Two weeks ago, the Monaco preview on this site was optimistic for a race in which tyres were not the main talking point of the weekend, and hoping that Monte Carlo would be a welcome oasis in the tyre-fest that is the 2013 F1 season.
Needless to say, things did not exactly pan out the way one imagined. Therefore, as we look towards this week’s Canadian Grand Prix, any pretence that tyres can be ignored will go completely out of the window.
Tyres did not actually feature that heavily during the race in Monaco. True, there may have been occasions where some drivers eased off the pace, eager to avoid becoming a victim of terminal tyre degradation, but a one-stop strategy was the norm. There was much more talk of crashes, overtakes, safety cars and reliability problems – all bread and butter issues for F1 fans.
At least, those incidents would have been the buzz around the paddock, had it not been for the news of a ‘secret’ tyre test carried out in Barcelona by Mercedes and Pirelli that broke on the Saturday evening. This troubling revelation brought those hollow cylinders of rubber back to prominence on a weekend in which they should have taken a rare back seat.
For anybody living under a rock during the last week (or those who have taken up the habit of putting their fingers in their ears and shouting “LA-LA-LA” when the topic of tyres comes up), it appears that Mercedes could be in a spot of bother for using their 2013 cars, and their race drivers, in the three-day 1000 km test that took place a few days after the Spanish Grand Prix.
Mercedes will be hauled in front of an FIA tribunal, along with Ferrari, who are also alleged to have carried out a test, albeit with an older car (which is allowed) and test-driver Pedro de la Rosa. If either team is found guilty of wrongdoing, the punishment could range from a slap on the wrists to disqualification from the championship.
However, any judgement from this tribunal, which will not be carried out for a few weeks at least, should not have an impact on the results of any of the races that have taken place so far, or on the race in Canada.
Nevertheless, it seems inevitable that most lines of questioning from journalists this weekend in Montreal will be about that Mercedes test, with claim and counter-claim flying around between the teams, ex-drivers giving their opinions, and the current drivers trying to ignore the whole topic.
Luckily the Canadian Grand Prix is an event where the on-track action is rarely dull. Tyre-gate (every F1 scandal seems to attract the ‘gate’ suffix at some point) should be forgotten at least while the cars are on track, although the more familiar topic of tyre-wear will probably resume.
It should not be as bad as Spain though. Two stops, rather than the four that we saw in Barcelona, should be the order of the day for most drivers. Some teams, like Lotus for instance, may even try a one-stop strategy. If they can pull it off, Kimi Räikkönen may be a good bet for the win, which would be his first in Canada since 2005.
It will also be interesting to see whether Mercedes have really solved their tyre problems. The team obviously looked okay in Monaco, with Nico Rosberg taking victory and Lewis Hamilton only missing out on a podium thanks to a mistimed pit stop under the safety car, but was that result just down to the unique nature of the track?
Of course, if Mercedes do go on to win in Montreal, and show that they really have got on top of their tyre issues, the clicks of conspiracy theorist’s keyboards will be audible over the sound of the cars themselves. Did that tyre test unfairly help Mercedes, despite Pirelli insisting that the team had no access to tyre data and that they were testing compounds being developed for 2014?
Lewis Hamilton is the Canada specialist, having won this race three times, including his first F1 victory in 2007. Interestingly, Hamilton’s record in Canada alternates between wins and retirements (in 2009 the race did not feature on the calendar). After winning the race last season, can Hamilton break this cycle in 2013 and win again?
The Canadian Grand Prix is one of only two races on the calendar that Red Bull is yet to win (the other is Austin, but there has only been one race there so far). Sebastian Vettel sports a comfortable 19-point lead in the championship at the moment, but a first win in Montreal would really see him distance himself from the rest of the pack.
And one driver who should never be ignored when considering potential victors is, of course, Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard last won this race in 2006.
There will also be plenty of people to watch further down the field. Sergio Perez showed some of his best moves while overtaking in Monte Carlo, but also demonstrated his wilder, more optimistic approach to passing, which ultimately resulted in his retirement. Canada should encourage more overtaking than Monaco, so any drivers finding themselves in front of the Mexican on race day should keep one eye on their mirrors.
Romain Grosjean will be desperate to show that his actions in Monaco were just a one off, and that he is not falling back into the erratic driving that was his forte for much of last season. The Frenchman had a shocking weekend in Monaco, with three crashes in practice and then a collision with Daniel Ricciardo towards the end of the race. Grosjean has a ten-place grid penalty because of that crash, and will have to navigate his way though the field without making any stupid mistakes on Sunday.
So although tyres will be a talking point throughout the weekend, there should be plenty of on-track action to distract us, albeit briefly, from the various on-going rubber-related sagas. Canada rarely offers up a dull race and so, if you only catch one race all season, this should be it!
|FORMULA 1 GRAND PRIX DU CANADA 2013|
|Timetable (All times BST)|
|Friday 7th June|
|Free Practice 1||15:00|
|Free Practice 2||19:00|
|Saturday 8th June|
|Free Practice 3||15:00|
|Sunday 9th June|
|Live: Sky Sports F1 HD, BBC One Radio: BBC Radio 5 Live / 5 Live Sports Extra|