Two weeks on from his controversial exit at the Monaco Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton returns to the circuit where he claimed his first pole position and won his first Formula One race in this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix.
The 2008 drivers’ world champion, who departed Monte Carlo under something of a cloud after making a joking racist remark during a rant about the race stewards, did the racing drivers’ perfect double during his maiden season in 2007.
That year, he went on to miss out on the drivers’ title by a point to Ferrari’s flying Finn Kimi Raikkonen, but stormed back to win it 12 months later for his McLaren team.
This season, after one win in six outings, he remains hopeful that, despite a massive 58-points deficit behind defending champion and current leader Sebastian Vettel, of Red Bull, he can still mount a title bid.
But like everyone else chasing the 23-year-old wunderkind, he knows he, or another contender, has to stop Vettel in his winning tracks to prevent the championship turning into a one-man runaway.
Hamilton looked fast enough on the narrow and unforgiving barrier-lined streets of the Mediterranean principality to not only take pole there, but win — before other circumstances intervened — and he clearly believes he can serve more of the same pure pace at the fast and dangerous Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on the Ile Notre-Dame.
“I think our car should be well suited to this track; we have a great engine, the best KERS (Kinetic Energy Regeneration System) in the sport and excellent traction out of slow corners,” he said.
“For me, all in all, it’s set to be another good weekend for us. I’ll be looking for a strong result on Sunday.”
His McLaren teammate, fellow-Briton and 2009 champion Jenson Button is also optimistic after sensing that he now has the speed and performance available to enable him to set the pace ahead of Red Bull.
“I’ve never won in North America and I think we have the pace, the development and the momentum to have a good shot at changing that next weekend. I’m really looking forward to it,” he said.
McLaren’s confidence ahead of the race on a circuit known for its high rate of accidents, attrition and unique challenges — it combines high-speed straights with hairpins — is matched, however, by similar feelings at Red Bull and Ferrari.
Each team will have to set up their cars in a “new” way after the relatively straightforward opening six events. Due to the speed, they will adopt a low down-force configuration on the track with the longest full-throttle time of all and ensure they have maximised their braking performance.
Australian Mark Webber, of Red Bull said: “My favourite thing about Canada is the laid-back attitude of the fans, which makes the atmosphere very good.
“The track has traditionally thrown up very interesting races due to the street circuit layout and because the low down-force configuration provides some good overtaking.
“It’s always nice to get the feeling that there’s a GP in town even when we’re away from the track and that’s certainly the case in Montreal.
A spectacular race
His Red Bull teammate Vettel said: “It is a very unique place. It’s not a real track because it’s on an island and also used for public roads. It’s a bit similar to Albert Park in Melbourne, as it’s mainly used for traffic with a second function as a race track.
“It’s also very slippery, the asphalt is very smooth and we saw last year that tyre degradation is huge, but it’s always good fun. It’s a great race, the atmosphere is fantastic and the fans are very special.
“It’s the only time we go to North America to race and it’s really a cool place with the city and people.”
In common with their main rivals, Ferrari are also more confident as they anticipate racing on the harder compound tyres supplied by Pirelli and, with new parts on their car, producing a competitive performance.
That, together with the harsh nature of the circuit and the many anticipated incidents and accidents, means another spectacular race in front of capacity crowds is in prospect as Hamilton, and the rest, seek to catch Vettel. — AFP