Can Force India, McLaren or Williams Be Best of the Rest in 2014 Canadian GP?

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistJune 5, 2014

SAKHIR, BAHRAIN - APRIL 06:  Sergio Perez of Mexico and Force India drives during the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit on April 6, 2014 in Sakhir, Bahrain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

This weekend's Canadian Grand Prix could see Mercedes' dominance reach its absolute peak.

The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and its inviting long straights will play perfectly into the hands of the Silver Arrows, with Nico Rosberg claiming via the team's official website that cars will hit a top speed of around 340 to 350 kilometres per hour.

Mercedes' employment of Lewis Hamilton, the joint second-most successful driver in the history of the Montreal circuit, will also play dividends. The 2008 world champion's aggressive, committed approach—as he told Mercedes' website—is perfectly suited to the chicanes which encourage drivers to leave nothing on the table.

The team's plan to introduce further upgrades to their chassis and power unit, as reported by James Galloway of Sky Sports, will only enhance the German manufacturer's advantage.

Montreal's status as a power circuit should, meanwhile, aid the assaults of Mercedes' powertrain customers: Force India, McLaren and Williams.

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Just 15 points separate Force India, who currently sit fourth in the constructors' standings with 67 points, from McLaren and Williams, who are joint-fifth in the championship with 52 points each.

With the Ferrari and Renault engines still lacking in power—despite the latter's target of operating at 100 per cent in Canada—the fight for the final podium place in Montreal could be between Mercedes' power teams.

And if that is the case, the smart money at the moment is likely to go on Force India.

The Silverstone-based team have exceeded expectation so far this season, with Sergio Perez recording the team's second-ever podium finish in April's Bahrain Grand Prix—the most recent circuit to feature a series of long straights.

Perez himself has a decent record in Montreal, scoring the second podium finish of his career with Sauber in 2012 after qualifying in 15th position the previous day.

Although Perez has been quoted in an emailed Force India press release as stating that scoring "points will be the target" in Canada after a "very disappointing race in Monaco"—in which he spun into retirement on the opening lap—the Mexican did admit that the venue will "be suited to the strengths of our car so we have to maximise this opportunity."

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 24:  Nico Hulkenberg of Germany and Force India drives during qualifying ahead of the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 24, 2014 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

If the team are hoping to extract the most from the opportunity that Montreal represents, Nico Hulkenberg, rather than the inconsistent Perez, will be the man to do so.

Having scored points in every grand prix so far this season—finishing in the top six on five occasions—the German is currently enjoying his finest run of results since making his Formula One debut in 2010.

Hulkenberg's aggressive style should help him navigate Canada's tempting curves with panache, with the 26-year-old, according to an emailed press statement, favouring Pirelli's soft and supersoft tyre compounds, which will both be used in Montreal.

It will be interesting, however, to observe how Hulkenberg responds if he is faced with the prospect of securing his first podium finish in Canada.

It is universally accepted that the German's breakthrough result in Formula One is long overdue, which is more of a reflection of the cars he has driven in the past than any flaws in his driving.

Although "The Hulk" has shown few signs of feeling pressure in a career defined by his ability to outperform his car to fight with the elite—which was evident in his fight for the lead in the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix and his resisting of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton in Korea last year—the notion of finally breaking his duck, having missed out on the glory of taking Force India's Bahrain podium, may play on his mind.

And as the Wall of Champions, the barrier sitting in the outside of the final corner, would attest, Montreal isn't the type of track to forgive losses of focus or concentration.

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 18:  Valtteri Bottas of Finland and Williams prepares to drive during practice ahead of the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit on April 18, 2014 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty I
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

If Force India do fail to capitalise on the chance to strengthen their grip on fourth place in the championship, the door could open quite significantly for Williams, who have generally underachieved so far this season after ending pre-season with the second-fastest car.

A Mercedes power unit and an aerodynamically efficient chassis, like Force India, both help Williams' cause—but it could be the FW36's long gearing, and therefore its ability to extract the most from those long straights, that could prove to be decisive.

In Valtteri Bottas, Williams have a driver with Hulkenberg-like levels of consistency and strong one-lap pace for good measure. 

The Finnish driver's qualifying performance in Canada last year, which led to him starting from third in a car which began the previous race in Monaco from 14th, should ensure that Bottas approaches the weekend with more confidence than Felipe Massa, his teammate who has failed to finish higher than fourth in Montreal—and that result was achieved behind the wheel of a Sauber in 2005.

And what of McLaren, the team who began the season with a double podium finish (albeit after the disqualification of Daniel Ricciardo)?

A double-points finish in Monaco halted a run of three consecutive weekends without scoring a point, with the unique demands of the Circuit de Monaco and the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve set to disguise the team's true form.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 16:  Kevin Magnussen of Denmark and McLaren celebrates on the podium after finishing third during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 16, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty I
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Even McLaren's racing director, Eric Boullier, was quoted by as suggesting that the Montreal track often produces "unusual and unexpected" results, perhaps hinting that his team hope to benefit from good fortune this weekend.

That a team of the calibre of McLaren, who have won five of the last eight races in Canada, should rely on luck is a sad reflection of the team's current, middle-of-nowhere state.

Their best hope for the weekend, surely, is to prove a match for the likes of Red Bull and Ferrari, who have established themselves as the best of the rest behind Mercedes on conventional circuits.

But in the Canadian Grand Prix, it could be the Silver Arrows' customers who take centre stage as the increasingly predictable title battle develops over half a minute up the road.

MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 05:  Nico Hulkenberg of Germany and Force India attends a press conference head of the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 5, 2014 in Montreal, Canada.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

And although it would be a shame if the race were to become a contest decided by which car has which engine stuffed into its rear, a straight fight between the Mercedes customers would provide some fascinating clues over which driver, team and engineering combination has best utilised F1 2014's holy grail.

With that in mind, a prediction: Whoever finishes ahead of Hulkenberg will be spraying podium champagne alongside the Mercedes drivers on Sunday afternoon.