MONTREAL — Lack of grip is a common theme at the Canadian Grand Prix this weekend. The new Formula One regulations for 2014 have reduced downforce, and combined with more powerful engines, the cars do not stick to the road the same way they have in past years.
At many circuits, particularly the newer ones, this means drivers are running wide, often in paved runoff areas. At the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, like in Monaco, losing grip in the middle of a corner often means the end of a driver's race.
Nowhere is this more true than at the final corner of the circuit, with its outer flank protected by the infamous Wall of Champions. Although the wall has lost its traditional "Bienvenue au Quebec" (welcome to Quebec) message this year, it remains as menacing as ever.
The quick right-left chicane at the end of the back straight is notoriously tricky, with drivers throwing their cars over the kerbs and often kissing the barrier that is only inches from the racing line. Bigger shunts are not uncommon, as well, and drivers from Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher to Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel have all crashed out there.
On Saturday morning, Sauber's Esteban Gutierrez illustrated how tricky the new cars—with their twitchy rear ends—are to control. In the third free practice session, he lost control of the back end of his car at Turn 3 and slammed into the barrier. The damage was so significant that he was forced to skip qualifying and will start the race from pit lane.
I asked Gutierrez on Saturday afternoon how his approach to the Montreal circuit has changed for this year and if he felt confident attacking the final corner and the Wall of Champions.
"It's very different from last year, in terms of grip level," he laughed. "And we have more torque, so coming out of the corners, you have to control more with the pedals." The increased torque in the rear-powered F1 cars makes it very easy to spin.
Even in recent years, though, when the cars had more downforce, the wall has been the site of several crashes. Here is a list of its victims since 1999, when it earned its moniker after claiming three world champions in the same race.
|Wall of Champions Victims Since 1999|
|Juan Pablo Montoya||2006|
Kimi Raikkonen told reporters in the paddock on Saturday that, "The car is sliding around a lot and its very difficult to get a good lap." Even sliding an extra inch in the final turn at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve can be too much, so small is the margin for error.
In the FIA Thursday press conference, Jenson Button said, "The last corner will be tricky, but we’re sort of used to that I think. We’ve been driving these cars all year and if we can drive these cars around Monaco I think we’ll be alright around here."
Of course, Monaco saw the fewest finishers of any race this season, with only 14 cars taking the chequered flag, so that is not saying much.
The Canadian Grand Prix may not see quite that many retirements, but it's probably better than even money that at least one car ends up in the Wall of Champions on Sunday afternoon.
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