No one’s properly hit the wall of champions yet, but be patient. We’ve only been been through practice. That doesn’t even matter, though. With just half-a-second between fourth and fourteenth on the time-sheets turned in on Friday, Formula 1's weekend in Canada looks ready to deliver.
A perfect follow-up to Monaco for the fans, and a perfect nightmare for the teams- Circuit Gilles Veilleneuve is harder on everything. The engines, transmissions, brakes, turbos, tires - you name it - they all suffer here like a worker in Baku. Coming off of high-speed straights, the drivers decelerate their cars aggressively in to corners with massive curbing. Slow and medium speed curves mean aero isn’t as much of a factor here as it is at the more modernly-traditional circuits.
Canada is rough in all the right ways with a surface full of bumps that was built out on a man-made island in the late 1970's. The drivers spend 59% of the lap at full throttle trying to accelerate out of the course’s 14 corners on an uneven surface. The rolling road undulations cause these electric-hybrid powered cars to lose traction with the instant torque and buck around while powering out of corners. The new Renault upgrade has been the only one to bare its teeth so far, as it bit Kevin Magnussen in FP3 ending the final practice session prematurely.
Sebastian Vettel and Felipe Massa both made up eleven spots in last year’s race after both drivers had power unit problems in qualifying. Vettel ended up 5th from 16th, with Massa right behind at start and finish. If you can keep your wheels under your ass, you can late-brake pass here. Get it wrong, and it’s going to cost you. Canada has some close walls, particularity that last one.
Ferrari is poised to give Sebastian a better starting position this season, while Massa’s Williams-Martini team hopes they’ve made up enough lost ground from the DRS failure that caused Felipe’s first corner incident yesterday in FP1.
It is Ferrari and Red Bull who are in a battle for second that is heating up as the summer approaches, despite the cool weather Circuit Gilles Veillenvue had experienced this week. Both teams would rather be having this battle anywhere but the tricky tarmac of Monoca, Canada, and the brand new Azerbaijan track that follows.
Even better for fans and worse for the teams, the weather for Sunday looks even more interesting with about a 50% chance of rain. I hope you have your Poncho, Orlove. Circumstances look challenging for everybody in terms of getting power to promote performance. A Sunday at the Canadian Grand Prix is as good a litmus test for the drivers as any.
I would not want to bother anyone at Red Bull racing this weekend. Something tells me those guys will have a laser focus on. The overall vibe is that Ferrari have a step out on Red Bull at this moment. Verstappen improved four-thenths from the first two practice sessions and held P4 in FP1&2 with Ricciardo close behind.
As FP3 wrapped up, Ferrari moved to the top spot with an impressive 1:13.919 put in by Sebastian Vettel. Max Verstappen jumped to P2 with a 1:14.158 -0.239 behind Ferrari ahead of qualifying. Rosberg and Hamilton never seemed to hit full pace in the ultimate and abbreviated session.
Jenson Button’s new engine registered a P7, placing in the last quarter of FP2 with a 1:15.213 in a session in which his car spent a majority of the duration on stands after sprouting an oil leak. Honda may have retired both cars here last year, but both drivers have been driving showing no sings of a lack of faith. Alonso registered P8 in FP3 with a 1:14.801, Button knocking back down to P13 ahead of Q3 with Force India and Williams splitting the McLaren cars. Despite issues, both McLaren wheelmen look to be doing their best to drive the wheels off their cars.
Renault had issues with their gearbox before Magnussen’s incident that ended practice. Sauber had a problem they won’t disclose, meaning that one is probably Ferrari’s fault (I’m guessing.) Haas team principal Gunthert Steiner is just happy to not have the jet-lag that usually accompanies his race weekends. Haas are politely optimistic that the tight mid-field could result in some retirements ahead of them and perhaps some points to scoop up amid the debris from their peers.
Qualifying is up at 1:00 PM EST on NBC. The prime tire will be the soft compound, with a much more limited lap window available for pace from the ultra-softs here at Canada as compared to Monaco. Hamilton wants a good position to cover Rosberg at Sunday’s start, which could prove to be the most important moment for Mercedes if the weather holds off.
Coming from his 44th overall victory in Monaco two weeks ago, the defending Canadian GP pole-sitter (his 44th pole achieved) hopes to take his 53rd pole this afternoon. The first three corners at Canada are imperative to get through cleanly. Easiest done from the front then, Lewis.