Issue 56: 2015 Canadian Grand Prix Forecast


4 June 2015

Grit and bravery required in Montreal

Monte Carlo offered us glitz and glamour two weeks ago. This weekend, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal will serve up grit and overtaking!

In spite of the big difference in the average speed between the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and Monte Carlo (almost 25mph), these two tracks bear some striking similarities. Slow-speed corners, high kerbs and big barriers in close proximity to the asphalt are common to both circuits. Therefore, cars with strong low-speed grip, good traction and compliant suspension tend to do well in both Monaco and Canada.

Montreal, however, offers overtaking opportunities where Monaco does not, as Lewis Hamilton demonstrated in the final 10 surprising laps of the 2015 Monaco Grand Prix. Two straights leading to big stops for the final corner (Turn 13) and for the first corner provide the best overtaking battlegrounds. To make things even more exciting, the track surface is low on grip because the venue is rarely used. And the Canadian Grand Prix is always tough on brakes and fuel consumption. In 2014, the field suffered six powertrain and gearbox failures in the race, the highest number of the season. The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is a real car breaker. Moreover, the chances of an appearance by the safety car are high, especially given the propensity for contact in the tight first corners on the opening laps.

Extracting the best lap time requires a driver to ride the kerbs smoothly at the chicanes of Turns 6 and 7 and Turns 8 and 9 and play dare with the barriers. You’ve got to push and get within a cigarette paper’s width of the barriers. Too cautious and you’ll end up qualifying way down the order. Too greedy and you’re an accident waiting to happen. The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is unforgiving, unlike sterile state-of-art F1 tracks. Driver error is punished almost instantly, most notably on the exit of the final chicane where the infamous ‘wall of champions’ lies in wait for anyone with an arm-full of understeer.

The need for straight-line speed in order to overtake or defend a position means that teams remove downforce. The drivers therefore rely heavily on mechanical grip from the tyres. Traction is critical to accelerate out of slow-speed corners, in particular the hairpin at Turn 10. Getting the entry and exit to this corner right is vital in order to be in a position to slip-stream past other cars on the straight. The rear tyres in particular need to withstand not only the demands of constant deceleration and acceleration, but also the energy produced as the drivers hit the kerbs, according to Pirelli.

Like other street circuits, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is rarely used, so the drivers will try to put down plenty of grip in the early sessions, which will mean the track evolves significantly throughout the weekend. However, rain forecast for Friday afternoon will hinder the laying of rubber in practice.

Scuderia on the attack

I think we’re in for an absolutely cracking Canadian Grand Prix. In 2014, Mercedes were simply untouchable until the energy recovery systems on both cars failed, opening the door for Daniel Ricciardo to win his first Grand Prix. However, the result from last season of most interest to me is Force India’s. In spite of Sergio Perez’s huge accident in the closing laps of last year’s race, the Mexican and his team-mate Nico Hulkenberg showed that a car that is light on its tyres can make a one-stop strategy work to compete for a strong points finish. Cycle forward a year and Ferrari is the car to watch in the 2015 running. The Malaysian Grand Prix showed that the Scuderia can make one stop less than Mercedes and win for the reason that the SF15-T is able to manage thermal tyre degradation better than the W06 Hybrid. This, combined with Ferrari’s highly competitive powertrain, which offers strong top-line speed and good traction off slow corners, puts Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen in contention for victory.

Mercedes will surely lockout the front row in qualifying because Hamilton and Rosberg will be able to get their tyres up to temperature faster than the Ferraris. However, expect Mercedes to be under pressure on race day. I cannot see how Mercedes will be able to use anything other than a two-stop strategy, unlike Ferrari. Ferrari looked to be in good shape against Mercedes on the Supersoft tyre round Monte Carlo, but less of a match for the German marque on the Soft tyre. By stopping twice, Mercedes will be able to spend more laps on the faster tyre than Ferrari. However, they will need to build a pit stop-sized gap over Ferrari (approximately 23 seconds) to get out in front again, which is a big ask, or overtake them on track. The wildcard in all this is whether Ferrari decides to deploy its upgraded powertrain (they have used three of their 10 remaining tokens for the season in this upgrade) and if they do, how much extra horsepower it will deliver (I have read reports of anything from an additional 10-15 horsepower).

My tip for the win is Sebastian Vettel, but it will be a close finish between the German and Lewis Hamilton.

Speaking of the world champion, I’m expecting a response from him. Hamilton claims that he has not looked back at what happened in Monte Carlo, but be prepared for maximum Hammertime this weekend! He’s had the legs on his team-mate all season, with the exception of the Spanish Grand Prix, and Montreal has always been a successful track for the Briton.

Behind the duelling Mercedes and Ferraris, I suspect that Force India are on for another good result and are likely to find themselves fighting with the Red Bulls for a strong points finish. Finally, the straight-line speed of the Williams is likely to mean that Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas will be near the top of the Sector 3 timing sheets all weekend. I expect them to be feisty overtakers into Turn 13 in the race!