Technical Preview: the Canadian GP

By Will Gray, England
Atlas F1 Technical Writer

Click here for a track map of the Gilles Villeneuve circuit

The island circuit in Montreal will present teams with a really hot challenge at the Canadian Grand Prix this weekend as the long straights of the high-speed circuit push tyres and brakes to their limits. After the relatively slow procession around a tight and twisty Monaco circuit two weeks previously, the open circuit will allow the cars to get back to the speeds they were designed for.

That means teams will ditch all the innovative but inefficient downforce-creating devices introduced in Monaco (at least, those that were not banned) to leave the cars clean of protrusions and in a minimum drag capacity. And that could play into the hands of McLaren, whose car is not as impressive in high downforce levels as it is in a low downforce configuration.

But with the high speeds will come immense pressures on the brake wear and that means once again the cooling ducts on the front and rear wheels will be of utmost importance throughout the race in Montreal. Ferrari's innovative circular fan-style solution to cool the front brake disks is fast being investigated by other teams and it is quite possible similar solutions may find their way onto some of the Italian team's competitors for the tough Canadian event.

Brake fade can ruin a team's race because when the brake pads heat up less energy can be dissipated through the disks and it takes longer to slow down, thus creating a passing opportunity in a place such as the hairpin. It can see a potential points-scoring position fade into a mediocre top-ten finish in the latter stages of the race.

But just as important as sustained braking power in Montreal is maximum engine power. Once again it is a direct opposite to Monaco, which required good low end power and torque, and teams with better engine performance will be at a major advantage around the Ile Notre Dame. With much of the downforce removed from the cars, most of the teams are expecting top speeds of around 330 km/h on the main straight.

But, of course, there are corners on the track and teams cannot limit the levels of downforce too much as they need good grip around the bends, especially because the circuit is often so slippery. The roads around the island are only used for racing once a year - on the Grand Prix weekend - so they are very 'green', meaning there is little rubber laid down on the track to provide the usual grip seen on a race circuit.

That in turn causes great difficulties for the teams throughout the weekend because once the cars are on the circuit the rubber is constantly laid down creating ever-changing circuit conditions which can play havoc with the team's car set-up. Many of the inexperienced crews will find it difficult to read the changing conditions they face in each practice session and that may lead to difficulties in the all-important qualifying session.

But in Montreal the qualifying session is even more important because with a narrow track width the Canadian circuit is very difficult to overtake on. There are possibilities at the hairpin or into the final chicane, but generally the opportunities are few and far between. That means that grid positions will be extremely important and a good start will also be critical.

And that brings us back to launch control once again. Things have gone quiet after the Monaco race, but there is still a real threat that the new electronic systems will cause cars to stall on the narrow startline and all teams, McLaren in particular, will have been working hard to rectify any niggling problems in their systems. Jordan turned their systems off in Monaco, but that is now becoming an ever-increasingly unattractive option as teams such as Williams continue to display the advantages of a fully functional set-up.

Once the race is underway strategy will become of major importance and although a one-stop race is expected to be the norm, the circuit is one of high fuel consumption so teams must make changes to their cars to ensure they do not die on the last lap with an empty tank. That may mean running engines leaner to use less fuel in each combustion cycle, but that will decrease the power and there is a delicate balancing act that the teams and engine manufacturers have to play.

The tyres will also be an important factor in the strategy decisions because the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve suits soft tyres. They provide high grip but do wear off in performance levels over a shorter period of time than the harder compounds. Usually, however, the circuit is not too hot and as tyres will last that little bit longer in lower temperatures the two battling tyre manufacturers Michelin and Bridgestone will almost certainly be lowering their soft compound limits further as their development continues to increase through the season.

That could play into the hands of the Williams team, who excelled on Michelin tyres in the Imola race when Ralf Schumacher drove superbly and beat the Bridgestone runners to victory. But hand in hand with good potential comes the threat of failure - especially in Montreal, which is a high attrition circuit. That will not make things look so good for Williams, who have clocked up only three finishes in fourteen starts, but if they do make it to the finish they could be up at the front.

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Print Version

Volume 7, Issue 23
June 6th 2001

Atlas F1 Special

Jean Alesi's New Start
by Timothy Collings

Team Connaught: Remembrance of Things Fast
by Thomas O'Keefe

The Newey Saga

Why It Really Matters
by Roger Horton

The Point of Lauda
by Karl Ludvigsen

Canadian GP Preview

The Canadian GP Preview
by Ewan Tytler

Technical Preview: Montreal
by Will Gray

Focus: Piquet in Canada
by Marcel Schot


Elsewhere in Racing
by Mark Alan Jones

The Canadian GP Quiz
by Marcel Borsboom

Bookworm Critique
by Mark Glendenning

Rear View Mirror
by Don Capps

The Weekly Grapevine
by the F1 Rumors Team

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