The Canadian Grand Prix is set in the heart of Montreal. The track made its bow on October 8, 1978, with a fairytale race in which local hero Gilles Villeneuve claimed his maiden Formula One win at the wheel of a Ferrari 312T3. Since then the circuit has undergone a number of subtle changes, but the key characteristics remain as they were in Villeneuve’s day: it’s a track of long, fast straights, hard-braking corners and walls close enough to worry even the most precise driver.
“I would say Montreal is one of the top five grands prix of the year because it’s a sensational atmosphere," said Mark Webber, winner of the Monaco Grand Prix two weeks ago. "It’s a really, really good venue and always provides an interesting grand prix there for whatever reason, and last year was no exception."
Montreal is all about power and brakes. Four of the straights see the cars edge towards 180 mph and drivers are at full throttle for 60 percent of the lap, which means engines are worked hard. The slowest bits on the circuit are very slow with several sub-62 mph turns. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that decelerating from 180 mph to 37 mph at the famous hairpin puts serious stress on the brakes.
"Like the track in Albert Park in Australia, the roads are public, so tire wear can be high," said Sebastian Vettel, last year's pole sitter. "There’s also a lot of wear on brakes, which can cause us a headache."
Teams will take their most extreme brake ducts for optimum cooling, and they'll spend Friday practice monitoring brake wear. Brakes can give out in quite spectacular fashion in Canada, as Heinz-Harald Frentzen found out in 1999 when, four laps from home, his brakes exploded and pitched him into the tire barriers at high speed.
The surface of Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve is smooth, and Pirelli is taking the super soft and soft compounds it offered in Monaco. The main stress on tires in Montreal is the ambient temperature. The weather can vary from sweltering and humid to icy and wet.
The key to a good lap is top speed, so it’s pretty much low downforce and low drag all the way. However, through the slow corners it’s important that drivers work the kerbs, and suspension settings will tend toward the softer side.
"It’s a low downforce track with long straights and high top speed, which is a different challenge," said Webber. "We’ll see how that unfolds, but we’re very confident the car should work well round there. I love driving the circuit; it’s a good one to get our teeth into, a little bit like a street circuit, so I’m looking forward to getting out there.”
Did You Know?
The Canadian Grand Prix of 1973 was the first time a safety car was employed. It wasn’t a success, though. It was raining, and a number of drivers pitted during the safety-car period for new tires. Because the lap charts were done by hand at the time, identifying the lead driver became impossible and several drivers gained a lap, including eventual winner Peter Revson. The safety car didn’t make another appearance until 1993 in Brazil.
Race distance: 70 laps (190 miles)
Start time: 2:00 p.m. EST
Circuit length: 2.7 miles
2011 winner: Jenson Button (McLaren)
2011 pole: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing)
Lap record: Rubens Barrichello (Ferrari F2004)
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