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McLaren mindful of Ferrari challenge 10 Jun 2007

(L to R): Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren with team mate Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Canadian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Montreal, Canada, Saturday, 9 June 2007 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4/22 passes Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing RB3.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Canadian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Montreal, Canada, Saturday, 9 June 2007 Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari F2007.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Canadian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Montreal, Canada, Saturday, 9 June 2007 Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1.07 runs wide in qualifying.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Canadian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Montreal, Canada, Saturday, 9 June 2007 David Coulthard (GBR) Red Bull Racing RB3.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Canadian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Montreal, Canada, Saturday, 9 June 2007

Championship leaders taking nothing for granted in Montreal

Though Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso were clearly the fastest men during qualifying for the Canadian Grand Prix, neither is dismissing the likelihood of a strong challenge from the Ferraris in this afternoon’s race.

Where the silver arrows performed strongly over a lap on Bridgestone’s super-soft option tyre, the red cars were a little less optimised on them over that distance. However, on long runs the F2007s have been fast, which bodes better for their race performance.

Today’s race will undoubtedly be tough, but Hamilton is nevertheless feeling very confident. “I have never been fortunate enough to start from pole, so that’s another new experience. We have got the car, we’ve got the strategy, so it’s up to me to make sure I get a good start and reach the first corner first. I’ve never felt so good.”

However, Alonso acknowledged the strength of Ferrari when he said: “They looked very good over a longer distance and I would expect them to be a challenge to us this afternoon.”

A likely key aspect of the race, for both McLaren and Ferrari, is the presence of Nick Heidfeld’s BMW Sauber in third place between them on the grid. If Heidfeld makes a good start, he might hold off the latter while the former make a crucial break. But is the German running a heavy fuel load, as is often the case, or was he light especially to get him up there? “Well, guess the answer,” Heidfeld said cheerfully yesterday. “We're very confident. We came here hoping that we would be as strong as in Monaco, could be as good as in the last couple of years and I cannot tell you anything about the strategy but being on P3 is nice whatever fuel I have on board, I have to say.”

That means he is probably light. Hamilton and Alonso are likely only to be a lap or so apart on fuel, maybe with Hamilton slightly the lighter this time, and the Ferraris might be a little heavier.

“We know we have a competitive car when running at race pace and as far as today’s result is concerned, there is always the unknown factor concerning fuel levels of those fighting it out in Q3,” Raikkonen said. “I didn’t have any problems today, but I lacked a bit of speed compared to our closest rivals.”

While the Finn seemed quite cool about everything, Felipe Massa’s comments suggest that McLaren may have an advantage this afternoon. “We certainly cannot be happy with this result,” the Brazilian said, “but let’s wait for the race to produce a true picture of the situation, especially in terms of what strategies the teams have opted to go with.”

Whatever the case, the prospect of a tough fight is clear, and the run to the first corner will be critical.

Further back, in sixth, Mark Webber is likely to be running relatively light, Red Bull’s ongoing recent improvement notwithstanding; Nico Rosberg has been looking very strong for Williams all weekend; Robert Kubica is almost certainly running a heavier fuel load than team mate Heidfeld, but was also complaining of lack of rear-end grip; Renault’s Giancarlo Fisichella’s ninth place was more the product of a mistake in Turn Six than a heavy fuel load; and Jarno Trulli was obliged to be cautious in Turn Eight because of Toyota’s front upright/wishbone problems. That will remain the case in the race.

The Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve is notoriously hard on brakes, and tyre wear will also be a factor, especially on the super-softs, so it will also be interesting to see what choices the leading runners make regarding them and the Bridgestone softs for the crucial first stints.

And even if McLaren do prove to have an advantage over Ferrari, the inter-team battle in the Anglo-German team will add yet another dimension to what promises to be a hard race.

David Tremayne