Montreal will test Mercedes

2016-06-08 06:00

THE St Lawrence Seaway is transformed this weekend into the seventh round of the 2016 F1 season as it hosts the famed Canadian Grand Prix.

Named after one of the greatest drivers in F1 history, the circuit Gilles Villeneuve has a distinct street-like feel thanks to the close proximity of the barriers. Its long straights, with a top speed of 330 kph, make it a highly power sensitive circuit with a heavy focus on braking performance.

“The track is quite special as it has a lot of long straights and then slow corners with low grip so we have to find the right balance with our setup. You’re very close to the walls so there is a special feeling to drive there,” says Red Bull driver Max Verstappen.

The track surface, rarely used throughout the year, is relatively green but grip ramps up exponentially as the weekend progresses. Coupled with variable weather conditions, which often tend to the cooler end of the spectrum, it makes getting the tyres to their prime operating temperature tricky.

In terms of tyre strategy Pirelli has made the soft, supersoft, and ultrasoft compound available. In particular, the Renault and Haas F1 Team will be worth keeping an eye on as neither pair of drivers has chosen a single set of the red-walled supersoft tyre.

Occasionally the lack of proper overtaking opportunity can turn the race in a procession. However, it has delivered several dramatic and memorable races over the years. As if perfectly scripted, the first race in 1978 was won by Gilles Villeneuve in a Ferrari.

Throughout the years that followed, Ferrari’s love affair with the Montreal circuit deepened. With seven victories Michael Schumacher holds the record for the most Canadian GP victories while Ferrari and McLaren boast thirteen wins each as constructors.

In 2015 Lewis Hamilton led home teammate Nico Rosberg for a Mercedes one-two. However, it wasn’t a straightforward victory for the championship winning team. Twelve months ago sky-high brake temperatures plagued the pair throughout the race and required drastic management. In 2014 the failure of the brake-by-wire system forced Hamilton into retirement and Rosberg on to the defensive, which allowed Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo to take his first Grand Prix win.

This year the competition appears a bit closer to the Silver Arrows. In Spain and Monaco, circuits that share several similarities with Canada, Red Bull showed their competitiveness. Add to the fact that the Renault upgrade should come into its own around this track and Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen should be more than a nuisance to Mercedes this weekend.

It isn’t just Red Bull snapping at Mercedes’ heels either. Ferrari will be the first to admit that their season hasn’t quite gone to plan. Mistakes and unreliability have cost the Italian team a slew of points in the first few races of 2016 but they’re not letting up any time soon.

This weekend Ferrari is expected to run a new rear suspension in the hopes of improving downforce as well as other aerodynamic upgrades. They are also introducing a new Shell fuel and a new turbo, which is expected to yield more hybrid power and improve reliability.

Mercedes are far from sitting ducks and will, just like the others, continue to push ahead. But they’re under a bit more pressure than they’re used to.

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