Constructors champions Red Bull have never won at the Gilles Villeneuve circuit, and will aim to break the impressive run of Mercedes.
After a pause in Europe, Formula One’s flying circus arrives in Canada this weekend with controversy stirring in all areas of the paddock and pitlane ahead of a race that is usually one of the most unpredictable and entertaining of the season.
Two races, in Spain and Monaco, followed four early-season flyaways to set up the first trip of the year to North America, with a closely-contested championship creating tensions amid rumbling arguments over the performance of the fast-wearing Pirelli tyres.
The dramatic call, made late on Wednesday evening in Paris, for Mercedes to face the International Tribunal of the sport’s ruling body, the International Motoring Federation (FIA), to explain allegations of illegal secret in-season testing of Pirelli’s tyres, added more spice to an already heated atmosphere ahead of the 44th running of one of F1’s favourite events.
Stirred by the inconsistencies created by tyre performance, many teams and drivers have already felt emotional this season — and the sense of brooding conflict was intensified further by Mexican Sergio Perez’s ultra-aggressive racing for McLaren at the Monaco Grand Prix.
Criticised by a series of drivers, including his own team-mate Briton Jenson Button, Ferrari’s Spaniard Fernando Alonso and Finn Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus, who suggested he deserved ‘a punch in the face’ for his actions and attitude, Perez has become the bad boy of this year’s grid.
Since Button, champion in 2009, Alonso (2005 and 2006) and Raikkonen (2007) have won four titles between them, it was expected that Perez, 23, and McLaren might apologise and smooth ruffled feathers before the race at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
Instead, the team’s sporting director Sam Michael on Wednesday sprang to his defence, insisting he had done nothing wrong and the team supported his aggressive approach.
Michael said: “Ultimately he is a racing driver and he is just racing. It was obviously hard racing, but that is what F1 is about. McLaren supports the way that he is racing at the moment and what he’s doing. We are fully behind him.
“All the moves he did are all moves that have been done by all of those drivers at various points of their careers – some not that long ago. The overtaking opportunities that are available at the Monaco chicane are ones that have been used for a long time before Checo was even born, so it’s not the case that he was applying them as something new.
“He is racing for his position and establishing himself. The racing he is doing, all those other drivers have done themselves. That’s Formula One.”
Michael admitted Perez had gone through a ‘transition’ in recent races, following a slightly cautious start which prompted team boss Martin Whitmarsh to urge him to be tougher on track.
“He definitely went through a transition in the last two or three races, and he’s been able to really mix it on pace with his team-mate which is good,” he said. “As long as he keeps developing and going in that direction, that is all that matters to us.”
A continued display of similar aggression is sure to provide some moments of great spectacle and potential drama and danger this weekend on a circuit where high speeds and heavy braking are normal — and where unforgiving walls around the track always claim a series of victims.
The weather also usually plays a major role in proceedings with searing heat often being followed by torrential rainstorms that render all strategic planning useless — a scenario that often plays into the hands of the boldest drivers.
Of the current field, only Briton Lewis Hamilton is a multiple Montreal winner — he triumphed three times, in 2007, 2010 and 2012, and will be looking for his first win for Mercedes after succeeding German great Michael Schumacher at the team. Schumacher won Montreal seven times.
But to claim another success, Hamilton knows that first he has to beat his in-form team-mate German Nico Rosberg, winner in Monaco, and championship leader and defending triple champion German Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull.