Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday: The Tricky Circuit Gilles Villeneuve & More

After a weekend off, Formula 1 has jumped across the Atlantic Ocean and landed in Montreal, Canada at one of the more tricky tracks on the schedule. That kind of comment seems silly. All of the tracks have their peculiarities that make them difficult; be it the turns, the elevations, the straights, or how any of the combination play into one another. That the circuit Gilles Villeneuve comes just after the rather unforgiving Monaco track makes the difficulty of the Canadian race seem easier.  

There is, however, something compelling about this track that goes against the grain. To start, it’s flat. Second, it doesn’t feature some of the twists and turns that are prevalent at many other tracks. In contrast, the speeds make it one of the fastest on the schedule.  

The frontstretch is long and rather straight but throws drivers for a loop with a chicane near the start/finish line. With the tremendous amount of speed that the drivers carry down this part, it’s not uncommon to see them botch the chicane. From there, the straight continues right up to a hairpin turn, which is what makes the track rather wild.  

It’s basically two long drives that happens to feature hairpin turns at either end of the circuit.  It’s at Turn 10, or L’Epingle, that drivers typically spin – sometimes while battling another driver, but oftentimes without anyone around. Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen seems to have a particular knack for doing just that.  

These descriptions do nothing to offer a brilliant perspective of what it’s like to turn laps at the track. That’s not a surprise. But the walls are tight at this track, which is interesting considering that it’s not a street course, so it’s the layout that the designers had in mind.

One other aspect that tends to come into play at the Canadian GP is the weather, which fluctuates over the course of the days of practice, qualifying and race. More specifically, the Ile Notre Dame experiences wild changes both in temperatures and rain. That means that the notes rarely carry over from day to day as they would at other tracks.  But isn’t that what adds to the spectacle?

Odds & Sods

Get used to this sight, Heineken and F1 have teamed up (credit: F1/Heineken)

Heineken has recently signed on as a primary sponsor for Formula 1, an addition will just add to the coffers of those running the show. The move is not so interesting on the surface, as companies come and go in this capacity all the time. Instead, it is what Heineken sees in the deal that makes it fascinating, as they believe that F1 is under-marketed. Say what?  

That’s right, the world’s most watched racing series is one that Heineken feels does not have the exposure that it should. Their goal is to do what they have done with the UEFA Champions League soccer (football) matches. They look to broaden the social media presence. They seek to bring more advertising to the supermarkets and pubs, and they seek to gussy up their product with F1 bottles and the like. All of these things are in addition to trying to make the drivers more accessible.

The funny thing is that Heineken is not exactly wrong in what they are thinking. They see an opportunity to use their vast distribution networks as the third largest brewing company in the world to attract new fans, by bringing in more casual ones to exploiting non-traditional markets like Africa. The series has not always focused its marketing directives with such a globally aggressive approach which makes Heineken’s endeavor an interesting one to watch.  

Mercedes is finally feeling some pressure.  That’s right, the team brought out new aero modifications to its cars for this weekend’s activities. This move hardly comes as surprising because a basic sentiment in racing is that if you’re not trying to improve, then you’re already getting passed. In addition, Red Bull has proven that they have one of the best chassis’s on the grid and it has been their powerplant that needed sorting. With Renault showing improvements throughout this season, giving Red Bull a better showing, the time is right for Mercedes to start showing off their upgrades so as to quash any uprisings from the other teams.   

Renault isn’t standing still either. They have introduced engine upgrades to both Red Bull and their factory team.  Such changes should be interesting to watch. While Red Bull has been near the front of the grid, the new engines should just keep them there or move them forward. For the Renault team, however, the upgrade should only make them more competitive.

The factory team is still working from the Lotus chassis they had last year which was fitted to run the Mercedes engine. Because F1 rules, in their infinite wisdom, don’t allow for much tinkering of the body during the season, they are playing with a situation of placing square pegs in round holes. It may not be that bad, but it is difficult to get a true read of where this team is when they are playing this mismatch game. Regardless, if they show any improvement, there will be cause for celebration.  

Fernando Alonso will feature a memoriam on his helmet to Spanish motorcycle rider Luis Salom who died during practice for the Catalan Grand Prix. This solidarity in motorsports should be noted and welcomed. However, it should also be noted that four riders have, as of the moment, lost their lives at the Isle of Man Time Trials. Everyone in motorsports puts their lives on the line and in this age of increased safety, it’s difficult to realize that risk is still there. A moment for all of them.  

– Silly season will get going soon and already there are rumors and misdirection and who knows what else being floated about.  Mercedes has made it known that they are keen to re-sign Nico Rosberg. It would be striking if they didn’t. However, every now and then, they let it slip that so-and-so might be worthy of a look, like Pascal Wehrlein, presently with the Mercedes powered Manor Racing. The move seems to be one of keeping Rosberg’s price down. The other names banded about had McLaren driver Jenson Button moving over to Williams and taking the seat currently held by Felipe Massa. Those changes actually seem like they might make sense as McLaren could then bring up Stoffel Vandoorne and Button could go full circle with his career. But really, this talk is just the beginning of what should likely be another strange silly season.   

The Race

The Canadian Grand Prix began in 1961 and has been held at three different tracks. Since 1978, the series has used the Circuit Ile Notre Dame – Gilles Villenueve course, though there have been some modifications over the years. The 2.7-mile long track features 13 or 14 turns, depending who you talk to, while also having long runs where drivers pass the 200 MPH mark. Michael Schumacher, no surprise here, holds the all-time wins record with seven, while Lewis Hamilton’s three wins leads active drivers. Lewis Hamilton won last year’s race and with his early pace this weekend, is the hand’s on favorite to do so again. If he does, he will have an impressive five victories at this racetrack. 

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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Seems that despite the flyer that Vettel put in to snatch P3 at Canada today, Red Bull is the favorite for #2 in the constructors championship. That may be the real battle, not the one for the championship.

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