Montreal is always one of the most interesting races of the season from a strategy point of view. With a very high likelihood of safety cars, a low grip surface and very easy overtaking, it is always an entertaining race and hard to predict. Red Bull leads both championships at the moment, but has never won in Montreal. McLaren has ruled for the last three years but has an uncompetitive car this year.
And will this be the race where three-times winner Lewis Hamilton gets the upper hand over his resurgent team mate Nico Rosberg?
After the extreme of Monaco, qualifying is significantly less important at Montreal because overtaking is easy and this also has a big bearing on race strategy, generally pushing teams towards more stops rather than less.
Montreal has several long straights linked with chicanes and a hairpin. There are no high-speed corners to speak of. Good traction out of slow corners is essential as is good straight-line speed and a car that is good over the kerbs.
As overtaking has always been relatively easy at Montreal, there is just one DRS detection zone, with two potential passing places, one being the long back straight.
Montreal is an unusual circuit in that it is a road circuit based on an island and is only used for racing twice a year. The track is very dirty at the start of the weekend and improves dramatically as the weekend goes on, although the grip level remains low. So the strategists have to predict what the tyres are going to do in the race, based on data, which is a moving target.
Montreal – 4.36 kilometers. Race distance – 70 laps = 305 kilometers. 12 corners in total. A circuit made up of straights, chicanes and a hairpin
Aerodynamic setup – Medium downforce. Top speed 326km/h (with Drag Reduction System active on rear wing) – 316km/h without.
Full throttle – 60% of the lap (quite high). 15 seconds unbroken full throttle on main straight. Total fuel needed for race distance – 142 kilos (average/high).
Fuel consumption – 2.0kg per lap (average/high)
Time spent braking: 17% of lap (high). 7 braking zones. Brake wear – Very High.
Loss time for a Pit stop = 11.2 seconds (very fast)
Total time needed for pit stop: 15.2 seconds.
Fuel effect (cost in lap time per 10kg of fuel carried): 0.28 seconds (low)
The Canadian Grand Prix is the seventh round of the 2013 FIA F1 World Championship.
McLaren has won the Canadian Grand Prix for the past three years and should have a stronger outing here than at other races so far this year as it attempts to recover from a poor start.
Ferrari has traditionally been strong in Montreal, but has not won the race since 2004. In Monaco the team showed a problem with traction out of slow corners, which is at a premium in Montreal.
The car also doesn’t go as well on the supersoft tyres as it does on other tyres.
Historically this has not been one of Red Bull’s strongest circuits; downforce isn’t a major factor here. Last year Sebastian Vettel started on pole position but finished fourth. Vettel, who has never won in Canada, is on a good run this season and has yet to finish lower than fourth in six races.
As far as drivers’ form is concerned; Lewis Hamilton is the king of Montreal, having won the race three times. Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen have all won the race.
Being coastal and set on a seaway, Montreal can experience extremes of weather for the race; it can be very hot and humid, but also cold and wet. This will have a huge bearing on the tyres. In the week preceding one event, there were temperatures of 15 degrees on one day and 28 degrees on another. It is one of the most extreme circuit locations for temperature variations.
Likely tyre performance and other considerations
Pirelli tyre choice for Montreal: Prime tyre is Medium (white markings) and Option tyre is Super Soft (red markings)
Last year Pirelli brought the soft and supersoft as it used in Monaco. This year the prime tyre is a step harder.
Pirelli has stepped back from its original intention to bring revised tyres with a new rear construction for competition use in Montreal. Instead it will supply two sets of the revised tyres for test purposes only on Friday.
The track surface is smooth and the lack of long corners means relatively low energy going into the tyres. The key to making the super soft last is to limit wheel spin with the rear tyres. This happens when the drivers accelerate out of the low speed corners. Strangely with the Pirellis the drivers find it more difficult to feel wheel spin and as traction control is banned in F1, it’s a delicate thing to control.
The difference between the two tyres is likely to be well over a second per lap, in qualifying trim.
The temperatures will be the key to the weekend. Montreal has one of the highest variations of temperature of the season. Track temperature can be as low as 15 degrees and as high as 35 degrees. Hotter conditions will force the teams to change the tyres more frequently.
Race Strategy: Number and likely timing of pit stops
At Montreal the winning strategy is always to plan your fastest race from lights to flag and then prepare to be flexible in the event of a safety car.
Last year Red Bull and Ferrari lost out to McLaren by trying to make a one stop strategy work, whereas Hamilton’s McLaren won the race on an aggressive two stop plan.
Because of the ease of passing, track position is less important than at many other venues. The most important thing is to qualify well and run your fastest race and see where that puts you at the end, because you will not have problems overtaking. Running in clear air as much of the race as possible is key, so if a car doesn’t qualify as well as expected, we may see the team try an aggressive strategy to keep the driver in clear air.
The pit lane at Montreal is short and therefore pit stops are very fast at around 18.7 seconds. This pushes strategists to consider making more stops.
Historically it has worked out that going with one stop would mean that the car was ahead of the two stoppers at their final stops, but they can usually pass the one stopper in the closing stages as his pace drops on worn tyres. However a safety car would swing things towards the one stopper, so there is always an element of gambling in Montreal.
Chance of a safety car
The chances of a safety car at Montreal are very high at 67%. There is an average of 0.8 safety cars per race. Seven of the last 11 Canadian Grands Prix have featured a safety car.
This is because, with the track lined with walls and several blind corners, there are frequent accidents and the conditions for the marshals when clearing an accident are dangerous.
Recent start performance
The run to the first corner in Montreal is short and there have been many first corner incidents over the years. But it is also a first corner where there are many lines and making up places is possible.
In the 2010 race, for example, only the front four cars ended the first lap in the same position in which they started!
As far as 2013 start performance is concerned drivers have gained (+) or lost (-) places off the start line this season, on aggregate, as follows –
+8 Van der Garde*****
+2 Di Resta
-9 Vergne ****
*Webber dropped from second to seventh after a clutch problem in Australia ** Hulkenberg did not start in Australia *** Sutil suffered puncture from contact with Massa in Bahrain ****Vergne retired following collision. *****Van der Garde and Maldonado made contact in Monaco. ******Bianchi started from pit lane in Monaco after stalling
Pit Stop League Table
Of course good strategy planning also requires good pit stop execution by the mechanics and we have seen tyre stops carried out in less than two and a half seconds by F1 teams.
It is also clear that the field has significantly closed up in pit stops. The top nine teams in the table below are within a second. It shows how much work has gone on in this area.
The league table below shows the order of the pit crews based on their fastest time in the Monaco Grand Prix, from the car entering the pit lane to leaving it. The positions from previous race are in brackets.
Worth noting is that Lotus did a faster stop than many of its rivals for the first time, while most of the teams improved their pit stop times by around 0.7secs since last year’s Monaco Grand Prix
1. Red Bull 24.316
2. Lotus 24.420
3. Ferrari 24.489
4. McLaren 24.585
5. Mercedes 24.801
6. Toro Rosso 24.827
7. Sauber 24.974
8. Marussia 25.098
9. Force India 25.214
10. Caterham 25.696
11 Williams 29.063
The UBS Race Strategy Briefing is written by James Allen with input and data from several F1 team strategists and from Pirelli