Canadian GP Preview, History, and Guide.

Daniel ChalmersSenior Analyst IJune 3, 2008

Canadian GP History and Guide at a Glance:

This weekend is the 7th round of the world championship held at the Gilles Villeneuve circuit at Montreal in Canada. The track is named after the legendary father of Jacques who was loved by all in F1, but was killed tragically in the final practise session on the Belgian GP weekend in 1982.


Canada has been part of the calendar since 1967. The race was first staged at Mosport Park, and it then alternated between this circuit and Circuit-Mont-Tremblant.


It was 1978 when F1 then moved to its current home in Montreal. The track is based on a man-made Island called the Ile-Notre-Dame.


In 1987 the race wasn’t held due to a row over sponsorship but the event has been held every year since and shows no signs of being under threat unlike other circuits currently on the calendar.


The Canadian GP continues to have a very huge following in the country.  Fans still come in by tens of thousands, and are all very keen, knowledgeable supporters. They have no driver to cheer for at the moment however, due to the fact that Jacques Villeneuve left the sport permanently in 2006.  That and Michael Schumacher’s retirement from F1 has never dampened the enthusiasm.


The circuit itself is very point and squirt, just as the previous race in Monaco was. The teams approach the challenges of Montreal rather differently than in Monte-Carlo.


The teams all use low down force settings as straight line speed is very important for the long pit straight and even longer back straight.  There are also some sweeping quick sections in between the niggling chicanes which have to be negotiated.


Although not as punishing a circuit as Monaco, mistakes in Montreal frequently end driver’s races, as the track is very close to the barriers in a lot of places.


One place in particular is on the exit of the last chicane leading onto the pit straight. Many drivers in previous races have taken that chicane wrong and hit the kerb, which has thrown them straight into the wall. Any small contact with that wall and your race is over.


In 1999 3 former world champions even hit the wall, Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve and even the great Michael Schumacher.  From then on this wall was give the title of “the wall of champions”. Alonso and Raikkonen will not want to be added to the list of champions to have ended their race at that corner.


With the point and squirt nature of the circuit the brakes are worked extremely hard, and preserving the brakes is vital to winning this event.


This track is one of the biggest tests of brakes in the whole calendar as there are a lot of big stops throughout the circuit. As the track is only generally used once a year for this race the surface is very low grip and takes a long time to rubber in.


In recent years the track also seems to break up in places throughout the weekend, making grip even less.


Another big issue is marbles from the tires.  These form huge death traps off the racing line as the race goes on, and in the last couple of years this has been a big feature in the final third of the race.


Canada normally provides a very interesting race, and one thing it has become known for is the amount of safety cars that come out. Due to the lack of runoff space in areas it is very hard to remove stricken cars from danger so the safety car becomes necessary. 


In last season’s race alone there were four safety cars, mainly due to cars hitting the wall and Robert Kubica’s huge accident.


Racing wise there are a couple of good points for overtaking. Down the long back straight it is possible to get a tow after the slow hairpin and have a go into the final chicane.


The end of the long pit straight is also a strong possibility if you can get close enough. These are the best two chances, but there is a half chance into turn nine, although you have to be quite brave to do it down there. Get it wrong and you are very likely to take your opponent out.


Past Races:


Canada has seen classic GPs take place.  Something always seems to happen in Canada is a cliche often used about the race nowadays.


1978 was one of them, when local Gilles Villeneuve excelled in very tricky wet conditions to take the win and wowed all the on-lookers. This race is still one remembered vividly today.


In 1995 Jean Alesi took his only F1 victory. Everyone remembers Schumacher giving him a lift back to the pits as he ran out of fuel on the parade lap after the race. It was also a race with high attrition, a very common them in Canada. This allowed Jordan to get their best finish at the time with a 2-3 for Irvine and Barrichello.


The 1998 race was very crazy. At the start Wurz was squeezed by other cars and forced into a barrel roll; he rolled 3 times. Trulli and Wurz were also all involved in the incident and the red flag was forced to come out. At the restart there was more trouble to come.


Ralf Schumacher pushed too hard, went across the grass, and spun in the middle of the track as Trulli’s car mounted on Alesi’s car. Five cars retired from the race at this point. On lap 13 Diniz brought dirt onto the track and the SC came out. After that, Salo and Herbert had an incident and brought the SC out again.


Coulthard, who was leading then, had a transmission failure. Schumacher pitted, came out of the pits, rushed across to the other side of the track, and barged Frentzen off the track and out of the race. Schumacher was given a 10 second penalty for this. He then had to overtake Hill and regained the lead when Fisichella pitted.  Schumacher put in some storming laps and managed to stay ahead when he pitted for the last time. This was a very memorable race.


There have been other memorable races since then.


1999 was the race where three former champions all hit the same wall. Hakkinen won the race while Fisichella came 2nd for the second year running. Bizarrely, this race finished behind the SC as Frentzen had a big accident with four laps to go.


The 2001 race will always be remembered mainly due to the first even sibling 1-2, involving the two Schumachers. It was a great battle but it was Michael’s brother Ralf who came out on top.


This feat was repeated in the 2003 Canadian GP.  This was another extremely close battle, with the top three drivers separated by just 1.3 seconds. However it was Michael’s clever tactics that thwarted everyone.


Most recently the 2006 and 2007 races also gave brilliant entertainment.


In 2006 Alonso won a chaotic race in which he spent the first stint battling to keep Raikkonen behind.  When he encountered problems in the pits Alonso built a comfortable gap.


Later in the race with marbles from the tires littering the track, Villeneuve went straight into the wall.  The safety car came out and the leading runners were bunched together.  Alonso managed to get away but Raikkonen slipped on the marbles, allowing Schumacher to take second.


2007 was the scene of Hamilton’s first F1 win.  This crazy race featured four safety cars, as drivers made a lot of mistakes on a low grip track, including Hamilton's team mate Fernando Alonso, who seemed to really struggle at turn one.


Also the new safety car rules caught people out and turned the race into a crazy affair. Kubica luckily survived one of the worse accidents seen in years. Despite Hamilton’s lead being destroyed all the time, he held his nerve and took a brilliant first victory.


What will happen in the 2008 race?


This should be another close Mclaren-Ferrari battle.


This will be one of the strongest tracks for Mclaren this season.  Their car like point and squirt tracks a lot. The car is agile through the slow corners and rides the kerbs well.


However unlike last season they won’t have it all their own way.

Ferrari has improved their car massively in the slow corners and should be at least on par with Mclaren.


It should be a very close battle, but I would tip Mclaren to have the tightest of advantages, and Hamilton will revel at the track where he earned his first ever victory in F1. Both qualifying and the race will be very tight between all four drivers in these teams, but I think come the checkered flag on Sunday, Hamilton will win by a whisker.


In terms of the championship Hamilton really needs to win this race.  The next two tracks after Canada (Magny-Cours and Silverstone) will really suit the Ferrari, so Hamilton will need to take as big a championship lead as he possibly can(currently the lead is 3 points) and try and defend in these two races which will be very hard to win.


He really can’t afford any mistakes this weekend at all otherwise within the next few weeks Ferrari will be back in control. Ferrari will know they aren’t favorites here, so if they can cause an upset and win that will give them a lot of confidence as they go to two Ferrari suited tracks.


I think BMW’s challenge is now slipping; on a track where they were meant to excel (Monaco) they couldn’t match Mclaren and Ferrari in the dry conditions (the form guide was mixed up slightly in the wet race).


Kubica may try and get involved in the Mclaren/Ferrari party on Saturday but he won’t have enough pace in the race to challenge for a win, unless it turns into one of those crazy Canadian GPs, as we sometimes have.


Kubica is only six points off the championship lead however, which shows consistently he has punched above his weight.  But unless BMW makes a serious leap forward by the time the circus moves to France, he will slip off the radar.


As for other teams, who could challenge?


Renault comes with another big upgrade this weekend and this track does suit them so they may cause a surprise in qualifying, but race pace is still lacking. The Williams (especially in Rosberg’s hands) looked very good in Monaco in the dry, and with similar circuit features in Monaco Williams may get more points here.


Overall it looks set for another cracking race in Montreal which it never fails to provide.  With rain a distinct possibility, this weekend could be even better.


This weekend is very important in the championship race as mentioned above. If Mclaren really want to take the championship fight against the awesome Ferraris, this is in all honesty a must win race for them, as Ferrari will be stronger in upcoming events.


  1. Hamilton 2. Raikkonen 3. Kovalainen


Enjoy the GP weekend.


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