MONTREAL — Formula One’s wonderful, unpredictable, high-octane-perfumed Canadian Grand Prix returns to Montreal this weekend for its 34th running, the 44th edition of the (almost) annual rude assault on every sense.
On Île Notre-Dame, you can expect more twists and turns in the plot than there are lefts and rights on historic Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
Buckle up for a few of them:
There’s the ongoing Pirelli story, a sexier saga than tires ever should be. Formula One’s rubber supplier outraged a number of teams on the grid with its controversial in-season “secret” testing of tires on Mercedes’s 2013 car following the May 12 Spanish Grand Prix.
Anger still simmers as the issue heads to a disciplinary inquiry, the transparency or lack thereof of the Pirelli test the most contentious aspect of the matter.
It’s unclear whether the test gave Mercedes any edge for the May 26 Monaco Grand Prix, a race indeed won by Mercedes’s Nico Rosberg with teammate Lewis Hamilton finishing fourth. Both Rosberg and Hamilton were involved in the three-day, 1,000-kilometre Pirelli test.
The test-extracted tweaks for this season’s sometimes troublesome tires originally were intended for use this weekend in Montreal. Now, the Kevlar-belted rubber will be used here only in Friday practice, its use pegged for the June 30 British Grand Prix and the 11 subsequent races this year.
We’ve got feuds worthy of NASCAR, where it’s not uncommon for a stock-car driver to helpfully assist a fellow competitor to lower his window net on pit road so he can slug him in the chops.
For example, there’s Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 world champion, 2005 winner here and first to the finish of the 2013 season-opener in Australia.
About McLaren’s aggressive Sergio Perez following last month’s demolition derby in Monaco, asked whether it might not be a bad idea for drivers to chat quietly with Perez, Raikkonen said: “That won’t help. Maybe someone should punch him in the face?”
Almost sadly, Raikkonen has since said he’s moved on — though you know that the Flying Finn won’t give a fraction of a millimetre on the track this weekend to Perez, who finished third here last year.
Perhaps it’s just as well that Raikkonen sees the big picture, for at stake this weekend is a share of history. A top-10 result will give him 24 consecutive point-scoring finishes, tying him for the record held by retired Michael Schumacher.
Another feud of sorts has Raikkonen’s stablemate, Romain Grosjean (runner-up here last year), pinning the blame for his Monaco wreck on Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo.
Before Grosjean turns the key in his ignition here — yes, yes, a figure of speech only — he has been penalized 10 places on the grid for his role in the mishap.
(Evidently, it wasn’t Ricciardo’s fault for Grosjean’s two crashes in Monaco practice and the latter’s failure to make the third qualifying session.)
Meanwhile, Williams’s Pastor Maldonado is licking his wounds, literally and figuratively, after having been collected by Marussia’s Max Chilton in a Monaco crash that saw Maldonado hurled airborne. The latter accused Chilton of dangerous driving — which coming to Montreal roads is not only perfect, it’s a prerequisite.
We have the “slump” of perennial fan favourite Ferrari, whose 11 Canadian Grand Prix victories trail leading McLaren by two among constructors.
Fernando Alonso, the 2006 winner here for Renault, finished only seventh at Monaco; he stands third in the drivers’ championship, behind leading Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel by 29 points and Raikkonen by eight.
Ferrari’s Felipe Massa, meanwhile, didn’t finish Monaco after crashing with a suspension failure, having started at the rear of the grid after a wreck in practice forced a gearbox change.
Especially disappointing for Ferrari, which is 41 points behind Red Bull on the constructors table, was that Alonso and Massa ran a respective first and third the race before in Spain.
Defending Canadian champion Lewis Hamilton goes for his fourth victory here in six years, having also won in 2007 and 2010 (Montreal wasn’t run in 2009). A fourth career triumph on the Villeneuve circuit would move Hamilton past Nelson Piquet into sole possession of second place in Canada, trailing only Michael Schumacher’s seven wins.
Championship leader Vettel is gunning for his third straight Montreal pole.
Force India, spawned in 2007 from the leftovers of Spyker F1, is knocking on the door of its first podium finish in almost four years. How magical should it come in Montreal, in the team’s 100th race?
For the first time ever here, we will have not one but two women in the paddock atop the soaring pyramids of their global-reach teams: Monisha Kaltenborn as chief executive of Sauber/Ferrari, the first female team principal in F1; and Claire Williams as deputy principal of Williams/Renault.
And we’ll have an American on track — 21-year-old reserve driver Alexander Rossi of Auburn, Calif., will make his 2013 free-practice debut Friday when he airs out the Caterham CT03, his first F1 practice since Spain last season.
Twenty-nine different drivers have won the Canadian Grand Prix since its inaugural edition in 1967. Australian Jack Brabham, today at 87 the oldest living Formula One champion, won the 356.13-km Mosport race of ’67 in two hours, 40 minutes, 40 seconds at an average speed of 133 km/h — in a car he built himself.
The quickest average pace on Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, run for the first time in 1978, was Michael Schumacher’s blistering 207.165 in a Ferrari in 2004, his last of seven Montreal victories. Winning with an average 200.777 the year before, Schumi is the only driver to have cracked the 200 km/h race average.
Quickest pole is the ridiculous 217.220 km/h turned in by Schumacher’s brother, Ralf, for Williams in 2004. Ferrari’s Rubens Barrichello has the fastest race lap of 213.246, set the same year.
And at the other end of the scale we have the four-hour, four-minute, 125-minute red-flagged backstroke of two years ago, McLaren’s Jenson Button splashing to the finish narrowly ahead of Noah’s Ark at an average “speed” of 74.864 km/h, 57 km/h slower than the slowest previous crawl of 1971 champion Jackie Stewart at Mosport.
It was during Button’s soggy Sunday drive in 2011, remarkably coming from 21st place for his 10th career Grand Prix win and 35th podium finish, that racers covered the 10,000th official kilometre contested on the Villeneuve circuit.
It will be headed toward Montreal’s 10,319th Formula One kilometre on Sunday that 22 cars will scream off the grid and dive into the left/right Senna Corner. All will emerge unscathed on the first of 70 laps to head up the backside of the track.
Or, they won’t.
And that, too, will be add to the storyline of a race that already has no shortage of them, an event that expectedly will hold the unexpected.
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