The 2012 Formula One season decamps to Montreal, Canada, this weekend for round seven. Here's all you need to know about the track…
Circuit: Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve
Location: Île Notre-Dame, Montreal, Canada
Known for: Formula One, NASCAR
Type: Temporary circuit
One of the most popular races among drivers and team personnel, Montreal has been on the F1 calendar since 1978 and in that has been asbent from the schedule just twice – 1987 and 2009. This will be the 33rd time the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve has hosted the Canadian GP. However, the race itself stretches back to 1967, with the ten GPs prior to Montreal’s debut divided between Mosport, Ontario (eight races) and Mont-Tremblant, Quebec (two races).
Montreal’s track made its bow on October 8, 1978, with a fairytale race in which local hero Gilles Villeneuve claimed his maiden F1 win at the wheel of a Ferrari 312T3. Since then the circuit has undergone a number of subtle changes, but the key characteristics remain as they were in Villeneuve’s day: it’s a track of long, fast straights, hard-braking corners and walls close enough to worry even the most precise driver.
Montreal is all about power and brakes. Four of the straights see the cars edge towards 290km/h and drivers are at full throttle for 60 per cent of the lap, which means engines are worked hard. The slowest bits on the circuit are very slow with several sub-100km/h turns. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that decelerating from 290km/h to 60km/h at the hairpin puts serious stress on the brakes.
Teams will take their most extreme brake ducts in a bid for effective cooling, and they'll spend Friday monitoring brake wear. Brakes can give out in quite spectacular fashion in Canada, as Heinz-Harald Frentzen found out in 1999 when, four laps from home, his brakes exploded and pitched him into the tyre barriers at high speed. It resulted in a three-day hospital stay for Frentzen, though it didn’t prevent him winning the following round in France.
The track surface is smooth, which is Pirelli are taking the Super Soft and Soft compounds it offered in Monaco. Super Softs got a brief outing at the end of last year's race, in which wet and intermediate tyres had been the only choices. The maoin stress on tyres in Montreal is the ambient temperature. The weather can vary from sweltering and humid to icy and wet.
The key to a good lap is top speed, so it’s pretty much low downforce and low drag all the way. However, through the slow corners it’s important that drivers work the kerbs and suspension settings will tend toward the softer side. Teams might not want to stray too far down that path, though, as stability through the chicane and turns six and seven is also important.
The popularity of the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve is down to one thing: it’s bang in the centre of Montreal. So close is it to downtown Montreal that the website for the Parc Jean Drapeau – the main feature of the island – even offers directions to and from the man-made island by inline skates. An easier way to get there is on the Metro's Yellow Line from Berri UQAM to Jean Drapeau.
The atmosphere in Montreal is always fantastic. Crescent Street, a city-centre road crammed with bars and restaurants, is usually pedestrianised over race weekend with concerts and F1-themed parties.
Formula One has traditionally been the big draw, but other series have visited, including Champ Car, which raced here from 2002-2006. The F1 bill features a range of other categories as well, including the Ferrari Challenge, Formula Ford and Canadian Touring Cars. However, the only major series to now race here independent of F1 is NASCAR. The NAPA 200 is now resident on the NASCAR Nationwide Series calendar.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Canadian Grand Prix of 1973 was the first to feature the safety car. It wasn’t a massive success, though. A collision between Francois Cevert and Jody Scheckter on lap 33 meant it was called out and driver Eppie Wietzes duly took to the track in a yellow Porsche 914. But as the race was wet, a host of drivers took the opportunity to head for the pits for a change of tyres and with all the lap charts being done by hand, identifying the lead driver became impossible. Wietzes chose to stay in front of Howden Ganley in an ISO, allowing a numbers of drivers to gain a lap, including eventual winner Peter Revson. The safety car didn’t make another appearance until 1993 in Brazil.
The aforementioned race in which Frentzen arrowed off the track meant that the final four laps of the 1999 Canadian GP were raced behind the safety car, the first time in F1 history that a race had ended in such a way.
Race distance: 70 laps (305.270 km)
Start time: 14:00pm EDT (8pm CET)
Circuit length: 3.361 km
2011 winner: Jenson Button (McLaren); 70 laps in 4hr 04m 39.537s (74.864 km/h)
2011 pole: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing); 1m 13.014s (215.021 km/h)
Lap record: Rubens Barrichello (Ferrari F2004); 1m 13.622s (213.246 km/h)
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