It’s pretty much anybody’s guess who will take the checkered flag in Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal – heading into the Formula One season’s seventh race at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, a record six different drivers have won races this year.
There are at least eight drivers with a legitimate shot at taking the flag in Sunday’s 70-lap race on the 13-turn, 4.631-kilometre track on Ile Notre Dame, with another three or four dark horses who might pull off an upset.
The season is so wide open right now that two-time world champion Fernando Alonso of Ferrari likened F1 this year to playing the lottery.
“It’s so unpredictable: I think people stand in front of the TV, with some surprises every race. It’s good for the audience, it’s good for the sport to bring attention to the races,” Alonso said last week.
“On the other hand, we can lose credibility.... We need to make clear that if you win a race, it’s because you did something better and I don’t think at the moment that this is clear for everybody.”
So far this season, F1’s new lottery has served Alonso well. His 76 points is good enough to lead the title battle by three markers over defending double world champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull and his teammate Mark Webber, who are tied for second. McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton is fourth with 63, with Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg fifth with 59.
In addition to a record-breaking start to 2012, this year also features a grid filled with an unprecedented six world champions: Alonso, Jenson Button of McLaren (who won in Montreal last year), Hamilton, Mercedes’ driver Michael Schumacher, Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen and Vettel.
With a deep field and a constant shifting among the front-runners already making the races hard to call, Montreal adds its own unpredictability to the mix. Essentially a series of high-speed straights – the cars reach 300 km/h four times per lap – bracketed by slow corners, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve puts the car’s brakes and engine through a strenuous workout. Its slippery surface adds the further complication of heavy tire degradation, while the ever-present and unforgiving concrete walls lining much of the circuit leave little room for error.
Among those hoping Montreal’s particular challenges will deliver a seventh winner in seven races is 2008 world champion Hamilton, who would like nothing better than to take his first victory of the year on the track where he captured his maiden pole and F1 win in 2007. Hamilton also seems due, since he’s the only driver in the top-five in points not to have a win.
Raikkonen also remains in the hunt for a victory after returning to F1 in 2012 following a two-year hiatus to go rally racing. The 2007 world champion, who won in Canada in 2005, has two podiums in his last three starts. A third driver itching to get into the winner’s circle is Ferrari’s Felipe Massa, who has been under fire at the Scuderia for his poor performances this year.
But when it comes to lucky numbers in Montreal, the numbers seem stacked in Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher’s favour. The German will attempt to become the seventh different winner in the seventh race of the year, driving the No. 7 car on a track where the seven-time champion has won, you guessed it, seven times.
“The Canadian Grand Prix is all about the great atmosphere at the track and in the city – the Canadian fans make the whole weekend into a real celebration and, for us drivers, it’s great to feel their passion for motorsport,” Schumacher said.
“The characteristics of the circuit should suit us and we are counting on our car performing well there. A trip to Montreal is always worth it and let’s hope we can make our trip this year especially worthwhile.”
Schumacher will likely also have a fire in his belly after having a pole position stripped from him two weeks ago in Monaco due to a penalty for causing an accident in the previous race in Spain. To make matters worse, he retired late in Monaco with a fuel pressure problem. So far this year, the German has a measly two points.
Although Red Bull is the only team to have both of its drivers reach the winner’s circle, their job may be tougher in Montreal. The team was ordered to redesign the floor of its car after the sport’s governing Federation Internationale de l’Automobile declared it illegal following protests by three teams in Monaco. The offending element is a hole on the underside of the car just in front of the rear wheels that directs air flow to the diffuser and increases the car’s aerodynamic efficiency. The team’s two wins will not be affected by the ruling.
Despite having to go back to the drawing board, Webber looks forward to racing in Montreal, where he hopes to become 2012’s first repeat winner after taking the win in Monaco two weeks ago.
“I would say Montreal is one of the top five grands prix of the year because it’s a sensational atmosphere,” said Webber, who has never won in Canada.
“We’ll see how that unfolds, but we’re very confident the car should work well round there. I love driving the circuit – it’s a good one to get our teeth into – a little bit like a street circuit, so I’m looking forward to getting out there.”
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