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The Canadian Grand Prix Preview 22 Jun 2006

Race winner Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R26 waves to the crowd.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, British Grand Prix, Race, Silverstone, England, 11 June 2006 Third placed Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault in the FIA Press Conference.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 3, Australian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, 1 April 2006 Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari F2005.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, Canadian Grand Prix, Race, Montreal, Canada, 12 June 2005 Jenson Button (GBR) BAR Honda 007.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, Canadian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Montreal, Canada, 11 June 2005 Race winner Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) McLaren Mercedes MP4/20 
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, Canadian Grand Prix, Race, Montreal, Canada, 12 June 2005

Fresh from his hat-trick of victories in Spain, Monaco and Britain, Fernando Alonso admits that he feels confident heading to Montreal and that the Canadian Grand Prix was one of the races on his ‘to-do' list at the start of the season.

“I have never finished on the podium there, and that is one of my goals for 2006. So I will be really pushing to get a strong result there,” the Spaniard says. “In the past few years, this has always been a very good circuit for the Renault car. I didn't finish in 2005 or 2004, but we were very quick in both races, and I set the fastest lap in 2003. It will be a good track for us, I think.”

The R26 has excellent aerodynamics, a strong engine, good traction and is stable under braking, all characteristics that will suit the difficult Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve. Indeed, Renault should have scored a one-two in 2005 but for a mistake by Alonso and a gearbox hydraulics problem for Giancarlo Fisichella (who was recently confirmed as a Renault driver for 2007 and will therefore also be in confident frame of mind this weekend). There is no reason not to expect the blue cars to start as favourites yet again, unless Bridgestone turn the tables on Michelin in the tyre battle. The R26 will have several ‘aggressive’ updates, according to technical director Bob Bell.

Kimi Raikkonen won last year’s race for McLaren and set fastest lap, in 1m 14.384s. Much will depend this year on how a new interpretation of the ruling on flexible rear wings affects McLaren’s rivals. From this race on rear wing planes must be run with little separating blocks between them, to stop the planes either inflating or flexing sufficiently to close the slot gap between them and thus reduce drag and boost straight-line speed by stalling the wing. Ferrari and BMW Sauber are popularly perceived to have been the most advanced with flexible rear wing technology.

The red cars have been Renault’s principal challengers of late, and though he was disappointed not to have won at Silverstone Michael Schumacher says he is feeling quietly confident of another strong result. This time last year marked the start of an upswing for the Italian team, and the former champion will be hoping that history repeats itself.

Honda took pole position here last year courtesy of Jenson Button’s 1m 15.217s for BAR, but subsequently the Englishman crashed in the race. He will do well to get on the front two rows of the grid this year on current form, but the first signs of a major revamp within the team came earlier this week with the appointment of Honda Racing Development’s engineering director Shuhei Nakamoto as senior technical director over the head of Geoffrey Willis at Honda F1 Racing. The fact that Honda Canada are a sponsor of the race also adds to the pressure.

"Montreal is a great circuit and I really enjoy racing there,” says Button, who is desperate to score points after two very disappointing outings. “Our car seems to be well-suited to the track; it's a medium downforce circuit which requires much less wing than we have run in the last few races and the car seems to work well on that wing level. We've done some good work in testing and I'm generally pleased with the results, but we'll have to wait and see how things go at the weekend. The critical thing is to make sure we get the very best out of what we have.”

Most of the teams have been testing at Monza in readiness for Canada and Indianapolis the following week, both of them high-speed, relatively low downforce tracks. Williams have a complete aero revamp here, with new front and rear wings, winglets, nose and diffuser, and fresh Cosworth CA2006 Series 4 engines. Other rivals, Red Bull, BMW Sauber and Toyota also have aerodynamic revisions.

The Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve has several quick corners and long straights allied to some slow corners that require heavy braking from over 300 kph four times during the lap. Aerodynamic efficiency is therefore paramount, especially with the cars running in low-drag configuration. This in turn places a premium on suspension settings; the cars feel light without their usual amount of downforce and must therefore perform well mechanically to give the drivers confidence. Braking performance is very much a part of that, and though the long straights give the brakes plenty of time to cool, disc and pad wear can be an issue. The engines also take plenty of stick, with some 65 percent of the lap at full throttle. On the tyre front, the traction issues promote greater rear tyre wear than front, and blistering can be a problem in hot weather.

A great championship fight is in prospect for the rest of the year. Alonso said after Silverstone that Renault would be fighting hard rather than trying to manage his 23-point advantage. “The season is not even at the halfway stage yet, and in Ferrari, we have very strong competition,” he reiterates. “Last year, we were fighting against teams who had reliability problems - but that won't happen with Ferrari. They will be there at every race, and very strong in Canada as well. So we are still attacking, still being aggressive, putting new parts on the car and trying to push the limits at every race. That's the only approach we can afford to take this season.”