They will always attract the largest crowd in the paddock, racing fans and star-seekers and the casually curious and the mooches, all attracted by the buzz, milling around the red paddock.
It matters little that Ferrari is not, after six races in the 2014 season, in Formula One’s title chase. It matters little that barring a catastrophe involving Mercedes Petronas or Red Bull, Ferrari will not be in any kind of scrap for victory in Sunday’s 45th Canadian Grand Prix.
On Thursday, with the doors of Circuit Gilles Villeneuve swinging open for the annual three-hour open house, it was the Ferrari garage around which spectators mostly crowded, snapping photos of anything with Ferrari’s prancing horse logo.
Whether that brand is printed on a nose cone or a trash can, Ferrari has a special place in the motorsport fan’s heart, especially so in Montreal where you could fire a cannon through Little Italy on Grand Prix weekend and not rattle even an espresso cup.
This year’s race is for Mercedes to lose. Silver-clad driver Nico Rosberg leads teammate Lewis Hamilton by four points in the drivers’ championship, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso a distant third, 57 points behind Hamilton.
Back in 12th place, with a measly 17 points, is Alonso’s stablemate, Kimi Raikkonen. Only four point-scoring drivers trail the latter.
The constructors’ race is anything but for Ferrari. Mercedes’s 240 points leave them 141 points clear of Red Bull, Ferrari’s 78 points parking them in third, just 11 points up on Sahara Force India F1.
That’s the way it is in Formula One racing — feast one year, famine the next. The fields are rich with harvest for a time, then they lay puzzlingly fallow.
Ferrari has enjoyed more than its share of success in Canada, having earned 32 podium finishes in 44 races: 11 victories, 10 times runner-up, 11 times in third. That’s three more podiums than McLaren, which stands second, and 14 more than third-ranked Williams.
Ferrari machines have led a leading 766 laps in Canada, more than 100 better than McLaren; those two teams are the only ones on the F1 grid that have started all 44 races on the three tracks that have played host to the event.
Five times, Ferrari drivers have included a Canadian win in a world championship season — Michael Schumacher in 2000 and 2002-04, and René Arnoux in 1983.
But Ferrari has spun its wheels in Montreal in recent years, not having won here since Schumacher’s victory in 2004. In the eight races since — the Grand Prix wasn’t held in 2009 — Ferrari has visited the podium in just four races.
The 70-lap, 14-turn Villeneuve circuit is an interesting test of driver skill and mechanical endurance. The track is renowned for its brakes-glowing, fast-to-slow geography and its hammer-down, blindingly fast straights, 55 per cent of each lap last year run at full throttle.
On the circuit’s backside, from Turn 8 up to the Turn 10 hairpin, cars will slow from roughly 300 km/h to 62 km/h, drivers shifting from eighth gear down to second.
Then, the foot figuratively to the floor, from the exit of the hairpin back down the Casino Straight to top out at over 325 km/h.
(Those aren’t tire marbles scattered on the shoulder, they’re the drivers’ eyeballs extracted by the G-forces.)
Top speed is achieved just before carving into the final chicane affectionately called the Wall of Champions, where more than one legend has kissed, petted or seriously groped the barrier atop the start/finish straight, leaving tire smudges or reducing cars to expensive scrap.
The curbs all the way round the 4.361-km track can decimate delicate suspensions, and soft and supersoft Pirelli tire compounds can be torn to shreds depending on the heat and degradation of the asphalt.
And let’s not even discuss the groundhog factor.
If not the most demanding track the drivers will face as they trot the globe, the historic Villeneuve circuit is a high-wire act that again will challenge engineers, mechanics and drivers equally.
There is a 56-per-cent probability, Mercedes pre-race data suggests, that the safety car will be deployed at some point, restoring order to a race that has run itself into a chaos.
The best way to avoid the mess, of course, is to stay in front of it. And judging by this season’s results, Mercedes is likely to do just that.
Rosberg, who surely is the stunt double for actor Leonardo DiCaprio, has been on the podium on all six races to date, winning twice and finishing second four times. His best finish in Canada is a fifth, last year.
Hamilton, who scored his maiden Formula One victory here for McLaren from the pole in 2007 and won again in 2010 and ’12, failed to finish the season-opener in Australia, then won the next four, placing second to Rosberg in Monaco two weeks ago.
Montreal will never be confused with Monaco, comparatively a slot-car track through the principality of Monte Carlo, vehicles let off their leashes on Île Notre-Dame.
But no one is predicting this weekend’s change of scenery will do much to change the final result.
“I’d be guessing, but I don’t feel that will be the case,” Hamilton said Thursday, asked whether the Villeneuve circuit will bunch the field a little.
“(Mercedes is) particularly strong on the straights. I don’t know, maybe we will be surprised this weekend, but long straights do suit us very well. We have a very good power curve on our engine, Mercedes have done the best job with the engines.
“Renault (Red Bull’s power-plant supplier) and Ferrari would have to have done an exceptional job coming into this weekend, in terms of that area, to be able to keep up with us on the straights.”
If the Mercedes machines don’t have their mirrors full of the competition, they won’t be stressed in the capricious turns. But this is why they run the races — stuff happens almost always in Montreal.
Ferrari is bringing an engine boost for the weekend, which is a bit of a wild card in all of this but not the ace they need.
If not running up the white flag to Mercedes, Alonso isn’t exactly sounding the charge, either.
“Whatever these updates provide us with, we just need to keep working on both sides — on this year, because we need to be fighting for important things like the second place in the constructors’ championship, and for next year,” he said.
All white noise around the red paddock Thursday, Ferrari’s popularity in Montreal now — and always — hinged more on its magic than its results.
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