This weekend is the Canadian Grand Prix at Montreal, one of the F1 fraternity’s favourite races and a solid favourite with many drivers. Battle will be resumed between the two Mercedes drivers, contesting the world title, but Ferrari has a major upgrade here, as does Red Bull’s engine partner Renault and it will suit Force India, who could be podium contenders.
Montreal is unique, with its long straights and corners lined with walls, especially the “Wall of Champions” on the exit of the final chicane.
But it’s also a difficult race to win, as strategy is really important here. It has high (56%) chance of a safety car, which often turns races on their heads, a short pit lane, which means fast stops and an unusual track surface – low grip and used for racing only once a year.
Plotting the development of the grip levels as the track improves is one of the keys to success.
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.
Time spent braking: 17% of lap (high). 7 braking zones. Brake wear – Very High.
Total time needed for pit stop at 80km/h: 18.8 seconds.
After the extreme of Monaco, qualifying is significantly less important at Montreal because overtaking is easy and with a short pit lane, 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.
The Canadian Grand Prix is the seventh round of the 2014 FIA F1 World Championship.
Mercedes is the dominant force at the moment with six wins and six pole positions. This track is likely to flatter their package too, so expect a head to head once again for pole and the win between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Hamilton has the far stronger record here, three poles and three wins. Rosberg’s best qualifying is fourth and best race result is 5th.
However he has worked hard on his braking and precision, which are key to speed here, when blended with aggression.
For the last few seasons, Ferrari has had a problem with traction out of slow corners, which is at a premium in Montreal. It has a major upgrade of chassis and power unit planned and much hope is riding on it.
Historically this has not been one of Red Bull’s strongest circuits; downforce isn’t a major factor here, but in 2012 Sebastian Vettel started on pole position and finished fourth; last year he won the race. Lack of power is likely to restrict the team’s competitiveness this season, although Renault has promised that the team will be able to use full power for the first time at this race.
This should be the best chance for Force India to repeat the Bahrain podium result. The track will suit their slippery chassis, strong power unit and good traction. Sergio Perez drove very well here in 2012 to score a podium for Sauber.
As far as drivers’ form is concerned – Hamilton is the king of Montreal, having won the race three times. Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen have also won the race.
Set on the St Lawrence seaway, Montreal can experience extremes of weather for the race; it can be very hot and humid, but also cold and wet, as it was in 2011 (above). This will have a huge bearing on the tyres. It is common to see huge temperature variations – 15 degrees of track temperature on one day and 35 degrees on another. It is one of the most extreme circuit locations for this phenomenon.
Likely tyre performance and other considerations
Pirelli tyre choice for Montreal: Prime tyre is Soft and Option tyre is Super Soft. This is the same combination as in Monaco.
This combination of Pirelli tyres in Monaco proved very durable and quite hard to warm up and this is likely to be repeated this weekend.
The track surface is smooth and the lack of long corners means relatively low energy going into the tyres, which means longer life, but difficulty with warm-up. The key to making the super soft last is to limit sliding and wheel spin with the rear tyres. This happens when the drivers accelerate out of the low speed corners. This is even more of an issue this year with the high torque levels from the hybrid turbo engines, which really spin up the rear wheels.
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.
Because pit stops cost less time (18 secs) the temptation is to do two stops, but a Safety Car at the wrong moment can hand the advantage to a one-stopping car. There are many examples of this in recent years.
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. For a fast car out of position, getting out of sequence is an idea, so the car can run in clear air as much as possible.
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.
One stop would pit around Lap 26/28. Two stops, which should be faster, would pit around Laps 16 and 44.
Chance of a safety car
The chances of a safety car at Montreal are very high at 56%. Seven of the last 12 Canadian Grands Prix have featured at least one 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 debris from an accident are dangerous.
Recent start performance
The run to the first corner in Montreal is short (just 150m to braking point) 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!
From a strategy point of view, the start is a key game changer.
As far as 2014 start performance is concerned drivers have gained (+) or lost (-) places off the start line this season, on aggregate (taking total places lost away from total places gained), as follows –
12 Kobayashi, Massa
9 Bianchi, Hulkenberg, Bottas
2 Chilton, Raikkonen, Sutil
1 Grosjean, Alonso
2 Magnussen, Kvyat, Ricciardo, Hamilton
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.
With heavy penalties for unsafe release from a stop and loose wheels, teams have calmed down their stops to aim for consistency and no mistakes.
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. NB – The sample is not totally representative as in Monaco many stops were conducted under a safety car.
1. Williams 24.264s
2. Mercedes 24.672s
3. Lotus 25.029s
4. Caterham 25.116s
5. Ferrari 25.282s
6. Toro Rosso 25.444s
7. Force India 25.714s
8. Sauber 25.906s
9. McLaren 25.992s
10. Marussia 26.137s
11. Red Bull 26.586s
The UBS Race Strategy Briefing is written by James Allen with input and data from several of the leading teams’ strategists and from Pirelli
Click on the Infographic image below to see all the strategy considerations in an easy to use, at a glance format