F1 Canadian GP Primer: Drivers and Teams

The Canadian Grand Prix weekend starts tomorrow morning with first practice. Yesterday, I examined all the rules and race strategies that have changed in the two years since the Formula One circus last swept through Montreal. Today, I look at the drivers and teams that will be contesting the 2010 Canadian GP and setting up storylines for the race.

(Note: In parentheses is drivers’ championship position and points)

McLaren Mercedes
#1 Jenson Button (2nd, 88 pts.)
#2 Lewis Hamilton (3rd, 84 pts.)

The British press (who comprise about 95% of F1 press coverage) absolutely adore this driver lineup that McLaren have put together. The 2008 and 2009 World Champions have joined forces at McLaren for the next couple of years. It seems like Macca is ready for a ego clash but no big problems so far. Also amazingly is that the two drivers are fairly even considering that Button likes an understeering car and Hamilton an oversteering car. The two drivers banged wheels at the last race while fighting for the lead with Hamilton coming out on top for his first win of the year. McLaren have the best functioning F-Duct on the grid so expect them to be favourites for the win on Sunday.

Mercedes Grand Prix
#3 Michael Schumacher (9th, 34 pts.)
#4 Nico Rosberg (8th, 66 pts.)

The winningest and arguably greatest driver in F1 history makes his return after three seasons of retirement. It almost figures that he would rejoin the architect of his success, Ross Brawn, at the team he saved from demise. Though, it’s also fitting that Schumacher joins Mercedes (who bought Brawn GP after last season) who he was a development driver for when he started driving. Two big storylines have dominated Mercedes’ season. The first is Rosberg vastly outperforming his more experienced teammate, whether that’s caused by Michael’s rust or Nico’s speed or some combination of both. The second storyline is that Mercedes, after having the most dominant car of 2009, is being blown out of the water this year. They’re bringing an updated F-Duct to Montreal but they’re going to need some luck to make the podium, let alone win the race.

Red Bull Renault
#5 Sebastian Vettel (5th, 78 pts.)
#6 Mark Webber (1st, 93 pts.)

The fastest team in pre-season testing has been the fastest team this season. In the first seven races, the RB6 has picked up all seven poles, three fastest laps, and three wins. If not for some bad luck and reliability issues, they would be the clear head of both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship tables. Adrian Newey has designed a car that generates more downforce than any other on the grid which is what the name of the game usually is in F1. However, we’ll have to see how his interpretation of the F-Duct performs this week in Montreal as that will be the difference maker between Red Bull and McLaren. The biggest storyline heading into this race is, of course, how Vettel and Webber will cooperate this weekend. The two Red Bull teammates collided while battling for the lead in Turkey with each blaming the other. With both cars expected to contend for the win again, we’ll have to see if they will play nice or if someone will end up in the Wall of Champions.

Scuderia Ferrari
#7 Felipe Massa (T-6th, 67 pts.)
#8 Fernando Alonso (4th, 79 pts.)

The Scuderia looked like they pulled a complete 180 on last season. After barely squeezing out a win at Spa, Ferrari picked up a one-two finish to open the season at Bahrain. The team has lucked into a pair of podiums since then but have gone largely unnoticed since then. While they have scored double points paying finishes in all but one race this season, they haven’t come close to threatening for a win. Fernando Alonso came over to Ferrari from Renault for this season. The double World Champion is ahead of his teammate in the points but the returning Felipe Massa has impressed me with his speed. The Brazilian was able to outpace Kimi Raikkonen last season before his accident and nobody else that drove the F60 came close to matching his pace. While Alonso is keeping pace with Massa, Felipe hasn’t let any rust slow him down.

Williams Cosworth
#9 Rubens Barrichello (12th, 7 pts.)
#10 Nico Hulkenberg (T-15th, 1 pt.)

The seven-time winning constructor of the Canadian GP have fallen on hard times since BMW left at the end of 2005. The team has been on a steady downhill spiral since the switching to Cosworth and then Toyota power. Well, actually, they’ve been the best team using Cozzy and Toyota powerplants while running them. And that continues this year. They’re the head of the Cosworth class, though that’s helped by the fact that they’re the only established team running Cosworths. Interestingly, Williams believes that they can score a double top ten qualifying effort and a double points finish. They aren’t one of the big four teams and Renault and Force India are outpacing the two Williams regularly. So Williams is going to need a hell of a lot of luck to make either top ten.

Renault F1
#11 Robert Kubica (T-6th, 67 pts.)
#12 Vitaly Petrov (13th, 6 pts.)

I’ll admit it. I thought Renault was so far off the pace in pre-season testing that I thought they would have struggled to stay ahead of the new kids on the block by the midpoint of the season. So here we are over a third of the way in and the French team, who would have closed up shop if not for an angel investor in Genii Capital, are sitting a comfortable 5th in the Constructors’ Standings. They even think that at their current rate of development, they could catch or overtake Mercedes in the points. While that still seems farfetched, being about to think that big is a far cry from where I’d thought they’d be right now. Of course, a pair of podiums by Robert Kubica is the majority of the reason why Renault are so far up in the standings. Russian Vitaly Petrov is nowhere close to matching his teammate’s pace but is steadily improving. By next season, he’ll be a fairly competent #2 driver but for now, he’s still got to learn the ropes.

Force India Mercedes
#14 Adrian Sutil (10th, 22 pts.)
#15 Vitantonio Liuzzi (11th, 10 pts.)

My pick to finish best of the rest this year haven’t met my expectations but haven’t been disappointing either. After coming so close to winning the Belgian Grand Prix with Giancarlo Fisichella at the helm, Force India have built on their success and moved solidly into the midpack. Their car is especially good in low drag configuration which suits Canada well. With the long straights and plentiful passing zones of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, a solid points day is likely for Force India. Well, points for Adrian Sutil is likely. He’s come into his own this season and is worth another look from some of the bigger teams if they ever get an opening. Vitantonio Liuzzi has been soundly outperformed by Sutil. Based on qualifying times, Liuzzi is the farthest off his teammate’s pace on the grid. If he doesn’t find some speed soon, he’ll be out of a ride sooner than later.

Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari
#16 Sebastien Buemi (T-15th, 1 pt.)
#17 Jaime Alguersuari (14th, 3 pts.)

It’s amazing to think that a team that won a race less than two years ago is now just barely ahead of those ragtag new teams. I know that they don’t have access to Adrian Newey’s designs anymore but you’d think that they’d be able to evolve the RB4 into something that would be midpack as opposed to the last of the old guard. Now as Toro Rosso barely hangs on ahead of the new teams, rumours are swirling about their driver lineup. Jaime Alguersuari wasn’t expected to be back but is now outperforming his underperforming teammate Buemi. I’ve read that both are on the hot seat for next season but you have to wonder who’s next in the Red Bull driver development program to get an F1 ride.

Lotus Cosworth
#18 Jarno Trulli (0 pts.)
#19 Heikki Kovalainen (0 pts.)

Of the three new efforts, this one has turned out to be the best one. Though that would like getting a pile of manure and saying that it doesn’t smell that bad. However, for all the grief I give Lotus, they really aren’t doing that badly. They’ve been steadily cutting the gap to the back of the midpack since the start of the year. They think that, with a bit of luck, they can finally score their first points of the year in Montreal. While the Canadian GP can be a wild and unpredictable affair, it’ll take a fair whack of attrition for Lotus, or any of the new boys for that matter, to make the top ten.

Hispania Racing Team (HRT) Cosworth
#20 Karun Chandhok (0 pts.)
#21 Bruno Senna (0 pts.)

While US F1’s struggles to make the grid were well documented, HRT (formerly Campos meta) just quietly went bankrupt. The team was bought and rebranded in just enough time to scramble on to the back of the grid at Bahrain. And that’s where the team has remained. They’re probably the most reliable outfit amongst the three new teams but reliability isn’t worth a damn if the car is plodding along in last place. Sure, the gap the rest of the pack is closing but they’re still no threat to anyone except the safety car. It’s also worth noting that Bruno Senna’s days are believed to be numbered at HRT. The team has brought in Christian Klein and Sakon Yamamoto to run a couple of Friday practice sessions and are the front-runners to replace Senna sooner rather than later.

Sauber Ferrari
#22 Pedro de la Rosa (0 pts.)
#23 Kamui Kobayaski (T-15th, 1 pt.)

This is definitely not the same team that left the last Canadian Grand Prix with the World Drivers’ Championship points lead. BMW have left and so has the money. Peter Sauber has retaken the reigns of his eponymous race team but has been mostly burdened with downsizing the team from a full-factory team to a privateer effort. As such, it seems that the Swiss team has been behind on development as they try to get their feet back under them. While fellow privateers Williams are targeting a double points finish, Sauber is probably just targeting a double finish. They’ve been hit with bad luck and reliability issues that have seen both cars see the checkered flag only once in the season’s first seven races. Maybe bettering Kobayashi’s 10th place finish of the Turkish Grand Prix should be the goal.

Virgin Cosworth
#24 Timo Glock (0 pts.)
#25 Lucas di Grassi (0 pts.)

When Sir Richard Branson was approached about buying the former Honda F1 team, he said something to the effect of wanting to get involved with a team that can be competitive for a reasonable price. So rather than buy into Brawn, he bought the team originally known as Manor House. As opposed to getting involved with a team that vaulted to the head of the class, he bought into a brand new team with no track record and no expectation of success. Virgin has spent the whole of the season circulating around the back of the grid ahead of the HRTs but well behind Lotus. At least they’ve overcome their early season problem of not having a big enough fuel tank to run a full race distance.

World Drivers’ Championship Standings
1. Mark Webber – 93 pts.
2. Jenson Button – 88 pts.
3. Lewis Hamilton – 84 pts.
4. Fernando Alonso – 79 pts.
5. Sebastian Vettel – 78 pts.
6. Robert Kubica – 67 pts.
7. Felipe Massa – 67 pts.
8. Nico Rosberg – 66 pts.
9. Michael Schumacher – 34 pts.
10. Adrian Sutil – 22 pts.

World Constructors’ Championship Standings
1. McLaren Mercedes – 172 pts.
2. Red Bull Renault – 171 pts.
3. Scuderia Ferrari – 146 pts.
4. Mercedes GP – 100 pts.
5. Renault – 73 pts.
6. Force India Mercedes – 32 pts.
7. Williams Cosworth – 8 pts.
8. Toro Rosso Ferrari – 4 pts.
9. Sauber Ferrari – 1 pt.

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