Canada is McLaren's biggest opportunity so far this season. Red Bull has won five out of six races, but the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve favours power and its unusual layout has a habit of closing up the competitive order at the front.
Lewis Hamilton is McLaren's trump card. The lessons of Monaco learned, this is a perfect opportunity for him to show the mark of a true great by bouncing back from a bad weekend on and off track with one of his trademark stellar performances. Three times he has competed in Montreal, three times he has had pole position and twice he has stood on top of the podium.
Last year, Hamilton led a McLaren one-two in a race where tyre degradation was high. Red Bull opted to start on the harder compound rubber, which didn't pay off, while the silver corner got it right.
This year, tyres will again be key. Pirelli has allocated the same soft and super soft compounds that it used at Monaco. That race headed towards a dramatic, and unfulfilled, denouement with the top three running nose to tail after one, two and three stop strategies respectively, and in Montreal we could see similar diversity.
Canada promises to be a thriller © sutton-images.com
But what of Red Bull? Mark Webber has admitted that it hasn't exactly been a happy hunting ground for Scuderia Milton Keynes, although Sebastian Vettel was on the front row last year and David Coulthard claimed his final podium there in 2008. It could be a banana skin for Vettel, who can finish second to Hamilton in the next eight races and still be leading the championship such is his lead, but that's what everyone said about Monaco.
Vettel is very aware of the gaps on his CV, and he is probably thinking about how a Canadian GP trophy will look in his silverware cabinet.
Fernando Alonso was hotly tipped to win in Monaco had the race run its course without the red flag interruption. Last year, the Spaniard had a potentially race winning car in Canada, but ended up only third after a scrappy race. In Australia and Monaco, he showed top three pace, and it's inconceivable that he won't be in the podium mix this weekend. Especially with Ferrari's wind tunnel problems now behind it and a raft of aerodynamic upgrades coming on stream.
On the other side of the garage is a man under pressure. Felipe Massa has shown some flashes of Alonso-like pace this season, arguably more so than he did last season, but China aside has struggled to make good on his promise. With Pirelli shunning its hardest tyre compounds for this race, Ferrari could be on a for a good weekend and the Brazilian needs to push on to make a case for seeing out the last year of his contract with the team in 2012. But he's far from the only driver under pressure.
Take Nick Heidfeld. Since being called up to replace Robert Kubica, his performances in qualifying have largely let him down. Too many times he has had to work his way up the order, and arguably some potential top six finishes have ended up with only minor points positions thanks to disappointing results on Saturday. Team principal Eric Boullier has given him the hurry up and with Vitaly Petrov proving to be his equal in overall performance, its time for the German to underline just why he was the obvious choice to fill in for Kubica.
Jaime Alguersuari is the other driver in the wars. Scuderia Toro Rosso will replace one of its two drivers with Daniel Riccardo at the latest at the end of the year. Probably earlier than that. The Spaniard came into the season expected to assert himself over Sebastien Buemi after a strong end to 2010, but it hasn't played out like that.
In qualifying, he trails Buemi 5-1; in points terms the score is 7-0. Tyre degradation problems, partly as a result of the new diffuser package that Alguersuari alone ran in Spain, have played their part but now is the time for him to live up to the potential that he has shown.
|DRIVERS' HISTORY - MONTREAL|
|Driver||Monaco 2011||Spain 2011||China 2011||Malaysia 2011||Australia 2011|
|Paul di Resta||12||12||11||10||10|
|DRIVERS' HISTORY - CANADA|
|Paul di Resta|
As is the trend in 2011, it's into the unknown in Canada. The fact that Bridgestone's far more durable tyres required more than one of the customary pitstops tells you that this is a track that can be hard on rubber. So what does that mean for Pirelli?
No one really knows. Timo Glock describes his expectations of the tyres for Canada as being like a Christmas present - no-one will really know until they get there and open it! But with a double DRS zone, with drivers able to deploy the wing on both the back straight and on start/finish, and overtaking in Montreal traditionally relatively straightforward, it could be a race where running the fastest strategy regardless of track position concerns might pay off.
In short, expect a lot of passing. And a lot of pitstops.
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