Canadian Grand Prix 2011: Preview


Many drivers will have race tracks where they always seem to do well, out-perform their car, and where everything just falls into place over a race weekend. Lewis Hamilton and his record at Montreal is a fine example of such an affinity between track and driver.

The temporary circuit in this Canadian city was the scene of Hamilton's first ever Formula 1 win at what was only the sixth race of his career. In the Briton's four full seasons in the sport, F1 has visited Canada three times: Hamilton has been on pole on all three occasions, and taken victory twice.

And this year, the Canadian Grand Prix comes at a crucial moment for Hamilton. Last time out in Monaco, he felt picked on by the stewards, said as much in a television interview, and even – albeit jokingly – played the race card, for which he subsequently apologised. The newspapers that Monday were critical of Hamilton and many observers were quick to condemn both his driving during the race and the comments.

But now Hamilton has the chance to put things right on the track. McLaren seem to be making big steps forward as the season progresses, and have now reached the point where they can match, or even beat, the dominant Red Bull RB7 on race pace. At arguably his best track, Hamilton can silence his critics with yet another sublime performance.

It is also worth pointing out that Red Bull was dominant in qualifying last year as well, with Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber taking every pole position up to Canada – exactly as they have done this season. It was Hamilton who interrupted this streak last season; can he do the same in 2011?

All eyes will be on Hamilton this weekend in Canada, mainly because of the comments in Monaco, but also with the expectation that he will be the one to take the fight to Vettel in Montreal, and turn this title battle into a two horse race.

There will also be those watching with interest to see how the Pirelli tyres perform. Most races this season (Monaco and Australia the exceptions) have seen three or four stops from most runners, thanks to the high degradation of the PZero rubber. All of this is at circuits where last year's Bridgestone tyres easily allowed each runner to just do the one mandatory pit stop. What will happen when we arrive at a circuit where the ultra-conservative Bridgestone tyre struggled?

Last season, there was a mixture of two- and three-stop strategies in Montreal, as even the harder Bridgestone compound showed greater-than-expected degradation. It was unlike any other race of the year in this respect, and so it is going to be interesting to see how the Pirelli tyres will fare here.  The Italian tyre company is bringing the super-soft and soft tyres to Canada – the same compounds used in Monte Carlo.

Any why is Canada notoriously tough on both brakes and tyres? It is the the long straights which lead into tight chicanes. The circuit is regarded by the teams as a 'low downforce' track, and so the drivers reach good top speeds on the straight but then have to apply greater pressure to the brakes when they reach a corner. The car then struggles for grip through the corners owing to the lower downforce and, with less grip, it moves around more under braking, increasing the tyre wear.

The track is made of public roads, making it very dirty, and also has abrasive tarmac on the surface, which again shortens the life of the tyres. Grip does increase as the race weekend progresses, provided that there is no overnight rain to wash the F1 rubber away – as there was last year.

Being a street circuit, there are also no vast run-off areas, and the walls that surround the edge of the circuit means that accidents often result in a safety car period, which provides even more unpredictability.

For what it's worth, the Canadian Grand Prix is one of my favourite races of the season. You are always guaranteed a good race, the grandstands are filled with an enthusiastic crowd, and it is prime-time viewing for UK television audiences.

Will Lewis Hamilton take victory number three at this fantastic circuit on Sunday? This will give him more wins in Canada than the likes of Ayrton Senna, Alan Jones and Jackie Stewart, and put him level with Nelson Piquet. In fact, only one driver would have more wins around Canada than Hamilton: a certain Mr. M. Schumacher, who can lay claim to seven.

 

  • Qualifying begins on Saturday at 18:00 BST and the race starts at 18:00 BST on Sunday. Coverage in the UK is on BBC One television and BBC Radio 5 Live.
  • There will be reports and reaction from the practice sessions, qualifying and the race throughout the weekend here on thecheckeredflag.co.uk
  • The Checkered Flag will also be featuring extensive coverage of the Le Mans 24 Hour Race this weekend