Canadian Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Bonjour mes amis, et bienvenue à Montréal! The Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve is one of the fastest tracks on the calender. The 4.361km circuit is made up of twisty first sector that unfolds into high speed straights in sectors two and three. The hairpin at turn 10 is the slowest point on the track, with a large run off area if drivers lose traction. Despite this being a quick circuit, the seven braking zones make fuel consumption and energy recovery critical in teams strategies. In previous years, Renault engines have performed well in Canada, though this year, the focus will be on Mercedes powered cars. The Mercedes-Benz PU106A Hybrid has a special setting that can be selected in qualifying to find extra pace. It was clear conditions for all three qualifying sessions in Canada, with Nico Rosberg taking pole with less controversy from Lewis Hamilton. Sebastian Vettel was the best of the rest, but still 0.5s behind the Mercedes.

Nico Rosberg kept the pressure on his team mate throughout the afternoon. Clearly quite comfortable to have the championship lead back in his favour, the German was the first to dive into the 1:14s. His best lap time was achieved with much less, lets say ‘attention’ than in Monaco, with 1:14.874s enough to ensure Hamilton couldn’t catch him, though not for lack of trying. Lewis Hamilton, who has been quick all weekend, did manage to get his time into the 1:14s at the end of the third session. Though the Brit lost time in the middle sector. His best effort was just 0.079s behind his team mate, but meant he has to settle for P2 on the grid.

Last years winner, Sebastian Vettel took out P3 in the session after a stellar flying lap. The Red Bull driver, had been slower than his team mate all morning, and sat uncomfortably in the drop zone during Q2. A lap on the supersoft tyres moved Vettel up into Q3. In the final session, Vettel took more risks in the second and third sector, braking later going on the throttle earlier. On a track that isn’t best suited to the RB10, Vettel’s P3 is a massive step forward for the team. Despite Ricciardo qualifying in P6, his lap time was a mere 0.041s behind Vettel’s.

The Williams car looked fantastic on track, with the Circuit  Gilles-Villeneuve agreeing with the FW36. Bottas was the faster of the two, just missing out on P3 from Vettel by 0.002s. While Massa artificially topped the timesheets in Q2 on the supersofts before the Mercedes put in their supersoft times. The Brazilian qualified in P5, just 0.028s behind Bottas with 1:15.78.

Unable to match their performance during free practice, Ferrari settled back towards the middle of the grid during qualifying. Alonso, who’d been the fastest on track in FP1, was still competitive in qualifying. He took the right lines, and was considerably faster than his team mate in sector 1. Though the F14T just isn’t up there with the Red Bulls and Williams in chasing down the Mercedes. The best Alonso could get out of the car was enough for P7. Kimi Raikkonen was more aggressive with his Ferrari, clipping right up against the Wall of Champions to get his fastest laps. The Finn is somewhat out of place on the grid after encountering traffic on his only flying lap of Q3. Kimi will therefore start P10, though I wouldn’t expect to see him there for long.

Jean Eric-Vergne is doing all he needs to do on a Saturday afternoon to ensure he retains his seat at Toro Rosso for 2015. Though looking a little bit scrappy at times in the first sector, Jev pushed the STR9 to get the most out of the Renault power unit. The Frenchman comfortably made it through to Q3, and on the supersoft tyres delivered a 1:16.162 to line up alongside Alonso in P8. Daniil Kvyat, while outperforming Jev in the first sector, couldn’t match his team mate for pace on the rest of the circuit. In Q1 the Russian broke too late into turn 14, running over the chichane, though managed to put in a time to secure a spot in Q2. The second session was as far as Kvyat would venture, qualifying in P15, 0.551s slower than his team mate.

Jensen Button made an appearance in Q3 for McLaren. Button’s strongest sector was the third sector, which is somewhat expected given the straight line pace of the Mercedes power unit. Though Button’s quickest is still only enough for mid field. By the end of Q3, Button had made up some time in the first sector, but lost it in the middle sector, eventually qualifying P9. Kevin Magnussen struggled with the lack of downforce in the set up of his MP4-29, though performed well in Q1 despite this, temporarily sitting second fastest on the supersofts. Mini Mag made as far as Q2, with a fastest lap of 1:16.310, good enough for P12.

It was a disappointing qualifying for both Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez, with neither driver getting their car through to the final session. The VJM07 has the pace to be competitive on Sunday, though was a little twitchy in the first sector resulting in time lost. Hulkenberg should have been in Q3, though was bumped down into the drop zone in the final minutes of Q2 by Vergne. Despite a scrappy first sector, the rest of Hulkenberg’s lap was clean, eventually qualifying P11. Perez had an incident at turn 8, getting his tyres on to the white lines and spinning into the run off area. Emerging unscathed, the Mexican managed a more controlled lap to go through the the second session. In the end, 1:16.472 for P13 was the best Perez could get out of the VJM07.

Lotus’ E22 is not suited to the setup required for the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, making the session difficult for the team. Romain Grosjean was the sole Lotus on track in Q2 after Maldonado was forced to make a ‘precautionary’ early exit from the first session. The E22 didn’t have the straight line pace to be competitive on a single lap, but handles well in the corners. Grosjean got the most out of the package as he could, getting his E22 to P14. Despite not finishing Q1, Maldonado’s initial lap time was good enough for P17.

Sutil was the sole Sauber on track, after Gutierrez spun his C33 into the barriers at turn 4 in FP3. It was a difficult session for Sutil, not for any particular incident, but rather his C33 just lack both pace and downforce. The result was less than competitive lap times, and a starting position of P16 on the grid. Gutierrez’s free practice crash damaged the Mexican’s chassis, and means he will start from the pit lane.

Marussia are consistently outperforming Caterham on a Saturday afternoon this season. Max Chilton out-qualified Bianchi for P18 and P19 respectively. Though he is getting used to lining up ahead of Bianchi on the grid, Chilton’s race performance is yet to compare to that of his team mates. Kobayashi has been a safe bet for Caterham (excluding his first lap incident in Australia), keeping his CT05 intact which is more than can be said his Ericsson. The rookie driver is racking up his count track incidences. Adding to the list today by red flagging Q1 in the final minute after putting his car into the wall of champions. Kobayashi and Ericsson round out the back of the grid with P20 and P21.

The Canadian Grand Prix isn’t the most exciting race on the calendar*, though the high speed nature of the circuit and two DRS zones provide plenty of opportunities for over taking. It’s just up to the drivers to take the risk, and make a move. It would seem that Mercedes are set to take out another 1-2 podium finish (barring a retirement). So it will be up to Williams to challenge the Red Bull for the final step on the podium. P3 to P6 are separated in qualifying times by 0.041s, which should hopefully translate into some competitive battles for position come race day. At the very least, I’m hoping Sutil manages another pirouette as he did in the 2013 Canadian Grand Prix, that would be nice…

– Alex

* Though my opinion may be swayed by the fact that I watch the race half asleep at 3:30am… Timezones…

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