This weekend is the Canadian Grand Prix, one of the most popular and unpredictable races on the F1 calendar.
The key stat about Montreal is that it’s the least important pole position of the season. This means that, more often than not, things do not got according to plan in Montreal. Since 2000 the pole sitter has enjoyed a conversion rate to race victory of just 35%. And add in the fact that this year there are three tyre compounds to choose from and the softest one is not capable of giving you a one-stop strategy and you have what looks to be an entertaining weekend ahead.
Because of the nature of the track, high-speed and lined with walls, there is a 60% chance of a Safety Car and with very fast pit stops here of 18 secs due to a short pit lane, this is one of the races where strategy has the highest importance.
Overtaking is easy because of the long straights and tight bends, so teams have to plan their fastest strategy from lights to flag, using the tyre compounds available, but also to be flexible in case a Safety Car is deployed.
We have seen a lot of Virtual Safety car use this season already and we can expect to see more of that this weekend. There are some situations, such as two car collisions at the first chicane, where a full Safety car is required, however. We also had a high speed accident at the end of the 2014 race with Massa and Perez, which meant that the race finished under a Safety Car, with Daniel Ricciardo winning the race for Red Bull. In 11 of the last 18 Canadian Grands Prix we have seen a Safety Car.
A pit stop under a Safety Car in Montreal costs around 10 seconds of net race time, compared to around 18 seconds at racing speeds, so if the timing is right and you are in your pit window, it’s very tempting and we will probably see quite a few switches of strategy if it’s a race of incident.
This could be a race where we see a wide variety of different strategies, like China were 13 finishers used all three Pirelli tyre compounds.
The Ultra soft will be the qualifying tyre, but there’s probably an argument for trying to do what Ricciardo did in Monaco and try to get through Q2 on a set of super softs to start the race on. The performance of the ultra and supersoft in race conditions was not that significant in Monaco, while the soft performed very well in comparison.
Canada is quite a low degradation track, but it still stresses a tyre more than Monaco. We saw the Ultra softs do around 150km in the race in Monaco, which equates to 37 laps of Montreal, but I think the limit will be much lower than that due to the nature of the track.
The race is 70 laps and last year the supersoft maxed out at 33 laps and the Soft at 53 laps.
So for some runners with good tyre life, one stop might be possible in various guises. But equally, an aggressive strategy with two stops and softer compounds could also be competitive. Judging from the tyres that have been selected, with Renault and Haas F1 both deciding not to take any supersofts, the race is likely to be about the Ultra Softs and Softs for many runners.
But Montreal is a strange track and the temperature fluctuations in any given day are as big as any venue on the calendar. This can often catch people out. There is some rain forecast for Sunday, with Friday and Saturday likely to escape the rain, but the prevailing temperatures are low. This could lead some teams to have issues with tyre warm up, especially in qualifying and at the start of a race stint after a pit stop.
Last year the tyres were durable enough for most to do a one-stop. This year is likely to be more like 2014 where there was little to choose between one and two stops in race time although a two stop was clearly preferable if you could run in clear air at the front.
Canadian Grand Prix in numbers
Montreal is a race that tends to feature close finishes, according to F1 statistician Virtual Statman. In the last 13 runnings of the Canadian GP, eight of them have been won by a margin of less than three seconds.
Lewis Hamilton made another piece of history in Monaco as he moves closer to some all time great records. His win meant that he has now won at least one race in each of the last 10 consecutive seasons. Only Alain Prost and Michael Schumacher have achieved that. He has also now led 87 different Grands Prix, more than Ayrton Senna and second only to Michael Schumacher who led 142 races. Hamilton is closing in on Senna’s tally of 65 pole positions, he is now on 52.
Hamilton is the form man at Montreal with four wins there. He is also chasing a front row start there for the fifth season in a row. Red Bull and Mercedes are now tied on 58 pole positions each, so the battle on Saturday should be intense.
Although Montreal is a power circuit, there is a big emphasis on mechanical grip out of low speed corners, which is where the Red Bull excels. With the new Renault power unit having made a successful debut in Monaco, it should give the team a boost of around 0.4s a lap compared to the old unit. This won’t be enough to put the engine on a par with the Mercedes, but the combination of factors should put Red Bull into a position to challenge Mercedes there.
Ferrari has fallen back a little of late, with tyre management issues and a deficit on mechanical grip being a couple of areas of concern. However traditionally they bring a big update to Canada, so we will see how they perform this weekend. The last update in Russia, did not move them closer to Mercedes, which was demoralising. They cannot afford to have another update that is matched by Mercedes and which keeps them at arms length.