The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal is one of the most unusual circuits on the F1 calendar. With a mix of long straights and low-speed chicanes hemmed in by unforgiving concrete walls, it’s a bit like combining Monaco with Monza and therefore poses some unique challenges for car set-up.
In terms of aero, Montreal will see the cars running with the lowest levels of downforce so far this year. “It’s only Monza where we will run less downforce,” confirms Vitaly Petrov’s race engineer Mark Slade. “We will therefore bring different wings that haven’t been used before to ensure good straight-line speed. That will give the car quite a different feel and the drivers will need to adjust to this.”
Because those long straights are followed by low-speed chicanes and hairpins, the brakes can expect a punishing workload this weekend. “Montreal is by far the toughest circuit on the calendar for the brakes with 16% of the lap spent on the brakes, which compares to 12% at Monza,” continues Mark. “There are four big stops where the drivers are braking from over 300 km/h plus down to around 120 km/h, which puts enormous energy levels through the braking system. And because it’s such a short lap, we’re doing those five big stops for 70 laps during the race.”
With cars starting the race fuelled to the brim, the demands on the brakes will be even tougher than in previous years. Compared with the last Canadian Grand Prix in 2008, we can expect around 10% more energy going through the braking system.
The low downforce package means the braking contribution caused by aerodynamic drag will be reduced, putting even more burden on the brake system. “The discs see very high peak temperatures for much longer than usual in Montreal,” says Mark. “We therefore need to keep a close eye on the wear and temperature sensors, which let us know if we’re getting marginal on brake wear because it’s not something the driver can feel in the car.”
The ideal Montreal set-up also demands good traction and a car that can cope with the bumpy track surface. “If the car is bouncing through the air then you’re losing grip,” continues Mark, “so the focus is on trying to keep the wheels in contact with the ground by softening up the suspension to improve ride over the bumps. Running softer suspension also gives the drivers good mechanical grip through the chicanes where it’s important to be aggressive because there’s a lot of lap time to be found.”
In terms of traction out of the low-speed corners, the teams will be keen to avoid high levels of rear tyre degradation. “To ensure good traction we might compromise mid-corner performance of the car in order to have better traction and protect the rear tyres,” concludes Mark. “This almost inevitably causes more understeer on corner turn-in, but it’s about making the right compromise for a set-up that will work for the whole race.”
Driver confidence around Montreal should not be underestimated either, and kissing the walls is just as important for finding those final few tenths as it is in Monaco. “The walls are very close on the exit of the chicanes, especially turn four,” confirms Robert Kubica. “If you can scrape it by millimetres you will be two tenths quicker than if you miss it by two feet.”