When the Formula One cars emerge from their garages at Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on Friday, it will be easy to figure out who hasn’t been paying attention to the changes introduced this year.
Fans expecting to hear the ear-splitting screams that have always defined the Canadian Grand Prix may spend the first few minutes of morning practice staring blankly at the cars, wondering if they’re at the wrong racetrack.
Those high-pitched whines have been replaced by a more guttural exhaust note. The new turbocharged engines, which make much less horsepower than the old V-8s, rev at a considerably lower rate. The new “power units” – the motor plus an energy recovery system – must also complete the race on one-third less fuel compared to last year, so economy and not power is at a premium.
The lack of engine noise may cause consternation, but the one place where there likely won’t be any is in the winner’s circle.
With poles and wins in all six grands prix this year and five straight 1-2 finishes, only some terrible misfortune befalling the Mercedes squad will deliver a surprise winner in Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal. The increasingly bitter rivalry between its drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg has also been epic, with the two drivers going wheel-to-wheel in several races as they fight a two-man battle for the 2014 world champion.
And the Mercedes may be even faster at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
“We will be bringing a number of updates to the car, both on the power unit and aerodynamic side, so it should be an interesting weekend,” said Paddy Lowe, Mercedes’ technical boss.
“In Montreal, we have a circuit at which Lewis has traditionally excelled and, with both him and Nico on top of their game, we’re expecting them to push each other all the way through the weekend once more.”
Hamilton is a three-time winner in Montreal.
While fans may not be shocked by the guy standing on the top of the podium on Sunday, the 2014 season has already offered a few surprises and disappointments to keep things interesting during the 35th grand prix weekend at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
Force India and its driver, Nico Hülkenberg, have raised eyebrows as they battle consistently for top-five finishes along with a resurgent Williams squad. Hülkenberg, in particular, has been stellar with three top-fives in six starts driving for his perennial mid-field team. The German is fifth overall in driver points, while the team is fourth in the constructors’ standings.
On the other hand, McLaren supporters have watched helplessly as their team went into freefall after its early promise of double podium in the season opener at Melbourne. The team scored its first points in four races in Monaco two weeks ago, and it’s hoping to keep things going in Montreal.
The biggest disappointment so far has to be the performance of the Red Bull Racing squad and its reigning four-time world champion, Sebastian Vettel.
Although some of the champion’s troubles can be blamed on the poor-performing Renault engine in the back of his car, it doesn’t explain why his new teammate Daniel Ricciardo keeps beating him.
That may change in Montreal – the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is one Vettel likes, it suits his Red Bull’s chassis and, most importantly, for the first time in 2014 Renault has promised him full power from the engine.
Ricciardo has accomplished what many expected Kimi Räikkönen to do when he joined Ferrari alongside two-time world champion Fernando Alonso. Instead, the enigmatic Finn can’t seem to squeeze speed from the scarlet cars the way the Spaniard can.
The highly anticipated tooth-and-nail scrap between the new Ferrari teammates has failed to materialize with Alonso third overall in the driver’s standings and outpointing Räikkönen by a factor of three.
However, Räikkönen’s struggles don’t surprise Alonso's former teammate Felipe Massa one bit.
“To beat Fernando, your car has to be perfectly suited to your style, because if everything is not 100 per cent right, it is impossible to beat him,” Massa said last week.
“Even if everything is perfect, Fernando is still hard to beat.”
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