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Formula One veers off track now that parity’s in driver’s seat

A worker removes cones at the finish line commemorating the anniversary of the death of Canadian driver Gilles Villeneuve at the Canadian Grand Prix, Thursday, June 7, 2012 in Montreal. Villeneuve died 30 years ago during qualifying for the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder.


It didn't used to be this way, which explains why there is much scratching of heads in the Formula One community.

For as long as anyone can remember, one dynasty or another has bestridden open-wheel racing's glamour circuit, from Alfa Romeo to Ferrari, through McLaren, Benetton, Williams-Renault, Ferrari again, McLaren again, and Red Bull.

All epochs end eventually, and now F1 is rolling on unfamiliar, uncharted and unnamed territory.

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"I don't think there are many top teams at the moment," said Red Bull driver Mark Webber, one of six different men from five teams to win a race this season. "Obviously it's very tight between everyone's performances. It looks quite sensitive to venue, quite sensitive to temperatures, quite sensitive to drivers, even. It's quite open, and that's why we've seen some different results, different podiums, different winners, like we haven't seen before."

Added 2011 Canadian Grand Prix champion Jenson Button of McLaren: "If you do have a mistake or something goes wrong where you don't have luck on your side, you can be outside the points, or you can be scoring small points. It's massively competitive."

Though it irks some traditionalists, who fear a general watering-down of the standard, parity has come to F1.

Part of that is a result of the constant struggle to manage tire wear – everyone uses the same Pirellis. Much of it is due to design restrictions; new rules governing exhaust systems have hampered teams like Red Bull, who have fallen back to the rest of the field after dominating outrageously for most of 2011.

Formula One's lone Canadian stop is notoriously hard on brakes and tires – thanks to the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve's combination of slow-speed turns and high-speed straights – and as ever the challenge will be for teams to pamper their tires and find the right aerodynamic and suspension set-up.

As Paul Di Resta, a promising young Scot who drives for mid-pack Force India, put it: "If you get the car in a sweet spot over the weekend, you need to be prepared and you can make a massive step forward."

Several unfancied teams have already done that this season.

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Williams's Pastor Maldonado was a surprise winner in Spain, Sauber's Sergio Perez posted a career-best second in Malaysia a few weeks earlier, Lotus's Kimi Raikkonen finished a strong second in China.

The parity could encourage some teams to roll the dice on their set-up a little more thn they otherwise would in the knowledge that some big teams like McLaren and Ferrari will likely take a compromise approach rather than a high-risk strategy that could see them lose previous points in the constructor standings.

"If a team's going to take a risk, Lotus should be the one, they have the car [to win]," said Gary Anderson, a former chief mechanic for McLaren and technical director for the Jordan Grand Prix team who is now a BBC commentator.

The last four races have been won by the driver who captured the pole in qualifying, but this has been the year of the underdog, so all bets are off for Sunday.

As Webber, who won the Monaco Grand Prix last month, said on Thursday, Montreal "always throws up a bit of an oddball race. I think that we need to see how the marbles go, the brake wear, incidents, safety cars.

"It's always been like that at the Canadian Grand Prix," he said.

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