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Six key questions ahead of the race in Canada

11 Jun 2017

Can Lewis Hamilton carry his qualifying speed into Sunday? Do Ferrari have superior race pace up their sleeve? Can Felipe Massa give Williams their best result of the year? And will McLaren finally break into the top ten? We consider the key talking points ahead of this afternoon’s Formula 1 Grand Prix du Canada 2017 in Montreal…

Can Hamilton celebrate 10th anniversary of first victory with win number six here?

He was delighted to equal his idol Ayrton Senna’s tally of 65 pole positions after a gripping qualifying fight with Sebastian Vettel, and then surprised to receive a genuine Senna helmet from 1987 from the Senna family. Now, after that hugely emotional milestone, what the Englishman needs is a sixth victory here this afternoon to add to his previous Montreal triumphs in 2007, 2010, 2012, 2015 and 2016, and to haul him back closer to Vettel in the title chase.

Obviously, Mercedes have gone a long way towards alleviating the problems that afflicted Hamilton in particular, but also Valtteri Bottas to an extent, in Monaco, identifying small but telling errors in the set-up of the F1 W08 cars. That, and the minimal tyre graining detected by Pirelli, has encouraged the team from Brackley and they expect to be right in the fight for the win. But is it one of those races that’s going to go down to the last lap?

“I believe it will, being that we are so close,” Hamilton says. “Ferrari have great single-lap pace but are very, very strong always, as they have shown in the races. It was a close battle last year between us and I can only imagine that tomorrow it’s going to be pushing all the way to the end. It’s definitely going to be a good one. I’m excited about it.”

Will Vettel end his and Ferrari’s Canada dry spell?

Here is an incredible statistic: Ferrari have won the Canadian Grand Prix as a round of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship on 11 occasions – 1970, 1978, 1983, 1985, 1995, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2004. Yes, their last victory on the track named after one of their most beloved sons was 13 years ago…

And Sebastian Vettel has only won this event once, in 2013 with Red Bull. Likewise, Kimi Raikkonen’s sole victory came here in 2005, with McLaren.

So the Scuderia will be very hungry to change the figures one way or another, and to increase their leads in the drivers’ and constructors’ world championships.

Vettel’s performance in particular in qualifying signifies that they are firmly in the hunt, even if they did lose out to Hamilton and Mercedes in the battle for pole position, and the SF70H is always fast in race trim.

“I expect a close race!” Vettel confirmed. “I think it has been very close in every race so far. Maybe Monaco they were struggling a bit more in terms of pace, but everywhere else we went it’s unfair to say that one was quicker than the other. I think we were in the same tenth in race pace. That’s great. Not so easy to overtake if you are that close, no matter where you go, but we’ll see. It will be a long race. Canada is always nice, so looking forward to tomorrow.”

Do Red Bull have any chance of pulling off a surprise?

The speed of the Red Bulls has been a surprise here, and an indication that upgrades brought to this race have been fruitful. To see Max Verstappen three-tenths off Bottas, and Daniel Ricciardo four, even if the Finn and compatriot Kimi Raikkonen might have been said to have under-performed compared to their very speedy team mates, makes you wonder what chances they have of springing surprises if they can make good progress at the start.

“We know that this circuit is not our favourite and doesn’t particularly suit us so P5 was the best we could aim for,” Verstappen said. “We achieved that, so I’m pleased with the result. Ferrari and Mercedes are able to turn their engines up and find that extra pace; we can’t do that at the moment. During the race the engine power difference is slightly less as they cannot run at that level for an entire race, this means we can try to get involved and make ground.

“I think our race pace looks okay for tomorrow. If we can keep fifth that is the first goal, then we can see what happens in front of us.”

Ricciardo was happier with the way things went yesterday than he had been on a tough Friday, and says his crew understood a lot more about setting up his RB13 for FP3 and qualifying.

“Even though we ended up at the tail end of the top six this afternoon I still felt we were actually in the hunt. We have put ourselves in a good position to at least race with Max, so I can’t ask for too much more. The last run I would have loved to improve so there was maybe a tenth in that, but other than that I think we got the most out of it.

“I’m no Einstein but three years ago I finished first and started in sixth. I will be starting on sixth again tomorrow so that’s easy maths, am I right?”

Will Massa finally have some luck with Williams?

Montreal brought Williams closer to the top three teams than they have been of late, partly due to new aerodynamic and mechanical components and partly due to the track suiting them better. And with seventh on the grid Felipe Massa believes he has a good chance of pushing forward, fighting the Red Bulls, and clawing back some of the advantage Force India and Toro Rosso have built over Williams thus far in 2017.

“We’re very happy with the result on Felipe’s side of the garage, it’s a very well deserved seventh place,” said chief technical officer Paddy Lowe. “He was setting very competitive times throughout the session. We weren’t able to match the three teams in front of us, but we certainly put some distance to those behind. We’re looking forward to the race tomorrow. Hopefully we can put on a show for all of the fans here and pick up some points.”

Massa was chirpy.

“It was a great qualifying session for me. I’m very happy with everything we’ve done this weekend and with the lap. We were competitive today, but seventh was the best position we could have achieved.

“I was also quite happy with the pace in the race simulations yesterday. I’m looking forward to it as I think we have good pace to be able to fight and score some good points.”

Will McLaren finally open their 2017 points account?

If you discount two Ferrari triumphs for Pedro Rodriguez when the Canadian Grand Prix was held for sportscars in 1963 and ’64, McLaren is what the North Americans like to call the ‘winningest team’ in the land of the maple leaf, with 13 victories, in 1968, 1973, 1974, 1976, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1999, 2005, 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2012. So where better finally to score some points in a tough and thus-far barren season? But can they?

Fernando Alonso has had a tough weekend so far, losing a lot of time with a gearbox problem on Friday, but bounding back with seventh fastest time right at the end of FP2.

Then he qualified 12th, within striking distance, provided his McLaren Honda is reliable enough.

The Spaniard might feel he is due a bit of good luck, not just in F1 but in North America, after his recent disappointment at Indianapolis.

“I think what we achieved in today’s qualifying was the maximum we could have hoped for,” he said. “I’m happy with our performance – it was probably a bit quicker than we expected, actually, considering our power deficit. We’re in P12, not ideal position to start from, but I think our time compared to the pole time here is quite competitive for us.”

In the fairest comparison, his lap of 1m 13.693 was 1.2s off Lewis Hamilton fastest time in Q2 of 1m 12.496s. That’s an indication that McLaren are progressing on the chassis side this season.

“The car has felt great so far,” Alonso continued. “It’s been fun out there today, and the level of grip is very high. Even though the tyres are difficult to warm up, they’re very consistent and you can push throughout the run, so I think it’s going to be an interesting race. The key to it will be performance and reliability, as always. It won’t be easy and the first priority tomorrow will be to finish the race. If we can be in the points, that’ll be great.”

That will depend on the MCL32’s engine cooling, and how much fuel saving the drivers find to be necessary.

What’s the best strategy?

Official tyre suppliers Pirelli deem these to be the three fastest possible theoretical strategies for the race:

The quickest:
One-stopper: ultrasofts for 22 laps then a 48-lap stint on softs to the flag.

The second quickest:
One-stopper: ultrasofts for 33 laps then a 37-lap stint on supersofts to the flag.

Third choice (slower):
Two-stopper: two 22-lap stints on ultrasofts and a 26-lap stint on supersofts to the flag.