With the opening leg of European rounds on the 2017 calendar now out of the way, this weekend sees Formula 1 venture to North America for the first time this season for the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal.
Sebastian Vettel arrives in Canada with a healthy 25-point advantage at the top of the drivers’ championship following his victory in Monaco two weeks ago, where he led Ferrari to its first one-two finish in almost seven years.
Monaco proved to be a tougher weekend for his title rival, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, who suffer a shock knock-out at the second stage of qualifying. Although the Briton was able to recover to seventh in the race, he was powerless to stop Vettel taking the biggest lead yet in their title battle.
The Canadian Grand Prix rarely disappoints. The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve has a knack for producing the unexpected, and the city of Montreal embraces F1 with a warmth that few other locations on the calendar can match.
2017 Canadian Grand Prix – Talking Points
Vettel out to extend championship lead
Sebastian Vettel’s flying start to the season has seen him take three race wins and three second-place finishes from the opening six rounds, enjoying the kind of form reminiscent of his Red Bull title-winning days.
The German’s march for a fifth world championship – and, more poignantly, first in Ferrari colors – has been impressive thus far. The results have done much to break the hoodoo that has seemed to blight the Scuderia in recent times, with Vettel’s Monaco victory being Ferrari’s first since 2001.
Another drought could end this weekend, with Ferrari having not won in Canada since Michael Schumacher’s victory in 2004. If Vettel can hit the top step once again – particularly given the Mercedes’ line-up’s strength in Montreal – it would be another signal that Ferrari is in charge of this title battle.
Can Mercedes’ Montreal specialists win?
Mercedes’ Monaco showing was pretty miserable. To get neither car on the podium despite both finishing has been a rare occurrence for the Silver Arrows in the V6 hybrid era, making a response in Canada this weekend all the more important.
Luckily for Mercedes, it has two of the strongest drivers around the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Valtteri Bottas finished third in each of the last two years for Williams, and famously charged to third on the grid in 2013 in the wet.
The real favorite will be Lewis Hamilton, though. The three-time champion took his maiden F1 win in Montreal back in 2007, and has since taken another four, putting him second only to Schumacher for Canadian Grand Prix victories.
Mercedes may not have the quickest car in Montreal, but you’d be hard-pressed to find two drivers more suited to this circuit.
Back to the grind for Fernando
Fernando Alonso will make his F1 return this weekend following his Indianapolis 500 adventure. It was a story that captured the attention of the racing world, acting as a rare slice of good news for the struggling McLaren-Honda partnership, even if Alonso did end up retiring from the race due to an engine failure.
But the Spaniard will now return to the stark reality of his current F1 standing. With a power unit that lacks both reliability and performance, he will not be dicing for the lead as he was at IMS. Points – hell, not even plural, a point – would be a big breakthrough for McLaren, the team having not scored a single one thus far in 2017.
Alonso will be encouraged by the evident step we saw from McLaren in Monaco (albeit partly down to the circuit), and given his hurculean habit of dragging the car further up the order than in rightfully be, points are not totally out of the question in Canada. That said, the power-hungry nature of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and the absence of the promised Honda updates doesn’t make it a favorable outlook.
Tires to be testing once again
The big debate following last month’s Monaco Grand Prix was tire management, with Pirelli’s softest compound selection once again causing trouble for some teams in Monaco. Mercedes’ woes with the ultra-soft have been particularly clear this year, with Hamilton unable to get to grips – quite literally – with the tires last time out.
The same tire selection is on tap for Montreal, and given last year’s race was won by Hamilton with just one pit stop, one would expect that strategy to be the way to go once again, particularly with the added durability of the 2017-spec tires. Managing them will be the key to victory, and perhaps the decisive factor between Hamilton and Vettel once again.
Hopefully we’ll have more overtaking than we got in Monaco, with the long back straight and DRS zone giving drivers plenty of chances to close up and make a pass.
Will Stroll’s homecoming yield maiden points?
Lance Stroll will end an 11-year drought on Sunday when he becomes the first Canadian driver to start his home F1 race since Jacques Villeneuve last appeared in 2006.
Stroll, 18, stepped up to F1 at the beginning of the season with Williams, but has experienced a baptism of fire. After failing to finish any of his first three races, Stroll managed to get to the finish in Russia, ending up 11th. Further classified finishes have followed, yet he is still without points despite the evident quality of the Williams FW40 car.
At the track named after Canada’s greatest F1 talent, Gilles Villeneuve, Stroll will aim to become just the third Canadian to score points – and the first whose surname is not above the door of the circuit.
2017 Canadian Grand Prix – Facts and Figures
Track: Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
Lap Record: Rubens Barrichello 1:13.622 (2004)
Tire Compounds: Ultra-Soft/Super-Soft/Soft
2016 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2016 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:12.812
2016 Fastest Lap: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:15.599