The Canadian Grand Prix Preview 09 Jun 2005
North America and the first of two back-to-back races
The Canadian Grand Prix on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on Montreals Ile Notre Dame is one of the toughest but most popular races of the Formula One racing season.
Jenson Button sums it up when he says: "Montreal is a great place to visit. The city is beautiful and there are some great places to visit. It's always one of my favourite pit stops on the calendar."
The 4.361 km track flows around parkland alongside the old Olympic Rowing Lake on an island in the St Lawrence Seaway, just minutes from the centre of the city. Its a low downforce circuit so everyone will have revised aerodynamic packages. These were generally tested at either Monza or Silverstone last week.
The surface, which has been renewed for this years race, tends to be dirty on Friday until the layers of rubber build up via on-track activity as the weekend progresses. The track is very demanding on brakes because of the hard deceleration for the hairpin, the mid-straight chicane by the pit lane entrance, and the first corner; teams thus maximise brake cooling and use the highest performance brake materials. It is also quite hard on engines - around 60 percent of the lap is at full throttle and speeds in places exceed 300 kph - and cooling is also important.
There are some opportunities for overtaking: on the exit to the hairpin, along the main straight, and under braking for Turn 1.
Renault come to Canada leading both drivers and constructors championships by quite healthy margins but Pat Symonds, their Executive Director of Engineering, knows they cannot be lulled into any sense of security. There is perhaps a little more conservatism in some of our choices, because we cannot afford to make mistakes, but we equally do not have the luxury of thinking too conservatively because just a single non-finish, with our rivals scoring well, will turn things around - as McLaren saw at the last race. In a season as long as this, with the number of races we have coming up in the next two months, everything can turn around in the space of a fortnight. Even after Canada and the USA, we will not quite have reached the halfway point of the season - and that means we need to continue pushing throughout the summer to protect, and extend, our lead.
Nurburgring winner Fernando Alonso is feeling very confident. With the R23 I set fastest lap in 2003, he recalls, and with the R24 we were in a position to win, so with this year's car, there is no reason not to expect a podium or perhaps the victory, as long as we have no problems during the weekend. I am really confident that the car will be competitive there.
He is more cautious talking about title possibilities, however. Everybody starts talking about the championship now just because I have a big lead, but we have only had just over one third of the season so far. This is not when you win a title - that comes in the final races. Until then, we are focusing on each race as it comes, and trying to do the maximum at every circuit.
Renaults strongest rival is likely once again to be McLaren. They were very quick in testing at Silverstone, and of course Kimi Raikkonen came within a lap of victory in Germany. The Finn in particular will be going all-out to claw back some of the deficit that opened up to Alonso after his last-minute suspension breakage at Nurburgring.
In the last three races Kimi led 192 of a possible 203 laps, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport director Norbert Haug points out. We should have won the last one - no doubt - but the potential to do better is there.
Ferrari won last years race and should be competitive in Canada, especially if the temperature is lower than it has been at other races so far this year. Williams, too, were quick there in 2004, with Ralf Schumacher taking pole position. They will, however, like Toyota, be making very sure that their brake ducts meet the regulations this year (following the disqualification on both teams in Montreal last season). The Japanese team were buoyed by a strong test at Silverstone last week.
Red Bull have some changes with Christian Klien back in the race seat and American GP2 contender Scott Speed taking over the Friday test duty for this race and Indianapolis next week. Jordan, by contrast, wont have any Friday test representation here after the penalty they were given in Germany for using the wrong tyres in one practice session.
Sauber and Minardi will have revised aerodynamics, like everyone else, and for the formers driver Jacques Villeneuve this will be a huge weekend. Besides racing on the track named in honour of his father, the 1997 world champion will also be a major draw for the enthusiastic Canadian fans.
Finally, BAR desperately need a good result here and hope to regain some of the ground they had lost at Nurburgring. The 007 should have a major aero update in Canada, together with a revised specification Honda engine. We ran quite well there last year, finishing in fourth, so we are hoping for an improvement in our performance this week, Button says.
The 2005 Canadian Grand Prix starts at 1300 local time (1700 GMT) on Sunday and is scheduled for 70 laps.