Montreal: Lewis Hamilton seeks to confirm his title defence is back on track at Montreal, one of his most rewarding, circuits, a fortnight after his resounding return to form and first win of 2016.
Hamilton’s win on the unforgiving street circuit of Monte Carlo was his first in seven months since clinching his third title triumph in Texas last year and, with Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg finishing seventh, he cut the German’s lead from 43 to 24 points.
The 31-year-old Briton claimed his first F1 victory at the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix and has added three more triumphs at the tricky Circuit Gilles Villeneuve since then, including last year when he won for Mercedes.
“Montreal has always been a good track for me so, hopefully, I’m able to shine again like I did the first time I went there, in that great city atmosphere,” said the defending three-time world champion ahead of Sunday’s race.
“I think I have proved that I am as strong as ever again and I will be for the rest of the year. There’s a long way to go in the championship and we’ve seen from the first six races that anything is possible.”
A similar result to Monaco on the demanding Canadian track, where brakes are tested severely and grip is always a challenge, would blow this year’s title race wide open again after seven of this year’s 21 rounds.
Rosberg, who won the first four races in succession, is now without a win in two since his victory at Sochi, in Russia, on May 1, but has dismissed all talk of pressure as he attempts to wrest supremacy from his team-mate.
“I expected and I have prepared myself for some difficult races after making such an awesome start to the season,” he said. “In the last Grand Prix, I hope I got all of my bad luck out of the way in one race so it is onwards and upwards from now on.”
As the momentum shifts, the competitive advantage enjoyed by Mercedes for the last two seasons seems also to be shrinking as both Ferrari and Red Bull reduce the gap.
This weekend, in a city where they always enjoy great support thanks to the Villeneuve name’s links with the Italian team, Ferrari plan to introduce an improved power unit with both drivers, four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, and the 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen being given one.
The new engine, with an updated turbo, has cost Ferrari two development tokens, taking their total so far to 28 out of a permitted total of 32 as they try to fend off Red Bull in the constructors’ championship.
Red Bull introduced a new engine in Monaco where Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo was left frustrated when a bungled pit-stop cost him a possible victory.
But his pace and the record-breaking win claimed by his new team-mate Dutch teenager Max Verstappen in Spain confirmed that the former champion team are back on the pace.
Power down the long straight will certainly play a part in the outcome of the race, but on a circuit built on a man-made island in the St Lawrence Seaway, errors, brake problems and loss of grip often create accidents and incidents.
The ‘wall of champions’ at the exit of the final chicane has claimed many big names through the years as drivers misjudge the exit and Montreal’s fans are sure to delight in seeing that list enlarged this weekend.
Hamilton, back on form, will be favourite but the capricious weather may play a part and if both Ferrari and Red Bull can mount a challenge, it may not be as straightforward as some expect.