most adored motor racing son, Gilles Villeneuve, will play host to round seven of the 2014 Formula One season, a season in which Mercedes have swept the board in terms of both poles and wins, with six out of six in both tallies.
As has been the case for the majority of the year, all eyes will be cast expectantly on Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton this weekend in Montreal, especially so after the pair exchanged the opening shots of the oncoming Mercedes civil war around the streets of Monte Carlo two weeks ago.
Monaco was quite the weekend for Rosberg, as it marked the first time in 2014 that he beat his team-mate Hamilton on-track during a race, his sole win before that having come in Australia, where Hamilton retired early on.
Much has been said about the mental strength of the Mercedes pair, but after a series of disappointing defeats for the German, pole and the win in Monaco marked quite the comeback. With the lead of the drivers’ championship now back in his hands, and Hamilton’s run of form reversed, Rosberg will be hoping to spook Hamilton once again.
However, he will have to be at his absolute best to have even a slither of hope of beating his team-mate this weekend. The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is pure Hamilton territory. The Brit claimed his maiden Formula One win here in 2007 – in a race perhaps better remembered for Robert Kubica’s horror crash – at the tender age of just 22, and has since added two more winners trophies to his cabinet, in 2010 and 2012 respectively. Lewis, despite the setbacks of Monaco, will be without question the man to beat in Montreal this coming weekend.
Despite an encouraging race for Daniel Ricciardo in Monaco, and umpteenth promises from their French engine-supplier Renault of improvements, Red Bull will not be looking forward to Canada – a track where straightline performance is key – one bit. The Milton-Keynes based outfit may have firmly established itself as the best of the rest behind Mercedes over recent races, but with the Renault power unit’s obvious lack of grunt still an issue, the team could well find itself squabbling with Williams and Force India this weekend.
The two Mercedes-powered teams have impressed all year, and both should expect to add to their points hauls in Canada. At Force India, Nico Hulkenberg is still yet to finish outside the points this season, with the added touch that the German actually finds himself fifth in the drivers’ championship, one spot and two points ahead of his four-times world champion compatriot Sebastian Vettel. And while it might be a stretch for Sergio Perez to repeat his podium finish here in 2011 with Sauber this weekend, expect the Mexican to go well in Montreal.
Down at Williams, Valtteri Bottas will be keen to repeat his surprise third on the grid from 2013, while Felipe Massa, a podium finisher with Ferrari around Montreal in the past, will simply be looking to add to his burgeoning points tally, after his third seventh place finish of the season last time out in Monaco.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen – celebrating his 200th F1 race this weekend – and Fernando Alonso are both former winners of the Canadian Grand Prix, in 2005 and 2006 respectively, but the Scuderia is without a win around the Montreal circuit, named after the team’s legendary driver Gilles Villeneuve, since 2004, when Michael Schumacher collected the last of his seven victories in Canada.
With the current level of Mercedes domination you’d be hard pressed to expect Ferrari – who are now without a race win in over a year – to add to their 13 victories in Canada, but with Red Bull handicapped by the Renault power unit’s lack of top end power, Alonso and Raikkonen could well look to add to the team’s solitary podium finish so far this year in Montreal. Anything to reverse what has been a miserable season for the Scuderia so far.
While it might be perhaps too much to expect Jules Bianchi to repeat his almost fairytale drive into the points at Monaco once again this weekend, reliability could well once play a large part in the outcome of the coming grand prix. While the Montreal circuit’s nature as car breaker may have dulled in the recent years, as reliability within the sport has shot up, the track is still notoriously tough, especially on brakes and engines.
Take into account the unforgiving nature of the walls that line the 2.71 mile track, coupled with the increased torque of the 2014 cars, and you can be sure that at some stage over the weekend someone will push their luck and add their names to the long list of drivers to have crashed out at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
The wall that lines the right-hand exit of turn 13, the entry to the start-finish straight, the so-called Wall of Champions, has claimed its fair share of drivers over the years, most notably in 1999, when first Jacques Villeneuve, then Damon Hill, and finally Michael Schumacher all crashed out there during the race. Sebastian Vettel was the most recent big name to put his car into the wall at turn 13, back in practice in 2011. Could the Wall of Champions claim its latest victim in 2014?
Consider the above points, and then throw in the unpredictable Montreal weather – remember 2011 – and it will come as no surprise that sightings of the safety car around the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve are notoriously high. During the 2011 race alone the safety car was deployed a record six times. In 1999 the Canadian Grand Prix even had the distinction of being the first Formula One race to ever finish behind the safety car. Chances are you’ll see three silver Mercedes cars leading the pack at some stage on Sunday.
Finally, if that is not enough to get excited about, you can always keep an eye out for the local wildlife. The circuits resident groundhogs have been known to make appearances throughout a race weekend, with Anthony Davidson actually forced into the pits from third after he hit one during the race in 2007, breaking his front wing and costing his plucky Super Aguri team its first podium finish. Needless to say, the groundhog did not walk away.
It might just take the noble sacrifice of one of the critters to stop the Mercedes onslaught in Montreal but even without a surprise appearance from a groundhog, this Canadian Grand Prix already has all the flavour needed to produce one of those races that you simply want to watch again, and again, and again…
Featured image courtesy of Pirelli Media. Text images mages courtesy of Pirelli Media, Scuderia Ferrari and Wikimedia Commons