The Formula One season travels to Canada this weekend to visit Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villenueve. The fast-paced street circuit first hosted a Grand Prix in 1982, with a race being held every year since then apart from 1987 and 2009.
Sebastian Vettel stood atop the podium in 2018, ending a three-year winning streak for Lewis Hamilton. Vettel arrives in Canada in desperate need of another victory. The four-time world champion is 55 points behind championship leader Hamilton.
Mercedes have won the first six races of the 2019 Formula One season. Their run of one-two finishes came to an end in Monaco, however, as Valtteri Bottas finished third after picking up a puncture in a pit lane collision with Max Verstappen. Bottas, who won in Melbourne and Baku, is only 17 points behind Hamilton.
Despite dominating the early weeks of the campaign, and boasting a huge lead in the constructors’ standings, Mercedes continue to downplay their chances. Toto Wolff has suggested the track could suit Ferrari, and it should do, but this was the case at several previous races too.
Mercedes might be concerned, though it’s the rest of the grid that should be. Other teams brought engine upgrades earlier in the season, Ferrari and Honda were looking for a bit of extra pace, while Renault searched for reliability. Mercedes were under no such pressure.
Upgrades can cause problems. Mercedes’ track record, though, suggests that will not be an issue for them. They delayed an engine tweak in 2018, holding it back until they were completely confident in it. Once introduced, Mercedes and Hamilton turned their season around.
Unlike other street circuits, Circuit Gilles Villenueve has plenty of high-speed corners and long straights that will see cars get around the 200mph mark on three different occasions per lap. The Mercedes should thrive, its chassis is versatile, excelling in low and high-speed turns.
Wolff was concerned about losing time on the straights, as that is one area where the Ferraris outperform the Silver Arrows. While the car hasn’t had quite the pace everyone expected after preseason testing, Ferrari have been guilty of causing their own problems too. Strategy gambles have not paid off, and both Vettel and Charles Leclerc have made errors.
Ferrari cannot afford any mistakes if they are to compete with Mercedes this weekend. They are +175 with Sugar House to win the race.
Red Bull cannot match the raw power of Mercedes and Ferrari despite improvements from Honda. The first and second sectors are where Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly will be most competitive. They will lose time on the straights, but as we saw in Monaco, the Red Bull is lighter on its tyres so should be able to keep a consistent pace for longer.
Pirelli made the same tyre selections as Monaco, bringing the three softest options. Ferrari have brought five sets of the medium tyres, the most of any team on the grid. Mercedes have favoured the softer tyre, though they also brought two sets of the hard compound for Bottas, perhaps suggesting he will go for a long run on Sunday.
Unlike Monaco, there are plenty of overtaking opportunities in Montreal. Two-stop strategies are more likely as a result, particularly for McLaren, Racing Point and Alfa Romeo, who all opted for nine sets of the soft tyres. The strategy decisions in the midfield could be very interesting.
Racing Point’s Sergio Perez will have been disappointed to finish 12th a fortnight ago, but he’s enjoyed success in Canada in the past, finishing third in 2012, 10th in 2016 and fifth in 2017. The 29-year-old Mexican is one of the drivers to watch this weekend. He’s +200 to finish in the points with Bet Stars.
After an excellent sixth-placed finish in Monaco, Carlos Sainz could be in for another good weekend. The McLaren is well-suited to Montreal, and Sainz has finished in the points in each of the last three races after a tricky start to the year. The Spaniard is -150 to make it four points finishes in a row.
By Sam Cox