Formula One: Buckle up for Groundhog Day at the Canadian Grand Prix

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It’s Groundhog Day again for F1 fans and, without exception, we’re all delighted.

After the procession which was the Monaco race, the sport gets back to a semblance of normality with the Canadian Grand Prix.

Normality? Well, sort of…

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Dear Montreal, someone left the zoo unlocked

Good for the sole: Sir Patrick Stewart indulges in ‘shoey’ action during last year’s Canadian Grand Prix podium ceremony (even though Daniel Ricciardo hadn’t even won…)
Good for the sole: Sir Patrick Stewart indulges in ‘shoey’ action during last year’s Canadian Grand Prix podium ceremony (even though Daniel Ricciardo hadn’t even won…)

F1 weekend is a real party here – the circuit is minutes away from Montreal’s many attractions and the city always rises to the F1 challenge.

In many ways, it reminds me of Albert Park, a place where street circuit meets race-track and the locals know how to let their hair down.

Lead sponsor Heineken is using its F1 Global Partner status to promote its alcohol-free ‘0.0’ beer and ram home the message that When You Drive, Never Drink (those capitals are very important, apparently), and it’s got a ton of stuff going on in Montreal.

But the truth is that the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is so close to the party action that there’s no need to drive anywhere, sober or otherwise.

It’s not just humans who get in on the act in Canada – our distant animal cousins have a habit of gatecrashing proceedings on the Île Notre Dam.

In 2016, a couple of vagabond seagulls got in Sebastian Vettel’s way at Turn One, forcing him wide while he was leading the race. Later, he gatecrashed a Lewis Hamilton Sky interview to explain that Hamilton took victory because he didn’t have to avoid animals…

In 2012, foxes and squirrels tried to interrupt proceedings (not everyone in Montreal likes the disruption caused by the F1 circus) during the opening practice session – but no animals were hurt in the making of that particular drama.

Groundhogs – actually, they’re beavers – have a habit of popping up at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve as well. Back in 2007, Anthony Davidson was heading for his first F1 points in the Super Aguri (remember that?) when he broke his front wing on one of the critters.

The fact that wasn’t the most memorable thing about the 2007 race – Robert Kubica barrel-rolled his BMW-Sauber into tiny pieces (12 months later, he was back to record his first win at the same circuit), and Lewis Hamilton took his maiden victory – speaks volumes for the action that we’ve grown to expect here over the years.

Overtaking? Well, half the circuit is a DRS zone

Tyres, quite important in F1: It’s the ones on the left you need concern yourself with this weekend – pink Hypersofts, purple Ultrasofts and red Supersofts
Tyres, quite important in F1: It’s the ones on the left you need concern yourself with this weekend – pink Hypersofts, purple Ultrasofts and red Supersofts

A third DRS zone has been added for this year’s Canadian Grand Prix, which will mean we will see cars passing one another, even if a lot of these passes are ‘artificial’ – without DRS, Montreal isn’t actually that easy a circuit at which to execute overtakes.

We’re also going to see the return of the pink Hypersoft tyre. Pirelli took (yet another) kicking over the tyres last time out at Monaco, where the leaders all trundled round many, many seconds off race pace to preserve their rubber (this was as much the fault of Monaco being a single-track road in places as it was the tyres’ fault).

As a result, Pirelli say that, even though the Hypersofts were used by everyone in Monaco, this race will be their ‘real’ debut. It’s come to something when even tyre manufacturers don’t want to be associated with the ‘glamour’ of the Monaco Grand Prix…

Anyway, let’s see how Mercedes go with these tyres – they’ve struggled with rubber all season and, while this isn’t a particularly hard circuit on the tyres, the surface isn’t particularly grippy, so the Mercs will hit trouble if they start sliding around corners again. Talking of Merc…

Hamilton is king here, right?

Untouchable: Lewis Hamilton after his 2017 Canadian Grand Prix victory, wearing the helmet gifted to him by Ayrton Senna’s family to mark Hamilton equalling the Brazilian’s 65 pole positions
Untouchable: Lewis Hamilton after his 2017 Canadian Grand Prix victory, wearing the helmet gifted to him by Ayrton Senna’s family to mark Hamilton equalling the Brazilian’s 65 pole positions

Actually, he is. He’s won six times in Canada (and team-mate Valtteri Bottas has had a few tickets to the podium too) and no one apart from Michael Schumacher, with seven victories, comes close. In fact, of the current crop of drivers, Vettel, Alonso, Ricciardo and Raikkonen have each tasted victory here once.

So Hamilton is not only king, he’s also president and lord high factotum too.

On that basis, there will be disappointment in the Mercedes garage if Hamilton doesn’t monster qualifying, and also a bit of nervousness about how hard Ferrari can push the Silver Arrows.

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Don’t be surprised to see Ferrari and Mercedes on different tyre strategies. Hamilton and Bottas both have more sets of Ultrasofts with them than anyone else, while the rest of the grid is majoring on those sticky Hypersofts.

Hamilton shares one advantage with Ricciardo at this circuit – his ability to brake late, late, late (if his brakes last the distance). Talking of which…

F1 upgrades and downgrades

Slow coach: Daniel Ricciardo celebrates after his low-speed victory at the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix. He’ll have to be quicker this weekend
Slow coach: Daniel Ricciardo celebrates after his low-speed victory at the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix. He’ll have to be quicker this weekend

The nonsense that is F1’s engine rules means Daniel Ricciardo will be kicked down the grid for fitting a new MGU-K energy recovery unit, having already used up his allocation for the year.

And, at the time of writing, Red Bull are still waiting to hear if he’ll get further penalties by replacing batteries and control electronics.

At the very least, we can anticipate a charge through the field, with plenty of that famous late braking, at least until he gets within a few places of those Mercs and Ferraris, with their superior power (or gets stuck in one of those epic 2018 midfield battles).

His Renault engine may be an upgraded version (if Red Bull decide to risk that option), about 1 per cent up on the unit’s performance in Monaco, which is nice to have but unlikely to be a game-changer at the front of the field.

That also means the heat will be on team-mate Max Verstappen to keep it clean this weekend and bring home some decent points.

So no over-driving, no kamikaze overtake fails and nothing intimate with the Wall of Champions.

Elsewhere on the grid, McLaren have been downbeat about their chances, saying Montreal’s long straights and slow corners will expose their car’s flaws.

That’s right, they’ve finally conceded that their machine is bad on straights and in corners. That doesn’t leave their No.1 driver and grumbler-in-chief Fernando Alonso with much to play with, so he’s hoping that the weather gets tricky.

Other elements could come into play – a lack of run-off areas means the Safety Car is an ever-present possibility, and high brake wear – this circuit is hard on anchors – could start to affect some cars as the race progresses.

Honda are also bringing upgraded engines, and the rumour mill suggested they might have an extra 40 horses to power the Toro Rosso pair. As that’s about half a family car’s worth, treat such claims with caution until evidence emerges (that evidence may be the noise of Alonso, for so long a thorn in Honda’s side until they and McLaren parted company, actually exploding).

Oh, and Mercedes are expected to bring better power units for themselves, Force India and Williams too … that means Hamilton may have another advantage here.

Honorary mention for Jenson

Panic Button: Actually, pretty cool … Jenson Button during that epic 2011 Canadian Grand Prix, when he crashed twice, received a penalty and came from last place to win on the final lap
Panic Button: Actually, pretty cool … Jenson Button during that epic 2011 Canadian Grand Prix, when he crashed twice, received a penalty and came from last place to win on the final lap

It wouldn’t be right to write about the Canadian Grand Prix without a mention of that 2011 race.

That was the year Jenson Button started seventh in the rain, bumped McLaren team-mate Hamilton into the pit wall, dropped to 15th after being penalised for speeding under the first of five safety cars, hung around with everyone else while rain stopped play for a couple of hours, collided with Alonso on lap 37 and dropped to last place … last place … but blasted back through the field, helped by some courageous tyre choices, to second place.

And then, on the final lap, the pressure got to Vettel, who ran wide and allowed Button one of F1’s most famous victories.

They don’t make ‘em like that any more. But, if they decided to, this is the circuit where it would happen.

Forget about the Monaco moans and get yourself set up for a weekend of proper F1 … it’s Canada time.


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