Formula One is heading off to Canada and there’s only one game in town – can Lewis Hamilton maintain his newly-minted lead in the drivers’ championship?
The 23-year-old Briton is just three points ahead of arch-rival and reigning champion Kimi Raikkonen following his spectacular victory on the rain-soaked streets of Monaco. And the Finn’s Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa is just one behind him.
A slip-up by Raikkonen saw him leave the track at the tunnel exit on approximately lap 68 (by this point the race had hit time troubles and switched to a countdown) and eventually finish in ninth place.
La Finlande, nil points, Le Royaume-Uni dix points.
Hamilton’s fans could not have asked a more perfect result. But can it last more than a week?
And will it be another Groundhog Day for one of the drivers? Since Anthony Davidson’s not racing this year it would be hard for last year’s track invasion by a small, furry mammal to literally repeat itself.
Hopefully we’ve got our wildlife collision out of the way for this season after Bruno Senna’s horrible experience at Istanbul.
Tune in on Sunday to find out…
Speaking in his team’s official preview released in advance of the race, Lewis Hamilton said: “Winning at Monaco is the highlight of my career, it was a very emotional victory for me as it is something I have dreamed of since I was a kid. I will never forget the moment, but now my only focus with the team is Canada.
“We have good momentum right now and we are pushing to keep that going and to keep developing. The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is one of my favourite tracks and following my debut win there last year it is a very special place for me and I hope that we will be quick there again this year.
“It is renowned for its difficult track surfaces, particularly with tyre graining, and the walls. Despite being very fast, it can feel like a street circuit with the barriers very close, but it is good fun to drive at and I am looking forward to getting back there.”
He said that the surface issue would mean that tyre choice was the prime concern for all teams during the race weekend.
“It can get quite complicated to choose the right tyre for the entire weekend. We have worked closely with Bridgestone on this and hope we have the right compounds to manage the track conditions.
“There is always a lot of graining at this track and because it is only used once a year, it is very dirty when we first start running. That soon clears up on the racing line, but this dirt and the marbles from the graining make it very slippery off-line.
“Mechanical grip is key. You also need a well balanced car that doesn’t oversteer – but that is not as easy as it might sound! You have to really make a compromise on corner entry, particularly those after the long straights. This means your time through the corner will be faster.”
Team-mate Heikki Kovalainen is one of an increasing list of drivers hoping that their fortunes will change at the next race: “The last few races have been pretty difficult for one reason or another, but all the time we know the car is quick and now I am hoping to be able to demonstrate that.
“I had a disastrous weekend up to Sunday last year and then during the race the incidents and safety cars meant the strategy played into my favour. I overtook a few cars, and then eventually I just found myself in fourth.
“I was close to Alex Wurz and raced against him to take third. It didn’t come off, but it does show that anything can happen in a race and you must never give up, wherever you are you just have to carry on and keep pushing.”
McLaren CEO Martin Whitmarsh is optimistic: “It is about high speed down the straights, braking stability, durability of the braking system, traction out of the corners, which are relatively short but with high speeds into them.
“All this means it is an unusual circuit that is not the easiest to forecast, but we have every reason to believe we have made improvements on the car and the whole team is looking forward to carrying our championship campaign forward.”
Get out those red t-shirts, boys and girls!
Over at Honda Jenson Button (setting aside time from his triathlon preparations) says he is looking forward to racing at one of his favourite tracks.
“The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is a challenging track which is good fun to drive and completely different from the last race in Monaco. We were not able to achieve much testing specifically for this race due to the poor weather at Paul Ricard, so it is difficult to know how the RA108 will perform until we have the chance to get a few laps under our belt in practice on Friday.
“The key to a quick lap is being able to ride the kerbs and you need to have a car which can do this comfortably. You have to be precise because if you hit the kerbs in the wrong place, then you’ll probably end up in the wall.
“The biggest challenge is getting the last chicane before the pits just right. You can have a perfect lap all the way round but if you hit those kerbs badly, it will throw you off.”
He also predicted the possibility of first-corner chaos: “Getting off the grid cleanly is also important as the first couple of corners are very tight with all 20 cars trying to squeeze through, although you can overtake here if the opportunity presents itself.
“The hairpin at turn ten is probably the best opportunity for overtaking and where you can see some pretty exciting racing.”
Honda team principal Ross Brawn added: “The circuit is a big technical challenge, and with a combination of high-speed blasts, slow chicanes and hairpins, it can be very tough on the cars.
“Although I am pleased with the progress that the team has made over the last few races, we have been lacking the speed necessary to really maximise long straights, so it will be up to us to get the most from the performance that we have available in the car. I am expecting a more challenging weekend than in Monaco.
He said the team had the chance to run its RA108 in low downforce specification on a Montreal configuration at Paul Ricard during recent testing there – only to be stymied by bad weather.
“However Jenson was able to achieve a few laps to obtain some basic aerodynamic data, which we have used along with data from previous years, to prepare our specific aerodynamic package for this race.”
David Coulthard says he hopes to wipe the slate clean in Canada and finally put some points on the board for his Red Bull team, currently standing fifth in the constructors’ championship thanks to the sole efforts of Mark Webber.
Writing in his ITV F1 column, he said: “Looking back at last year, it was Mark who didn’t score a point in the first six races, so in that respect I’m having a similar start to the season as he had last year.
“I feel the speed is there: I’ve been in the top 10 in three out of the six races, and it was only really in Bahrain that I didn’t get it together.
“While Monaco was clearly disappointing, it was also reassuring because despite having much less track time I was able to match Mark for pace throughout qualifying.
“OK, I haven’t delivered points so far this year, but for the last three years I’ve been the highest-scoring Red Bull driver, and I don’t feel that either my contribution to development or my speed behind the wheel has lessened.
“I just have to wipe the slate clean, go to Canada and try to get some points on the board.”