Will Gray

Gray Matter: McLaren’s threat to Vettel

Will Gray

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Sebastian Vettel is chasing his sixth pole and sixth
victory from seven races this weekend - but the layout of the Montreal circuit could
provide a threat to his record-chasing domination.

Only three drivers in the history of Formula One have managed to win six of the seven complete opening Grands Prix of the season. Jim Clark was the first, in 1965, and he potentially could have won all seven had he not been forced to miss the Monaco race to compete in the Indianapolis 500. Jenson Button did it in 2009, although one of those was only awarded half points as it was stopped due to bad weather. And Michael Schumacher did it twice, in 1994 and 2004, the latter seeing him go on to win 12 of the first 13 races - so Vettel still has some way to go yet to achieve that record!

On the pole position front, only one driver has ever
taken six poles from the first seven races, and that was Nigel Mansell in 1992.
He went on to achieve a total of 14 poles for Williams that season - so again,
that's also quite a target for Vettel to chase.

This year's on-track action has made such dominance a
little bit more acceptable, with all-action crowd-pleasing races making the
results far from the foregone conclusions we were used to in the Schumacher era
of dominance. Yet each time, apart from China, Vettel has come out on top.

The German has certainly stepped up a level this season
and his form makes him favourite to continue this success race after race - but
if there's one place where he could be under threat it's Montreal, with the
circuit's long straights offering an opening for closest rivals McLaren in
several ways...


Red Bull's biggest advantage comes in high-speed corners,
where their efficient aerodynamics coupled with the well-advanced hot-blown
diffuser system enables their car to stick to the road far better than any of
their rivals.

Montreal, however, has very few high-speed corners - it's
a very stop-start track - so there is a dramatically reduced dependence on
high-speed downforce and that will go some way to negating the advantage Red
Bull has had over the opposition at most other tracks so far.


Red Bull's Renault engine is understood to have less
power than most, with McLaren's Mercedes unit seen as the best of the bunch. On
a circuit that is placed third on the list behind Spa and Monza in terms of
most power-influenced lap times, that could be significant.

Canada has one of the longest straights on the calendar
(1.1km) so this will see top-end speed play a significant role, while the
amount of full-throttle running also influences fuel consumption, so teams with
an efficient engine will also benefit from lower starting weight.

While top-end speed is important, however, the ability to
get the power down quickly is also relevant - and with Red Bull understood to
score well in this area, that torque out of the slow corners could prove vital
in helping them to stay ahead.


Teams are limited on the amount of KERS boost they can
use per lap and they usually manage to fully charge the batteries and use all
the energy up each time round. For that reason, the system only really offers a
direct advantage if one team has it and another doesn't.

KERS has proved a challenge for Red Bull so far this
season, thanks to overheating making it only useable for short periods during a
race. If they continue to suffer it could be crucial in Canada as it will make
them sitting ducks on the long straights.


This weekend will see a double DRS zone for the first
time ever now the FIA feels comfortable with the technology, and the two
activation locations will be coupled, with the first on the long run-in to the
hairpin and the second on the long run out.

This is likely to create even more DRS-assisted
overtaking than in previous races so far - and while it will be beneficial for
all teams, there are differences between the systems that see some drop more
drag than others. Not only is McLaren's one of the best, the reduced drag means
their top-end speed advantage can be incrementally larger.


The final factor in the mix is Lewis Hamilton's
exceptional record in Montreal - in three races there with McLaren, the Briton
has been on pole every time and won twice, which is a clear indicator that
either he or the McLaren car is naturally suited to that track.

Vettel has only raced there twice, and only once in a Red
Bull, when he started from second and finished fourth behind Hamilton, the
second McLaren of Jenson Button (whose record in Montreal is not so good, with
two podiums in 10 races) and Fernando Alonso last year.

On top of that, the high tyre degradation expected for
Canada will add a confusion factor that could cause any team to slip up - so
although Vettel is on a rare run of form, there are plenty of reasons why
McLaren, and Hamilton, can have hope for this weekend...

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