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2018 Canadian Grand Prix Preview: Hamilton’s to lose?

Credit: Mark Thompson / Red Bull Content Pool

The Canadian Grand Prix is one of the highlights of the Formula 1 season. It always produces some good racing with lots of overtaking and usually a safety car or two to throw some headaches at the strategists. F1 has been at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve since 1978 with Giles himself winning the first race at the venue.

This season has been the best start to an F1 season since the new hybrid engines were introduced in 2014. Three different teams have won a race in the first six races and it’s been a long time since the competition at the front has been so close and so exciting. No team is dominant anymore and whoever is quickest is mainly down to the characteristics of the track.

Lewis Hamilton is very tough to beat in Canada. It’s the place where he took his maiden pole position and win as well as 6 wins which makes the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve his most successful. If he wins this weekend then the Brit will be just the second driver every to win 7 or more wins at a single event. He’s only been outqualified once in Montreal and has always been on the podium every time he’s finished a race and always been ahead of his teammate.

It’s the braking phase where you can make up the most time on any racing circuit. How much pressure you put into the brakes, how late you dare and making sure you get the most out of the brakes without locking up is crucial to your lap speed. You can’t simply just brake late and hope for the best because it’s all about the feel you have through your feet and reading the conditions as to if you can slow a millisecond later. Hamilton is one of the best late brakers in the field and he showed this in 2007 when he took his first win in Canada.

I remember James Allen commentating and saying how lap after lap he nailed the final chicane and how accurate he was to hit his marks and drive millimetres from the Wall of Champions. He found a rhythm which couldn’t be matched that weekend and he’s been able to deliver there, year after year. Hamilton will be very tough to beat this weekend and even if he has the second best car, you still wouldn’t bet against him winning in Montreal because he’s so good there.

In Melbourne, the FIA decided to add a 3rd DRS zone and they have decided to do the same at Montreal. The detection for this extra DRS zone is at turn 5 (the flat-out right hand sweeper) with the actual DRS zone on the backstraight after the turn 6/7 chicane going towards the turn 8/9 chicane. The extra DRS zone at the season opener in Albert Park didn’t do too much and I don’t think the extra zone in Montreal will help either. Overtaking is seen a lot in Canada thanks to its long straights with a big braking zone to follow so it’ll only help a little bit.

Helping overtaking is still much better than hindering overtaking, especially with the current aerodynamics of the cars F1 have today.

After winning last time out in Monaco, Daniel Ricciardo comes into the weekend with a grid penalty (Credit: Red Bull Content Pool)

Earlier this week we learned that it’s highly likely that the Monaco race winner Daniel Ricciardo is likely to take a grid penalty of some sort this weekend due to his car going over the limit of the number of engine parts you can use. For 2018, someone thought that it would be a brilliant idea to limit everyone to just two, yes two, MGU-K, energy store and control electronics and just three engines (ICE), turbochargers and MGU-H.

Ricciardo is already on the limit of the engine bits and bobs in which you can only use two of: the MGU-K, energy store and control electronics so if he uses anything extra then he will receive a grid penalty. You receive a 10 grid place penalty for using your first element over the limit, then you get 5 grid place penalties for anything extra that you use. Basically, it looks like Ricciardo is going to have to start at the back. It should be worth taking the penalties in Canada because you can overtake and make your way through the field and if a safety car or VSC falls your way then you can unexpectedly find yourself near the front of the pack.

Also, all of the engine manufacturers are expected to bring some engine upgrades this weekend so it’s worth Ricciardo getting the benefit of that. Unfortunately though, it does mean that, that’s one less contender for the win and I doubt we’ll see him run too much in qualifying if he does take his grid penalties because he’ll want to save the engine. Luckily, he’ll provide some excitement by coming through the field and hopefully making some tremendous moves.

I really don’t like that using extra gearboxes and engines means such a huge penalty. Ricciardo will have to start at the back for something that’s not his fault whereas Romain Grosjean only got a 3 grid place penalty for wiping two cars out in Spain with a stupid manoeuvre. It really doesn’t make sense. Take 5 constructors’ points away instead rather than punishing the driver. I get the “we win as a team, we lose as a team” stuff but it would be better for the sport when people ask why’s X starting at the back for something that has nothing to do with the driver.

Also, why can you use so little engine elements? It should be 5 all round so the teams can go out on track more in practice which is better for the fans and push rather than conserve. Remember Australia when Hamilton stopped attacking Vettel to conserve the engine. We don’t want to see that. There’s so many engine elements as well which surely confuses most people and it proves how complicated these V6-Turbo hybrid engines are. Something that must change for 2021.

The upgrades that are expected this weekend on the engines are vitally important. The teams can’t afford for them to go wrong and give them a DNF or blow them up which will use up elements and give them grid penalties. They also need to make sure that the upgrade is a big one because they will only want to do one more big engine upgrade. It’s so important that Honda, Renault, Ferrari and Mercedes get a decent amount of performance and reliability from this engine upgrade because the championship will be won on engine grid penalties and reliability. That’s unquestionable.

It’s why Ricciardo is an outsider at best for the title because he will definitely take more grid penalties later in the year whereas Hamilton might have to take none. This is where Mercedes are so good because their engine is so reliable. Even if the Ferrari engine arguably is better, it’s still nowhere near as reliable as the Mercedes.

Credit: Wolfgang Wilhelm / Mercedes-Benz

Honda are expected to bring a big engine upgrade and Honda tech boss Toyoharu Tanabe had this to say:

“The updates are mainly to the ICE, focusing on improving performance. The Montreal circuit is known for its long straights, where over 60% of the lap is spent at full throttle.

I think Toro Rosso and Honda can surprise people this weekend with a Q3 entry and a good haul of points. Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley haven’t drove at the Montreal track so it’ll be interesting to see if Hartley can beat Gasly after being outperformed all season so far. This comes amid rumours that Toro Rosso are bidding to get Lando Norris to take Hartley’s seat at some point this season. We know how harsh the Red Bull junior programme is so whilst this would be a surprise, it would be very tough on Hartley. But that’s Formula 1, you have to get into the car and deliver straight away with some stand out performances like Leclerc and Gasly have done this year.

Force India is another team which I think you should look out for. As well as a new Mercedes power unit, they will be bringing so aerodynamic upgrades to the table and the first 2 sectors of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve does require a good amount of downforce and a good change of direction through all of the chicanes. Force India have always ran well in Canada and they weren’t too far away from the podium last year. I look forward to Ocon and Perez running closely together and in the points to see if they can repeat their excellent but tense race last year.

Since this article has been about engines so much, here’s a very untidy table of who’s used how many parts.

RicciardoRed Bull222222
VerstappenRed Bull121311
PerezForce India111121
OconForce India111111
HartleyToro Rosso233222
GaslyToro Rosso222111

ICE: Internal Combustion Engine

TC: Turbo Charger

MGUh: Motor Generation Unit (heat)

MGUk: Motor Generation Unit (kinetic)

ES: Energy Store

CE: Control Electronics

We finish off with my final thoughts and I’m really looking forward to Sunday, not just the F1 but there’s also Formula E from Zurich, BTCC from Oulton Park, World RX in Hell, British GT from Silverstone (where Motorsport Radio will be at the track reporting) and more!

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