McLaren: We’ve taken another step upwards as a team

Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button on track.

After the slow-speed demands of Monaco, Formula 1 heads across the pond to one of the fastest circuits on the calendar. The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, situated on an island in the St Lawrence River in Montreal, is the first high-speed challenge of the 2015 campaign. It requires the teams to focus on three main areas of performance: braking, traction and top speed.

The cars exceed 300km/h (186mph) on four occasions around the lap and each time they have to brake into a slow-speed chicane or hairpin. Such high levels of deceleration put the brakes under huge amounts of stress and, as a result, they require careful monitoring throughout the 70-lap race.

Other important areas of performance are traction and mechanical grip. The circuit has an old, low-grip surface, on which it’s easy to get too much wheelspin under acceleration. Good driveability from the power unit is vital because there are six second-gear corners around the lap, all leading onto long straights.

In cooler temperatures it can also be difficult to get the front axle working properly, emphasising the importance of mechanical grip. To help this, Pirelli is taking the two softest compounds in its range: the Soft (Prime) and the Supersoft (Option). These are the same compounds as in Monaco a fortnight ago.

From a driving point of view, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve has no fast corners, but it’s still a hard track to tame. The walls are close and the drivers need to be very precise with their lines; the smallest of errors can have serious consequences.

The final corner has claimed many star names over the years; Jacques Villeneuve, Damon Hill, Michael Schumacher, Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel have all crashed there, leading to the outside barrier being known colloquially as ‘The Wall of Champions’.

McLaren has an impressive record in Canada, having won the race 13 times. Among those victories is Jenson Button’s memorable win in 2011.

Did you know? The Canadian Grand Prix is the spiritual home of the Safety Car. Formula One’s first ever Safety Car was deployed during the 1973 Canadian Grand Prix, at Mosport – a race won by McLaren’s Peter Revson.

Technical words of wisdom, Jonathan Neale, chief operating officer and acting CEO: “Everyone loves racing in Canada; it’s one of the truly historic circuits on the Formula 1 calendar. The racing is always tough and it’s a challenging circuit for the cars.

“From a technical point of view, the one area you’d pick out is braking. The cars are low-drag, high-power, and there are big stopping momentums. Brake wear is something that all of the teams are concerned about, and not just from a safety point of view; there’s a lot of performance in it.

“You want to maximise the effectiveness of the brakes, while trying not to compromise other areas of performance. Brake wear and temperatures have to be carefully monitored.”

Our most memorable Canadian Grand Prix: 2011

Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button ran inside the top six early on, but disaster struck on lap eight when they touched and Lewis was forced to retire with broken rear suspension.

Torrential rain at one-third distance brought out the red flag. When the race was re-started, Jenson was forced to pit immediately after contact with Fernando Alonso. With 30 laps to go, he was in last position.

Another Safety Car period closed up the field and Jenson, on newer option tyres than most of the other cars, was able to carve his way up the order. He took second place with five laps to go and passed Sebastian Vettel for the lead on the final lap of the race. “My best win,” was how Jenson described it afterwards.

Fernando Alonso: “It’s great to be going back to North America. Montreal is a great city and the circuit is up there with the most exciting tracks on the calendar. It has so much history and some great battles have happened there between legendary drivers, so it’s always special to get in the car and experience this circuit and all the unpredictable elements that go with it – it’s a really exhilarating place.

“Jenson’s points in Monaco were a great boost for the whole team and more proof of the progress we are making race by race. On my side of the garage, it’s disappointing to have had two technical issues in a row, but as usual we’re working extremely hard to understand these problems. Reliability is always the most important factor, so before performance we must focus on making sure we start the weekend positively and maximise the practice sessions to get our car properly set up for this track.

“The circuit itself is tricky – that’s what makes it so special – and always provides great racing. It’s obviously very different from Monaco because it’s so high-speed, but, like Monaco, there are lots of technical corners that mean you need to focus on having good balance and downforce in the car, especially under braking. Despite the reliability issues I’ve had in the last two races, the car has felt good, so our priority is to have a trouble-free weekend and get the maximum performance out of our package.”

Jenson Button: “After the whirlwind that is Monaco I’m really looking forward to heading back to Montreal. I love the city, the people are friendly, the atmosphere is buzzing and it’s just a really great place to be. The fans there are incredible and they always give us such a warm welcome.

“The circuit is a real racer’s track and I absolutely love it, it’s definitely one of my favourites. It’s the place where I had probably my most famous victory back in 2011, so it’ll be interesting to see what the changeable weather will throw at us this year – it’s something that’s definitely part of Montreal’s charm!

“Getting points on the board has been really positive and shows that we’re continuing to make big strides, but, if anything, it’s spurred us on even more to keep pushing until we reach where we want to be. Fernando hasn’t had much luck in the last few races so we all need to keep our heads down and keep fighting to make sure we get both cars to the flag. The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve requires good top speed, so we can’t underestimate the challenge, but anything can happen there – and usually does – so we’ll be getting stuck in right from the word go.”

Eric Boullier, Racing director, McLaren-Honda: “From Monaco to Montreal – two very different racetracks but ones that share a lot of similar characteristics. Like Monaco, Montreal is a real racer’s track, but for very different reasons: there’s lots of sweeping corners and it’s a complex technical challenge for our engineers. For McLaren, it’s a very special place – we’ve won 13 grands prix there – and it’s a circuit that always produces fantastic racing.

“Of course, we can’t be pleased with eighth position, and we’re still a long way behind where we want to be. Nonetheless, I’m proud of our progress and the rate of development we’re maintaining, and we’re continuing this push with every grand prix. Although I don’t like to dwell on the past too much, comparing the pre-season tests with our current performance shows just how hard we’ve worked to fight towards the front.

“Our more promising performances have been scuppered by frustrating technical issues though, most recently on Fernando’s side of the garage, so we’re working hard to iron these out so that we can really see the potential of both cars and keep developing. We must target improved reliability and consistency in order to achieve our maximum potential. While the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve doesn’t play to our car’s strengths, Montreal is a great place to put our car to the test; it’s a world-class city with world-class fans and we’ll be working very hard as usual to put on a good show for our loyal supporters.”

Yasuhisa Arai, Honda R&D senior managing officer – chief officer of motorsport: “At Monaco, I was very happy that McLaren-Honda scored its first championship points. This was down to the continuous hard work of the team. Of course, it was unfortunate Fernando retired as we were hoping to get both cars home in the points, but we gain more confidence as the season goes on. Our power unit is progressing in the right direction, and we’ve taken another step upwards as a team.

“The Canadian GP will be very different. This track is flat with long and fast straights, where the throttle is often fully open, which is tough on the power unit and fuel economy. Furthermore, hard braking is required. All in all, the circuit needs a completely different power unit setting from Monaco. We’ll prepare the power unit so that it performs to its full potential during the weekend.”