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F1 Canadian Grand Prix preview: The return of the Wall of Champions

Last time Formula One visited Canada the track fell to bits, Lewis Hamilton had an embarrassing front-end shunt, Robert Kubica delivered an unlikely one-two for BMW and Martin Brundle opened his mouth and inserted both feet.

We’re hoping for another equally fun outing this weekend, now that the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is back in its rightful place on the F1 calendar after a year away.


First of all there is the simmering row about fuel strategy and team orders which has swallowed Red Bull whole and is gnawing at the ankles of McLaren.

Basically it is the age-old problem that has come with Formula One success for decades. In order to win titles, you need to dominate. In order to dominate you need two excellent drivers. But two excellent drivers on the same team want to race each other just as much as they do the rest of the field – if not more.

If you are very lucky, this will not involve people trying to run each other into barriers.

This year the whole thing has got caught up with the strategies imposed on teams by the refuelling ban – the car ahead will probably use a smidgin more fuel than the car able to settle in its wake, which means a point will come where the leader needs to dial back and the pursuer doesn’t.

Hence the overtaking moves attempted by Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button on their team-mates Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton in Turkey.

Could this happen in Canada? Most definitely, if the team-mates put in similar qualifying performances and adopt similar race strategies. And this means as many eyes will be on the team principals as on the drivers.

Many wise and experienced people have noted that, despite the disaster of Fernando Alonso’s time with the team, McLaren’s former boss Ron Dennis had considerable experience of forcing world champion-level drivers to play nicely together. Hopefully he left a detailed manual on the subject for successor Martin Whitmarsh.

Christian Horner and Red Bull? Not so much experience. So we’ll all be watching that one with interest to see how it develops in Montreal, especially since this is not thought to be a track that will particularly favour the Milton Keynes-based team. If the McLarens disappear into the distance, and each Red Bull driver reckons they have a better chance of catching them than the other, how will the team cope?


Another talking point at Canada is the Wall of Champions – a section of racetrack on the exit of the final chicane so treacherous that it can trip up the very experienced just as much as the impetuous rookie, as its name suggests. Incident here is as inevitable as at the Monaco tunnel exit.

Its victims over the years have included Michael Schumacher, Jacques Villeneuve, Jarno Trulli, Damon Hill, David Coulthard, Jenson Button and Vitantonio Liuzzi.

With expectations growing that the season will become a Red Bull – McLaren battle, Ferrari aren’t setting any tongues wagging through their performance on the racetrack. As a result, they have made a couple of announcements designed to keep the team front and centre in the media. The first is the renewal until 2010 of the popular Felipe Massa’s contract.

The second is the signing of an 11-year-old French Canadian called Lance Stroll to its driver development programme in a well-timed bid to evoke the glory days of Gilles Villeneuve.

What happened last time

When Formula One last came to Canada, in 2008, the drama started before the race when the track surface began to disintegrate after very moderate use during practice and qualifying. This provoked much tut-tutting and many unflattering assessments of the organisers’ grasp of the challenges inhererent in arranging carousing in breweries.

Then, during his grid walk ITV F1 commentator Martin Brundle asked Bernie Ecclestone: “There are some pikeys there at turn 10 putting tarmac down – do you think they’ll be gone by the time the race starts?” A remark later judged to be “highly derogatory” by the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Brundle subsequently apologised and explained that he had not been aware of the full range of possible meanings associated with the term.

The race was no less incident-packed. Hamilton had been gently mocking his father Anthony for crashing a Porsche supercar from more or less a standing start.

But, during a safety car period caused by Adrian Sutil’s on-fire Force India, Kimi Raikkonen was held on a red light at the pitlane exit. Hamilton came charging up behind him, not expecting him to be stationary, and ended the races of both in the resulting shunt.

The beneficiaries were the one-stopping cars of Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld who saw off challenges from Renault’s Fernando Alonso and Ferrari’s Felipe Massa to win in style. David Coulthard, taking advantage of a rare burst of reliability from his Red Bull RB4, was third for the final trip to the podium of his F1 career. Read our race report here.

That season we were in the habit of producing a six-word summary of each race and performance of each team and driver.

For this one, our race summary read: “Lacked only Dick Dastardly and Muttley.”


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