By Tom Keeble, USA
Formula One crosses the pond for the first of the North American races. At the Canadian Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso will aim to increase his already big lead in the standings while his rivals try to catch up. Tom Keeble previews the race and rates the teams' chances of success ahead of the sixth round of the 2005 season
The Canadian Grand Prix is hosted at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. The weekend should be warm with some chance of thunderstorms, and track temperature should be moderate. Overtaking is relatively easy with the long straights leading into chicanes, but brake wear is a huge problem, and tyre longevity is widely expected to play a significant part. The circuit is the last great optimiser of minimum drag settings; it exposes excessive brake wear and the benefits of a strong engine. This year, the long accelerations should also stress rear tyre wear.
The trip to Canada is popular with the teams, as they usually enjoy fantastic hospitality in Montreal. Even besides the joys of the town, the circuit and facilities offer their own challenges, whilst the crowd is generally appreciative of the teams and their efforts.
Track: Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is a semi-permanent road circuit on Ile Notre-Dame, an island in the St Lawrence River. A lap of the circuit is made up of the long straight, broken up by chicanes, with hairpins at either end, so the drivers can make little difference if their package is not dialled in. Powerful engines and effective brakes are well rewarded. The cars' drag is minimised in order to maximise straight-line speed, reducing downforce, so the cars are nervous. This makes precision under braking critical, and mistakes will be heavily punished.
Tyres: Following the debacle in Germany, there is some expectation that the teams and their tyre suppliers will be slightly more conservative in Canada, but with winning depending on attaining the absolute margin, the usual brinkmanship should apply.
Traction is emphasised by the long straights, so rear tyre wear is a big factor. Teams that are too conservative will find themselves passed on the long straights from early in the race, whilst those who go too close to the limit will be easily passed at the end of the race as their acceleration deteriorates.
The circuit is not only rarely used, but has been freshly resurfaced, so it should noticeably rubber in over the weekend, even with the new tyre rules. The changing grip levels will also impact balance.
Weather: Although predictions are for the weekend to largely be sunny with occasional cloudy spells, there is a very real chance of thunderstorms, so at would be no surprise to see sessions interrupted.
Strategy: Last season saw a mix of two and three stops, with Schumacher very capably demonstrating the benefits of longer runs. The penalty of running that extra fuel could be prohibitive for teams that are marginal on braking and traction out of corners, but those who can look out for their car will make the best track time with fewer stops: a single stop is viable, but carries a significant qualifying penalty and a very real chance of wearing out the brakes.
Surprises: BAR could bounce back to podium form; Schumacher could challenge for a win from a mid-grid qualifying. Watch out for Toyota!
Conclusions: With low drag races a rarity in the modern calendar, there are few insights in to the teams' relative capabilities when the downforce comes off, so there is some potential for surprise. However, the rules this season emphasise the benefits of a complete package, including balance, which coincidentally is a requirement for low downforce driving, so the front runners are reasonably expected to maintain a status quo... which leaves McLaren favourite to win the race (if they can make the finish) with the up and coming Williams, shortly followed by Ferrari, the biggest threats.
Team by Team
With Rubens Barrichello's spirit drive to third - and a slow stop - there is no doubt that this team are very quick in race trim. Once they can iron out the issues for one-lap qualifying, they will be outstanding once again.
Package: There is little Ferrari can do to improve their qualifying pace unless Bridgestone get involved and build a better tyre. Once up and running, the car is very precise. The low downforce settings required for Montreal should not impact the running order. The outfit remains favourite to carry this race.
Drivers: With Michael Schumacher on board, even when the car is failing to deliver a race winning pace, there is always the potential for a good points finish. Rubens Barrichello, meanwhile, has illustrated time and again the determination to make the most of his package, so expect to see him making passes and solid progress towards the podium as the race progresses.
Objectives: podium finish.
A disappointing performance at the European GP has not done much for the BAR cause. The resolution to their current malaise could be a misjudgement of the tyres to run, but the team really has to work hard in order to recover from the suspicion that the drop in pace is a consequence of eliminating the 'cheating' element of their fuel pick up.
Package: Another outfit with a great Silverstone test, the team have been working on aspects of the car for both the Canadian and US Grands Prix. The team now have to consider the benefits of a damage limitation run.
Drivers: Takuma Sato is quick, but he cannot afford to push his luck as far as last year, where he spun at the last chicane in qualifying, just missing the Wall of Champions. Jenson Button needs to put in a solid performance, but as the team are most desperate for a points finish, emphasis for both drivers has to be on ensuring a top eight position.
Objectives: Qualify strongly and finish with both cars in the points; aiming for a podium finish. First race win is possible but quite unlikely.
Sometimes, it seems that Renault are pre-ordaned to win: McLaren's suspension failure at the Nurburgring to hand Alonso the victory appears to be a point in case. However, there is little doubt that the Spaniard was there to pick up the pieces for a reason: this car is quick and reliable.
Package: The Renault package is well balanced, which is always important in a low downforce set-up, which should help to get the most out of the car. Whilst the engine has recently been derided for being off the pace, recent evidence is clear that even if it is a little down, it is not enough to make much of a difference.
Drivers: Although both drivers are familiar with the circuit, scoring a big finish could be tough: Toyota and Williams are widely expected to be on a similar pace, whilst McLaren appear to be showing how it should really be done.
Objectives: Finish strongly for points.
Heidfeld's pole position at the Nurburgring was a big bonus to the team, who have been struggling to get a race day performance to compete with qualifying potential of their car.
Package: The team have been working hard to have an effective low drag package for Montreal, and it seems they are happy with what they produced, so the car ought to run very nicely, once it is balanced. The outfit are optimistic that they car earn another podium.
Drivers: With pole position and a solid race behind him, Heidfeld can expect to make a good fist of the race this weekend: qualifying specialist Mark Webber is going to have his work cut out keeping his teammate in place. On a related note, this revised package should allow any power the BMW engine produces to be shown off effectively.
Objectives: Finish with both cars in the points, looking for another podium finish. Race win unlikely but not impossible.
Kimi Raikkonen's dramatic ending to the European Grand Prix has not done much to improve the team's position in the standings. However, there is no doubt that the driver remains hot favourite to continue leading at the front, and winning if he can get to the finishing line.
Package: The Mercedes engine in the McLaren ought to ensure a decent straight line speed, whilst a very positive Silverstone test has given more confidence to the team. In Montreal, it will be vital not to overcompensate on the tyres. Renault are clearly a close threat, so getting both cars on the podium will be a challenge.
Drivers: Kimi Raikkonen has traditionally struggled to qualify well in the existing format in Canada, but there is little doubt he is favourite for this event. Juan Pablo Montoya never really dialled in his car last year, resulting in a poor result, but this season should see at least one of the cars able to race for a podium finish.
Objectives: Strong qualifying and podium finish - aiming for a race win.
With Massa's tyre failure at the European Grand Prix moving the team out of the points, Sauber are heading to Montreal lamenting a missed opportunity. The team have not shown much development for the race, and their limited testing program has failed to deliver much improvement to the package lately.
Package: Although the team run Ferrari's powerful engine, which ought to be solid in Canada, the lack of development on the package does not bode well. Indeed, the rhetoric coming from the team already seems to indicate that they are looking towards next year's car. certainly they need to find something to motivate the ex World Champion.
Drivers: Massa has been in excellent form recently, putting together some solid runs. However, in Canada the odds on staying in the points are slim. Rather, the team are hoping that the home crowd can lift Villeneuve enough to see a solid performance.
Objectives: Qualify in the top ten; score points - beat Red Bull.
The fourth place finish at the Nurburgring was a pleasant surprise for Red Bull, who were expecting a tough weekend. Despite Coulthard's drive-through penalty, their performance under race conditions was very solid, bringing home the points on merit.
Package: The package is clearly capable of being dialled in well, resulting in a well balanced race car that uses its tyres effectively. Unfortunately, like Ferrari, the team seem unable to get quite the same qualifying performance, so they are stuck with starting well down the grid. The relatively low downforce aerodynamic package the team are bringing is expected to offer no relatively gains against those of their nearest rivals, but should not be a penalty, either.
Drivers: With six points finishes from eight races, it is hard to say that Coulthard is unlikely to score in Montreal, but it would take a stellar drive from the Scot to finish in the points on this instance, or significant attrition for the front runners. Nevertheless, if they drop the ball, on current form, he'll be waiting to pick it up. Christian Klien is back in the car after a four-race absence; if his momentum has not been broken, he may outqualify Coulthard, but will probably finish a place or two behind.
The team's overall performance could be impacted by the introduction of Scott Speed in the third driver role: his experience in the car is relatively low, so loss of the valuable third driver input could costs performance. On the other hand, it should also garner the team considerable TV coverage from the Friday practice sessions as the American is expected to be popular at home.
Objectives: Qualify in the top ten, score points. Beat Sauber.
Despite the non-descript results at the Nurburgring, it appears that Toyota could have been working for a podium if Trulli had not struggled to have his car started, resulting in a penalty. Clearly, whilst not front running material, the car is not entirely slow.
Package: Having tested a low downforce package, the outfit are looking for a surprise move back to the front of the grid this weekend. There is little doubt that their performance should be an improvement, but the other front running teams could have put in better work.
Drivers: Both drivers run well here - with Ralf Schumacher on pole in a Williams last year. This is one of the best opportunities he will have to pass Trulli this year.
Objectives: two points finishes, podium difficult.
Despite failing to get both cars in front of the Minardis in qualifying for the European Grand Prix, on race day Jordan had the pace to comfortably steer clear, finishing only a lap down on the winner. The circuit has traditionally been good for the team, so there are reasonably high hopes for this weekend.
Package: Little development has gone in to the Jordan package: they are working on next year, on the basis that catching the nearest rival ahead is now prohibitively expensive; however, they are expected to show a lower downforce package for this event.
Drivers: Neither driver has driven this circuit before, though Tiago Monteiro went round it in the reverse direction when racing in CART. However, it is relatively one of the easier circuits to get on terms with, once the grip levels stabilise.
Objectives: Make a showing, beat Minardi.
Having seen Patrick Friesacher outqualify Karthikeyan at the Nurburgring, Minardi are now looking to see their drivers maintain the pace long enough in the race to beat Jordan over the full distance.
Although the team don't have the budget to move the car forward significantly through the year, their drivers are continuing to get to grips with its characteristics, so the overall performance is actually improving. In fact, Jordan face the same issue and still have an arguably better package, despite Minardi's latest chassis being more recent that their rival's.
On the other hand, their current aerodynamic package is arguably better suited to low drag circuits than Jordan's, so Canada and Austria probably represent the best chance the team will have to beat their nearest rival this year.
Objectives: Complete race distance - beat a Jordan.
Following a dominant start to the season, Michael Schumacher arrived in Canada looking for his seventh win - which he duly delivered, though not without having to actually fight for the top step of the podium. The weekend also saw Timo Glock unexpectedly getting a chance to race for Jordan, and the disqualification of Williams and Toyota for running illegal cooling ducts.
Ralf Schumacher was the surprise pole sitter for Williams, following a disastrous collection of practices where the car seemed impossible to balance. In the event, the German had an almost perfect package, seeing him set a time that a the flying Jenson Button (who, conversely had been on the pace all weekend) simply couldn't match for BAR.
Jarno Trulli confirmed the overall package of his Renault should never be discounted with a committed, tidy display, edging out Montoya, who never quite dialled his car in. Alonso was comfortable in fifth place - happy to leverage the excellent Renault start mechanism to make up places off the line - whilst Michael Schumacher rounded out the third row: his Ferrari looked quick and was clearly very consistent, but just lacked an edge over the single lap; he was clearly carrying plenty of fuel. Barrichello, similarly laden, came in just behind his team leader.
Kimi Raikkonen led the McLaren charge with eighth spot on the grid, just ahead of David Coulthard, with well balanced cars illustrating that a simple lack of power from the Mercedes unit was a definite part of their woes in the season to date.
Christian Klien rounded out the top ten in his Jaguar - implying that he was light on fuel, considering he outpaced qualifying specialist Mark Webber - leading Giancarlo Fisichella's Sauber and the Toyota's of Cristiano da Matta and Olivier Panis.
Takuma Sato had the most impressive lap, though: spinning at the last chicane, the Japanese came within a whisker of taking off his back wing on the wall of Champions before crossing the line in seventeenth!
After his qualifying lap spin, Sato decided the potential for starting from the back of the grid was outweighed by the benefits of refuelling in the pits, so he started from there instead. The parade lap was noticeably slow, particularly showing Alonso struggling to get away from the grid.
The race start itself started as an orderly affair, until Trulli suddenly slowed and swerved off the track with a broken drive shaft. Alonso comfortably passed Montoya, whilst Raikkonen split the Ferraris. At the first corner, Klien ran in to Coulthard, who consequently pushed da Matta wide and collected Webber; the Jaguar driver then having to stop for a new wing.
In the opening laps, Ralf Schumacher was pulling out a lead on Button, Alonso and Montoya. Michael Schumacher, Raikkonen and Barrichello followed closely. Raikkonen's tyres soon began to deteriorate, however, leading the Barrichello attacking aggressively in search of a route past. The Brazilian finally passed at the chicane, then lapped a second and a half faster to close down Schumacher.
Webber stopped on lap ten to retire with damage from the opening collisions, whilst Coulthard started the fuel stops a lap later: rear tyre wear was clearly becoming a serious issue. He dropped from twelfth to sixteenth. Raikkonen stopped a lap later, moving from seventh to tenth. Button and Montoya both stopped on lap 13, dropping from second and fourth to sixth and seventh, freeing up Michael Schumacher to chase down Alonso. Ralf Schumacher stopped from the lead to return in fourth, comfortably ahead of Button.
Alonso's stop was hit by trouble with the refuelling rig - destroying any chance of staying in front of Schumacher - as Raikkonen was awarded a drive through penalty... the McLaren driver having put his tyres over the white line on exiting the pits: taking it dropped him to ninth.
Michael Schumacher, meanwhile, took full advantage of the lead to reel off quick laps, finally stopping a lap after Barrichello to rejoin between Button and Montoya. Ralf Schumacher was restored to the lead with Button running some way off, leading Schumacher, Montoya, Barrichello and Alonso.
Sato's heavy fuel load saw him stop on lap 23, well ahead of the back markers, but with plenty more to do. When Fisichella finally stopped on lap 25, more refuelling issues held the Sauber up, but he still rejoined ahead of Panis, in tenth. Montoya, meanwhile, was pushing Schumacher, but proved unable to make a pass stick on the wily World Champion. The battle ended with the Columbian pitting, rejoining in sixth. Raikkonen stopped immediately after, slotting in behind his future teammate.
Button stopped next, looking troubled on the get-away as he seemed to rely on the anti-stall mechanism to keep the engine running. Ralf Schumacher worked hard to extend the gap over his brother. Even as he stopped, Michael Schumacher continued to work hard on defending his position, now from a hard charging Barrichello who was clearly running faster at this point in his strategy... all of which allowed Ralf the chance to close back up on the Ferrari's.
Barrichello soon pitted, as Alonso retired with suspension failure. Raikkonen stopped for fuel and tyres from seventh, rejoining in the same position, as the Schumacher brothers led the race. When Michael pitted from the lead to rejoin ahead of Button and Montoya, Ralf had six seconds to make up on his brother in order to retain the lead from his own stop; however, he failed to make up the difference, rejoining in fourth behind Montoya and Button - who both pitted shortly after... and Sato's race from the back finally came to an abrupt end as his engine expired spectacularly.
Just before the end of the race, Raikkonen slowed and pitted for a new steering wheel, and Massa retired with rear suspension failure: his rear-left wheel came adrift under braking for the hairpin.
In the end, hard driving delivered another solid win for Schumacher and Ferrari.
Point Paying Positions
Pos Driver Team-Engine Time 1. M.Schumacher Ferrari (B) 1h28:24.803 2. R.Schumacher Williams-BMW (M) + 1.062 (*) 3. Barrichello Ferrari (B) + 5.108 4. Button BAR-Honda (M) + 20.409 5. Montoya Williams-BMW (M) + 21.200 (*) 6. Fisichella Sauber-Petronas (B) + 1 lap 7. Raikkonen McLaren-Mercedes (M) + 1 lap 8. da Matta Toyota (M) + 1 lap (*) 9. Coulthard McLaren-Mercedes (M) + 1 lap 10. Panis Toyota (M) + 1 lap (*) 11. Glock Jordan-Ford (B) + 2 laps Fastest Lap: Barrichello, 1:13.622, lap 68 (*) Disqualified Classified: 14 (*10) from 20 starters