The 2001 Canadian Grand Prix Preview

By Ewan Tytler, U.S.A.
Atlas F1 Magazine Writer

The Canadian Grand Prix is a popular one among both F1 insiders and fans. Sir Frank Williams recently summed up the feelings of the Formula One paddock, saying: "The Montreal circuit is an interesting one from many points of view but most important it affords several potential overtaking opportunities per lap: a rare event in itself. The city too is quite interesting and can provide some quite racy fun in the evenings I am told!"

Montreal has never hosted an International F3000 event so six drivers will be competing at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve for the first time.

At 4.421 km, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is average in length and in average speed. The circuit consists of two hairpin bends at the opposite ends of the circuit, connected by a series of straights and chicanes that provide some overtaking spots. Each lap involves sudden acceleration and deceleration, which is hard on transmissions and brakes; fuel consumption also tends to be high. Rain is always a possibility at Montreal but wind from the St. Lawrence River may also become a factor in the handling of the cars.

Pat Symonds, Benetton's Director of Engineering, explains the technical challenges presented by the circuit: "Montreal is an interesting circuit both for the drivers and engineers, it has a high attrition rate and is very hard on the cars, particularly on brakes and transmission. Due to the nature of the circuit, which is made up of straights interspersed by low speed chicanes, engine power counts for a lot. After Monza it is one the hardest circuits on brakes.

"The circuit is only used once a year and the very low grip surface means the start of practice is very slippery due to the lack of rubber on the track. It is also the lowest downforce circuit that we have raced on so far this year and the cars need to be set-up with very low drag to gain speed on the straights. We are anticipating speeds approaching 330 km/h on the main straight this year. In addition the circuit has quite high fuel consumption so there are a number of compromises that have to be made.

"The circuit suits a very soft tyre and this year with the comeback of Michelin we can expect both tyre companies to be pushing their compounds to the limit. For the drivers it's a challenging circuit and although all the chicanes have similar characteristics, with very hard braking into the corner and steady acceleration through the second part, it still requires immense precision to get a good lap time."

Sauber's Technical Director Willy Rampf added: "The circuit is also relatively narrow, which makes overtaking even more difficult than usual. This is a circuit where good grid positions at the start are key assets."

This is a circuit where surprises and upsets are normal, but even so, Minardi have never scored a point in Canada. Montreal is a circuit where lesser-known drivers like Stefano Modeno finished second and Andrea de Cesaris was a regular points finisher. It is not a question of who is fastest, it is more a question of who has the best luck.

Pitstop and tyre strategies

Attrition is fairly high at this circuit - less than half the field tend to finish. Although 16 cars were classified in last year's race, only 14 were running at the end of the race. Eleven drivers were classified in 1999 and 1997, 10 cars finished in 1998, 9 finished in 1995 and only 8 cars were running at the end of the 1996 race.

In last year's wet race, most drivers had to make 2 pitstops, only Benetton's Giancarlo Fisichella completed the race with only one stop. In the dry 1999 race, most of the drivers were on a one-stop strategy, stopping between laps 36 and 38 when the pace car was on the track. Pat Symonds suggested: "Strategically a lot will depend on the consistency of the tyres. But we can expect most cars to be attempting a one-stop race."

Michelin motorsport director Pierre Dupasquier took stock, stating: "A wide number of different parameters influence the results and you can't overlook any eventuality. The fact we are fighting at the front clearly indicates that we are producing tyres that are well suited to the different tracks. But in Monaco, for instance, we thought our tyres might be a touch too hard, yet they were almost worn out by the end. Who knows what might happen in Montreal? Here we have very high top speeds, two hairpins taken almost at a crawl, a badly-worn surface that offers little grip and potential problems with traction and braking. Montreal is one of those circuits where you need to find grip to boost traction, yet you still have to be able to generate high speeds (David Coulthard was clocked at 327 km/h, or 203.2 mph, in 1999). It's a bit like a faster version of Monaco."

Bridgestone Motorsport's Technical Manager, Hisao Suganuma, stated: "The aim is to provide compounds that grip well through the corners but also give speed on the straights. With such hard braking, the cars' and tyres' performance under braking will be a crucial issue. In fact, Montreal is probably the hardest track for braking. From a tyre point of view, the tyres should support the car correctly under braking, maintaining stability as it slows and then through the corner. The constructions we have for Canada are designed to do that. Wear should be good enough for a one-stop strategy."

Ferrari also revealed that brake wear is a factor in determining pitstop strategy in Canada. "Perhaps the biggest preoccupation of all the teams in Montreal is the brakes," a team spokesman said. "It is the hardest circuit of the season for brake wear and the heavy braking can force some teams to make two stops instead of one to reduce braking effort and subsequent wear. For those that go for one stop, you will usually see mechanics quickly check the brake disc wear during the pit stop."

Past Experience

This is how well (or bad) the current drivers have qualified in the past at Montreal:

Down the Pitlane

Ferrari have extended their lead in the Constructors' Championship to 32 points. Since 1990, Ferrari have won the Canadian Grand Prix four times - in 1995, 1997, 1998 and 2000 - and have scored 54 points at Montreal from 1990-2000.

Michael Schumacher has extended his lead in the Drivers' Championship to 12 points, after a comfortable win at Monaco. Schumacher is the most successful and consistent driver in the history of the Canadian Grand Prix. The statistics speak for themselves: the German won this race four times (once for Benetton in 1994 and three times for Ferrari in 1997, 1998 and 2000) and was on pole position five times, including the last two Grands Prix consecutively.

Schumacher holds the qualifying record of 1:18.095, set in 1997, and he also set the fastest lap of the 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1998 races. Schumacher also holds the record for the most number of laps in the lead in the history of the Canadian Grand Prix, at 277.

Rubens Barrichello has consolidated his third place in the Drivers' Championship. Barrichello finished second twice in Canada - for Ferrari in 2000 and for Jordan in 1995 - and he also finished 5th for Stewart in 1998. His highest grid position was 3rd, in 2000.

McLaren are still second in the Constructors' Championship. Team Principal Ron Dennis commented: "Montreal is always a busy weekend for the team as track conditions at the circuit, which is used once yearly, make it difficult to simulate the set-up and predict tyre-wear in testing. However we have been more successful at this event than any other Constructor, a record we are looking to further this year." From 1990 through 2000, McLaren have won three times in Montreal - in 1990, 1992 and 1999 - and have scored 42 points.

Mika Hakkinen has slipped to 11th-equal in the Drivers' Championship. "There are still ten races to be contested in the FIA Formula One World Championship and the whole team has been working very hard to ensure that we optimise the performance and reliability of the car after the problems experienced so far this season," Hakkinen commented last week. "I enjoy driving at Montreal, the atmosphere is always fantastic and I am hoping to repeat my victory of 1999."

Mathematically, Hakkinen is still in contention for the World Championship, but only if he win the remaining 10 races of the season with David Coulthard finishing second. Regardless, McLaren need Hakkinen to finish in the points to challenge for the Constructors title.

Hakkinen won the 1999 race and finished 5th in 1996. He holds the race lap record (1:19.049), which he set in last year's race on the way to finishing 4th. Surprisingly, Hakkinen has never set pole position in Montreal, his highest grid positions was 2nd, in 1998 and 1999.

David Coulthard is still 2nd in the Drivers' Championship. Coulthard confessed: "The Canadian Grand Prix is one of my favourite races of the season, the track is challenging, offers genuine overtaking opportunities and is located close to Montreal, a city which I always enjoy visiting. I am looking forward to the race, following last week's positive test session, and continuing my consistent record of finishing in the points at every race so far this season."

Coulthard has been very consistent in Canada, finishing in the points in the last 10 Grands Prix. Unfortunately, Formula One doesn't reward consistency, as 4 wins are more valuable than 40 points earned over 7 races. The Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve suits Coulthard's driving style but a victory at this circuit has be elusive. Coulthard scored his first two Formula One points at Montreal in 1994 and his best finish was a fourth in 1996. He set pole position in 1998, set fastest lap in 1997 and led both these races. In last year's race, Coulthard was given a stop-go penalty after his engine was slow to start on the warm-up lap, and subsequently he finished 7th.

Williams are still 3rd in the Constructors' Championship and they set the pace at testing at both Magny-Cours and Monza last week. BMW's Dr. Mario Theissen stated: "In the last few weeks we have been working not only on engine and car performance, but also on reliability. Happily the characteristics of the Canadian track are favorable for our team. After two accidents that were not our fault, four drivers' mistakes and five technical failures, we hope we can improve our disappointing record of three race finishes out of 14 starts. We want to come back from Canada with some points in the bag." Williams won the Canadian Grand Prix in 1993 and 1996, scoring 49 points at Montreal from 1990-2000.

Ralf Schumacher is still 4th in the Drivers' Championship despite having not scored a point since his Imola victory. Ralf commented: "The Canadian track is quite similar to Melbourne, only with less run-off areas in some fast sections. There are also two overtaking opportunities. On the negative side, this is a heavy circuit on brakes. I think the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve could be pretty favourable to our car as we have a powerful engine, which is essential there. It's not particularly demanding on the drivers, as it is basically a 'stop-and-go' track. I like Montreal and I am looking forward to being there, hoping this time I will be able to finish my race and be in the points."

Ralf finished 4th in 1999, and his highest grid position was 5th in 1998 for Jordan. In last year's race, Ralf was knocked off the circuit by BAR's Jacques Villeneuve.

Juan Pablo Montoya is still 8th in the Drivers' Championship. Montoya confessed: "I have never been to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve so it is completely unknown to me. In view of this, I cannot say if it will suit my driving style. I need to have at least a bunch of laps under my belt before commenting on that. In Canada I am sure I will meet some old friends from last year when I raced in the USA, which is obviously nice, but still I know I will have to concentrate on my job. Top priority for me is seeing the chequered flag, which I failed to do too many times so far."

Benetton have slipped to eighth equal in the Constructors' Championship. Technical Director Mike Gascoyne admitted: "After the high downforce and the low speed nature of Monaco, Canada is a very different challenge. We will be running less downforce in Montreal and it is a circuit that is very heavy on braking. The circuit is unlikely to suit our package like Monaco, but we are very pleased to have made a step forward in our competitiveness.

"We have no significant changes on the car since Monaco, apart from the fact we will be running a low downforce configuration. Having said that, Giancarlo has always gone well in Montreal, so we hope for a good performance from both him and Jenson. We were disappointed not to score any points in Monaco, but we have identified the reason for Giancarlo's retirement and now have to ensure that we get two cars to the finish in Canada to try and pick-up as good a result as possible." Nevertheless, Benetton have been the most consistent and successful team of the 1990s at Montreal, winning the Canadian Grand Prix in 1991 and 1994 and finishing in the points in every race from 1990 through 2000, scoring a total of 66 points.

Giancarlo Fisichella has slipped to 14th equal in the Drivers' Championship. Fisichella has always finished on the podium at Montreal. He had the first podium of his Formula One career when he finished 3rd in 1997 for Jordan, and he finished 2nd in 1998 and 1999, and 3rd in 2000 for Benetton. Fisichella also led the middle section of the 1998 race, and his highest grid position was 4th in 1998.

Jenson Button came close to securing a championship point at Monaco. In last year's race, Button finished 11th after qualifying 18th for Williams.

Jordan are fourth in the Constructors' Championship, and the team had some moments of glory at Montreal, where they scored their first championship points in 1991. Their finest hour was in 1995, when they finished in second and third positions. Jordan have scored 21 points total at Montreal.

Heinz-Harald Frentzen has slipped to 8th equal in the Drivers' Championship. A Jordan spokesman revealed last week that, "The team decided to rest (Frentzen) as he still felt unwell from the effects of his accident in Monaco. Frentzen returned home to Monaco for medical tests, which although showed no sign of injury, he was advised to rest until the Canadian Grand Prix."

Frentzen himself stated: "I always look forward to Montreal because I really like the city and it has a fantastic atmosphere. The track has tight corners and is in parts, a street-circuit, so similar to Monaco. Being such a high speed track, the corners are very hard on brakes and the last chicane can be a little dangerous as there is a concrete wall on the exit, so you have to be careful."

Frentzen's best finish was 4th in 1997 for Williams. In 1999, Frentzen was running in second before a brake disc shattered on his Jordan. In 1998, he was in 4th position when he went off the circuit trying to avoid a collision with Michael Schumacher. Frentzen's highest grid position was 4th in 1997 for Williams.

Jarno Trulli has slipped to 6th equal in the Drivers' Championship. Trulli commented: "Canada is a very high speed track that I really do like. Our car always performs well here, so hopefully we can achieve even better results than before as we seem to have a good package with the EJ11. It's particularly important to have good car balance at this circuit as it's so hard on the brakes." Trulli so far scored a single point at Montreal with his 6th place finish in last year's race. He also has the dubious honour of being involved in three first corner accidents! His highest grid position was 7th in 2000.

BAR have climbed to 5th-equal in the Constructors' Championship. Technical Director, Malcolm Oastler, stated: "Having completed a successful three-day test in Magny-Cours, we are looking forward to the special challenges of the Canadian Grand Prix. We made progress and gathered some important data during the test which gives us confidence going into the next round. Our aim is to finish in the points with both cars this weekend." BAR have yet to score a point at Montreal; in last year's race Ricardo Zonta finished 8th.

Olivier Panis has slipped to 10th in the Drivers' Championship. This will be Panis's 7th Canadian Grand Prix. He finished 4th in 1995 for Ligier-Mugen Honda but his Peugeot engine blew up in the 1998 race while he was in 3rd position. Panis's highest grid position was 10th in 1997 - the fateful race when he broke both his legs.

Jacques Villeneuve has climbed to 6th equal in the Drivers' Championship. Villeneuve confessed: "Racing in Canada means a lot to me. I feel deeply attached to my country. The fan base is special because Canada doesn't have many representatives internationally. The track isn't demanding on a driver, but it can be hard on brakes. For qualifying it's a boring track, but it's a great place for racing. It's one of the best tracks for overtaking and there's always some good action."

Villeneuve's only finish at Canada was a 2nd in 1996 for Williams, after setting fastest lap. In last year's race, Villeneuve lost control while overtaking McLaren's David Coulthard and eliminated himself and Williams's Ralf Schumacher on lap 66. Villeneuve's highest grid position was 2nd, set in 1997 and 1996.

Jaguar have jumped to 7th in the Constructors' Championship. Jaguar's Director Jackie Stewart explained the significance of a podium finish at Monaco for Jaguar: "It's a real crossroads for the team, because what's more important than anything else is the morale and the spirit of the team. They've needed this; the mechanics, the engineers, the staff. It's an important day from that point of view. So I think it's a turning point for the team generally. But you know, one swallow doesn't make a summer. We've got to be careful that we don't get too carried away. But it was good all weekend; it was good in practice, good in qualifying, and he (Irvine) was never out of touch with Ralf Schumacher. From that point of view you've got to say that's a very good signal to be getting."

Eddie Irvine has jumped to 11th equal in the Drivers' Championship. Stewart commented about Irvine success, saying: "Everybody needs every now and again a little wake up call. When you get a wake call you question whether you do everything the right way, even if you say you don't care. Maybe you focus just a little bit more. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that. A little criticism hasn't done anybody any harm. In any case, Irvine is a very experienced driver. So you've got to be pretty happy with that."

Irvine has had three podium finishes in Montreal, finishing 3rd for Ferrari in 1998 and 1999 and for Jordan in 1995. Irvine set fastest lap in 1999 and his highest grid position was 3rd, also in 1999.

Pedro de la Rosa has yet to finish at Montreal, in last year's race he qualified 9th.

Sauber have slipped to 5th equal in the Constructors' Championship. Technical Director Willy Rampf explained: "Parts of the circuit are very fast, such as the run from the hairpin down to the final corner, and then on past the pits to the first corner. This places a premium on power and low drag. It is for this reason that we have done the preparation of the Canada race last week in Monza and not in Magny-Cours." J

acky Eeckelaert, the Head of Sauber's Test Team stated at Monza: "Our programme this week centres around intensive testing of Bridgestone´s tyres for Canada, but we will also conduct detailed aerodynamic and mechanical set-up work, as well as putting more mileage on our traction control, power steering and hydraulic differential."

Sauber have scored 4 points in Canada in the 1990s, with their first points coming with Karl Wendlinger's 6th place finish in 1993.

Nick Heidfeld is still 5th in the Drivers' Championship. Heidfeld stated: "Montreal is a circuit with a mixture of fast and slow corners. I think it will suit the characteristics of the C20 very well. The challenge for my engineers will be to keep good stability of the car for the high g-braking. Despite the slow corners it is a very different type of track to Monte Carlo, and I am looking forward to regaining the momentum of my campaign to score championship points." In last year's race, Heidfeld did not finish, after qualifying 21st for Prost.

Kimi Raikkonen is now officially 11th equal in the drivers' championship following the FIA's rejection of BAR's protest over the Austrian Grand Prix result. Raikkonen also managed to get a lot of miles completed around Monaco after a faulty wheel-sensor put him several laps down and followed this by a pruductive test at Monza. Raikkonen himself commented: "Until now, I have not had any problems adopting to new places. The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve will be another new track for me. From what I have seen on the data that Jacky Eeckelaert, my race engineer who is also head of the Test Team showed me in Monza last week Montreal has the sort of challenging fast sections that I really enjoy, so I am very much looking forward to racing there."

Arrows have slipped to 8th equal in the Constructors' standings. Technical Director, Mike Coughlan, stated: "Montreal is a medium downforce track that is very hard on the brakes and the engine. Jos likes it a lot, he scored the team's first points of 2000 there, and I'm pretty sure Enrique will like it too. We've been tyre and component testing in Magny Cours in preparation for this race. It suits our car so we're looking forward to getting on with it." In last year's race, Arrows scored 2 points.

Jos Verstappen has slipped to 14th equal in the Drivers' Championship. Verstappen stated: "The Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve is a good track. I like the chicanes and the fact that it's a circuit where you have to brake very late. It's usually an interesting event and it was very good for us last year when it rained half way through the race and we were able to finish fifth. I'm looking forward to it, I like the city and hopefully we can do at least as well as we did last year on the track." Verstappen qualified 13th in last year's race.

Enrique Bernoldi stated last week: "It will be my first time at the Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve as I haven't raced there before, but I hope it won't take me long to get used to the track. From what I have seen, it's a very nice circuit with some good long straights with tight chicanes which should be quite fun to drive. Although I haven't been, I've heard a lot about the city and the track and am sure I will enjoy it!"

Minardi is the only Formula One team not to have scored a point in the 2001 season and they were 3 seconds off the pace during Monza testing. Minardi have never scored a point at Montreal either - their best finish in Canada being 7th place for Pierluigi Martini in 1991 and Shinji Nakano in 1998. Furthermore, Fernando Alonso and Tarso Marques are both novices to Montreal.

Prost are now 8th equal in the Constructors' Championship. Alain Prost had a single victory at Montreal in 1993, but his team has had little success at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Shinji Nakano scored a solitary point for Prost after Olivier Panis' accident in 1997. In last year's race, both Prosts retired.

Jean Alesi is now 14th equal in the Drivers' Championship after scoring a well-earned and painful point at Monaco. The Prost team revealed: "Alesi did not participate in this (Magny-Cours) test due to back bruising and some blistering on the palm of his hands in the Monaco race."

Alesi won his only Grand Prix at Montreal in 1995 for Ferrari. He also has the most Formula One experience at Montreal, having competed in 11 Grands Prix. Alesi has had four other podium finishes: 2nd in 1997 and 3rd in 1996 for Benetton, 3rd for Ferrari in 1994 and 1992. Alesi was taken out at the first corner by Jarno Trulli in the 1998 and 1999 Canadian Grands Prix.

Luciano Burti is the 6th driver in the field to compete in Montreal for the first time. Burti carried out the testing of the AP04 at Magny-Cours.

My Predictions:

If it is dry, I'm going to pick McLaren, Ferrari and Williams as the top three teams during qualifying, with the Honda-powered teams close behind.

Starting grid:

  1. David Coulthard
  2. Michael Schumacher
  3. Ralf Schumacher
  4. Mika Hakkinen
  5. Rubens Barrichello
  6. Juan Pablo Montoya
  7. Jacques Villeneuve
  8. Jarno Trulli
  9. Heinz-Harald Frentzen
  10. Olivier Panis
  11. Eddie Irvine
  12. Giancarlo Fisichella

The Canadian Grand Prix Preview in a Nutshell:

  • The Canadian Grand Prix is one of the most unpredictable races of the season, and it can turn out to be a Demolition Derby. Although reliability and luck play a big part, a powerful, well-balanced package is needed to win. Could this mean a win for BMW-Williams?

  • Michael Schumacher is the most successful driver on this circuit. Will Lady Luck shine on him again? Barrichello is fast at Montreal and he could get his first victory of this season if attrition is high.

  • Have McLaren solved their launch-control problems? If it stays dry, this could be David Coulthard's race while Mika Hakkinen needs at least a podium finish to keep McLaren's title hopes alive.

  • The Best of the Rest: Williams are still in 3rd position but Jordan, BAR and Sauber are neck-and-neck. Can Jaguar and Benetton join the race?

  • Will the pace-car again influence the result of the Grand Prix? Will this give Juan Pablo Montoya an advantage?

  • Always in the points at Canada: Benetton and Giancarlo Fisichella.

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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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