Canadian Grand Prix Preview: Time to Mountie a challenge

by Rachel Hack

Canada lowdown

The Canadian Grand Prix has been part of the Formula 1 calendar since 1967, making 2017 its fiftieth anniversary. The original venue for the race was Mosport, Ontario, with two further venues having also played host to the North American event, before the current track in Montreal took over in 1978.

The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is a high-speed, low downforce track, with cars reaching speeds in excess of 300kph. With its high kerbs and close walls, we are usually treated to a highly entertaining spectacle, including over the years, the longest race in F1 history, at four hours four minutes, back in 2011.

The final corner of the track is ironically named the “Wall of Champions” after a number of former Drivers’ Championship winners were caught out by the concrete that graces the outside of this fabled section of the circuit.

In 1999, Damon Hill, Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve all succumbed to its magnetism in the same race, along with Ricardo Zonta and Schumacher’s brother Ralf in qualifying, that same weekend. It has claimed many more unlucky drivers in the years before and afterwards, including Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel, and is undoubtedly one of F1’s most notorious race wreckers!

Gilles Villeneuve is the only Canadian driver to have won his home race, which he achieved only once back in 1978 during his first season with Ferrari, and it was also his first ever F1 victory.

Villeneuve is often included in any list that names the greatest F1 drivers of all time, and is believed by many to be one of the fastest and naturally gifted talents the sport has ever seen. That tag was bestowed upon him, due to the fact that the French Canadian rarely ever drove the best car on the grid, but still had a knack of being able to wrestle them into positions, no one else could. Had he lived longer, he would no doubt have gone on to win countless titles.

Following his tragic death during qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix in 1982, the track, originally called the Île Notre-Dame Circuit after the island on which it is based, was re-named in Villeneuve’s honour.

Michael Schumacher is by far the most successful driver at the Canadian Grand Prix, taking seven victories, and making it to the podium on 12 occasions, with Lewis Hamilton having the next best record with five wins.

The McLaren F1 team is the most successful team in Canada having taken 13 victories there, the first coming during the 1968 season in Mont-Tremblant with Denny Hulme at the wheel, and the last with Lewis Hamilton in 2012.

The next team to rival McLaren’s record at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is Scuderia Ferrari, with eleven victories to their name. The red team has not won a race in Montreal since Michael Schumacher took the honours in 2004, but having taken back the top step in Monaco last time out, could they do the same in Canada this weekend?

2011 Canadian Grand Prix

One of McLaren’s most dramatic victories of their thirteen, was a sublime win for Jenson Button in 2011, during the longest ever F1 race in history, which was prolonged due to persistent rain.

On a drying track the Brit, who was twice relegated to the back of the grid, pitted five times (once to see out a time penalty received for speeding under the safety car), took the lead on the final lap, after pressuring Sebastian Vettel, then driving for Red Bull Racing, into a mistake.

It was one of the greatest comebacks in F1 history, and equally one of Button’s finest moments.

1998 Canadian Grand Prix

One of Michael Schumacher’s more memorable victories was at the Canadian Grand Prix of 1998, when despite a ten second stop-go penalty for running Heinz-Harald Frentzen off the road, Schumacher clawed his way back to the front.

Having dropped down the order to third place, the German first of all over took Damon Hill, before chasing down Giancarlo Fisichella, until the final bout of pit stops allowed Schumacher to come out ahead and win the race.

In the following seven years the German would claim a further five victories in Montreal, all during his dominant spell with Ferrari, at a track he had seemingly mastered to near perfection.

2017 Race weekend

Going into the 2017 Canadian Grand Prix this weekend, Ferrari have once again taken the lead in the constructors standings ahead of the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team, following a dominant one-two victory for Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen in Monaco.

Vettel has further extended his lead in the drivers’ championship to twenty-five points over Hamilton, who struggled to get his tyres working in Monaco, leaving him down the order in seventh place.

That sort of result is not one the German squad will want to have too many more of, if they are to get back on top in this championship battle.

Red Bull Racing remain third in the standings, now with a forty-four point gap to the Sahara Force India F1 Team in fourth. Despite driver Daniel Ricciardo bringing the RB13 home in third, the Australian was still four seconds down the road from the two Ferrari’s, leaving the Milton Keynes based squad wondering what they can do to bridge that gap.

Force India put paid to their record of being the only team this season to bring both drivers home in the points at every race, with neither Sergio Perez or Esteban Ocon making it into the top ten in Monte Carlo.

Scuderia Toro Rosso remain nine points clear of Williams Martini Racing, with the Renault Sport Formula 1 Team now just six points further back, despite neither driving scoring any points in the last race.

The Haas F1 Team are on equal footing with the French squad with fourteen points, ahead of the Sauber F1 Team who have four points to their name.

The McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team are still yet to score a point this season, but after an impressive display in qualifying at Monaco, where both drivers made it through to Q3, the Woking based squad will be hoping they can replicate that feat in Canada, now that Fernando Alonso is back behind the wheel.

Honda were due to be introducing a big engine performance upgrade in Canada, but they are currently debating whether the gains felt will be significant enough to warrant doing that now, or whether they should wait until the Grand Prix of Azerbaijan at the end of the month.

Having lost out to Ferrari once again at the last round of the season, Mercedes now believe that they are no longer the favourites to win this championship, but although the new 2017 Pirelli tyres appear to be causing them some issues, there is no doubt they will be back with an answer to their current conundrum.

Expect a close battle between the top two teams, once again in Canada.

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