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Canada preview - will engine upgrades alter the balance of power in Montreal?

04 Jun 2015

With its combination of high-speed straights and heavy acceleration zones, Montreal is a circuit that places a big emphasis on power, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that power unit upgrades have become the major talking point ahead of this weekend’s Formula 1 Grand Prix du Canada 2015.

Ferrari in particular are likely to run a more potent engine than in Monaco after choosing to cash-in several engine ‘tokens’ - the means by which teams can make a certain number of upgrades over the course of the season. The Italian team are desperate to not only find more grunt but to understand the big aerodynamic upgrade that appeared not to work in Barcelona.

Unlike the Scuderia, Mercedes have not used more engine tokens but are believed to have found a way to run their engines closer to the limit, making up for what has been estimated in some quarters as a 25 horsepower deficit in races (but not qualifying) to Ferrari. Both Silver Arrows drivers will also move onto the second of their four allotted power units this weekend - a stark contrast to those drivers in the Renault-powered teams who are already at the limit…

McLaren do not expect Montreal to suit their MP4-30 as much as Monaco did, but power unit suppliers Honda have also spent some tokens as they search for greater power at the next three ‘horsepower’ tracks. Insiders at other engine manufacturers suggest that you can do a lot - read cylinder head and combustion chamber modifications - with three tokens. In using two, Honda are likely to go for improvements to some extent in that area and also in the way the MGU-K harnesses energy because of the heavy braking that features here.

It all raises the possibility of another humdinger of a race at the ever popular Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, a track at which Lewis Hamilton has triumphed on three previous occasions, including his maiden victory in 2007. As such the Briton can probably think of no better place to avenge his painful defeat in Monaco - and to prevent Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg from making it three wins in a row - than Montreal.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admits that events in Monaco - where a late-race tactical error relegated Hamilton from first to third behind Rosberg and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel - have been tough to swallow. However, he says that he doesn’t expect a repeat of the brake problems that stymied Rosberg and Hamilton here last year and let Daniel Ricciardo through for a sensational maiden victory for Red Bull, “because they were caused by problems with our ERS which have long been solved.”

“I think everything that needs to be said about Monaco has already been said,” says Hamilton, whose championship lead was cut to 10 points in the Principality. “Obviously, it was a huge disappointment for me and also for the team. But we'll learn from it and move forwards together like we always do. I just want to get back out there and bounce back - and I could hardly ask for a better place to do that than Montreal.

“This is always one of my favourite weekends. The racing is fantastic, the city is a lot of fun and the crowds are really enthusiastic. I haven't always had the best of luck in Canada - but I've never finished off the podium there either and it's given me some great memories, including my first win. I know I've got the car underneath me and the team behind me to do it again, so I'm aiming for nothing less.”

Rosberg, despite being blown away in Monaco, is keen to capitalise on his recent run of success.

“I still can't quite believe I was standing on the top step in Monaco for the third time the other week,” he says. “It was all very surreal and I don't think I've ever been so lucky. However, that weekend also showed that I need to raise my game even further in the battle this year. I've got the boost of two wins behind me now, there is a long way to go this season and I know there is more to come from me personally, so it's all to play for.

“Canada was a really difficult race for us last year but an exciting one, too. Hopefully we will avoid the traps that caught us out last year and it'll be another good battle for the fans to enjoy.”

Williams will be bringing an upgrade here ahead of an even bigger one in Austria later this month, in a bid to erase the bad memories from Monaco and to close the gap to Mercedes and Ferrari, while Red Bull seek to build on the solid fourth and fifth-place finishes they achieved in Monte Carlo. Lotus are also due to bring their new aero upgrade which features a Williams-style nose.

Over at Toro Rosso, the team are hoping for a less frenetic weekend than they ended up with in Monaco, but for similar speed. Max Verstappen says he’s fine after his heavy shunt, though the resultant five-place grid penalty - which he received for tagging Romain Grosjean - won’t help him.

“I’m feeling fine now after the unfortunate end to the Monaco Grand Prix and there are no after-effects from the crash. I even spent a day karting afterwards, so everything is fine on the physical side. Canada will be a challenging race for us with its long straights, but I think we can have another strong weekend.”

The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve never yields much grip because the semi-permanent track on the Ile Notre-Dame is used so infrequently, and it tends to impose a low downforce demand as everyone seeks to maximise their speed down the relatively long straights. As a result there’s also a heavy emphasis on braking and acceleration, and cars need to ride the numerous kerbs well.

In terms of tyres, Pirelli are again providing their yellow-marked soft and red-marked supersoft compounds for this race as the longitudinal forces are greater than the lateral.

“Canada often turns out to be one of the best races of the season, with a set of track characteristics that are not replicated anywhere else throughout the year,” says the tyre manufacturer’s motorsport director Paul Hembery. “As a result it often throws up a few surprises and it’s also possible to win from lower down the grid, especially if you use a clever tyre strategy, or if it rains, or if there is a safety car: all of which are very possible in Montreal.

“Once again we have nominated the soft and supersoft tyres: the supersoft compound has been completely redesigned this year to provide even greater resistance to graining and blistering. With the cool weather that we often see in Montreal, this resistance to graining in particular is something that should be appreciated by the teams. As anything can happen in Canada, the best strategy is always one that has a certain degree of flexibility, allowing teams to react to changing circumstances. As we saw in Monaco, the strategy stakes can be very high.”

The 4.361-kilometre (2.709 mile) circuit is unchanged from last year, and will again feature two DRS zones. The first zone starts 55m ahead of Turn 12 while the second is 70m after Turn 14, with both zones sharing a single detection point located 110m after Turn 9.

The weather for the weekend is expected to be mostly dry, though showers could interrupt proceedings on Friday. Sunday’s race - which should take place in sunny conditions - will run over 70 laps or 305.270 kilometres (189.688 miles) and starts at 1400 hours local time (1800 GMT).