Treasure Island

What makes for a great racing circuit? That may be too wide a question. The track that provides a thrilling spectacle with one set of car characteristics can be a little humdrum with another. One only had to watch the Formula Renault 2.0 races in Monaco last time out to see how thrilling a racing track that can be… for the right sort of car. Were you to ask what makes a great racing circuit from the current crop of Formula One cars, then there’s a list of criteria that need to be ticked off.

It needs to test the cars at high speed and low speed, through long corners and short; it needs to push the chassis to the limit with bumps and kerbs, but hit high enough speeds on the straights to prevent teams from piling on all the downforce they can. It needs a realistic overtaking spot – but not one that makes overtaking straightforward, and it should have big walls to ensure there’s a cost to pushing the limits and getting it wrong. Basically, what makes for a great F1 circuit is something that looks awfully similar to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

The Canadian Grand Prix is always action-packed, and a great deal of that is generated by an old-school circuit layout that encourages the thrills and spills. While other circuits concentrates the action in one or two specific hotspots, in Montreal it can happen pretty much anywhere.

Virage Senna

The first complex of corners are a little faster and longer than average for the track. They’re partially responsible for this being a medium downforce circuit rather than seeing teams go for an ultra-skinny Monza-spec car. While the pit-straight is relatively short, the cars arrive in Turn One carrying a lot of speed – particularly with DRS engaged and the drivers have a lot of work to do, braking down and hooking the line for the longer Turn Two. It doesn’t look particularly rapid until it goes wrong. Daniel Ricciardo gave the Red Bull RB10 its first victory at the 2014 Canadian Grand Prix – but he had the luxury of doing the last lap of the race under the Safety Car, after a late race collision between Felipe Massa and Sergio Pérez demonstrated just how perilous this corner can be. Viewed from above it looks vaguely ‘S’ shaped – but you have to want it. 

First Chicane

While the Wall of Champions tends to garner the attention, there’s often more action in the first chicane at Turns 3-4. It’s a nasty classic. On exit, the difference between the racing line and the wall is measured in millimetres – but the reason that's particularly tricky is the kerb on the way in. Drivers will try to straight-line the corner as much as possible – but the more kerb you take, the bigger the risk of unsettling the car and sliding off into the wall. 

Droit du Casino corner

The other fast corner in Canada is the Droit du Casino ‘quick kink’ on the approach to the hairpin. There are various ways of describing this – but the best one is generally to just say ‘Robert Kubica’ and leave it at that.

 

L’Epingle

At other circuits (one thinks of Hockenheim or Magny-Cours), this would be the prime overtaking spot – but with the long straight to follow, it doesn’t see quite as much desperation as would otherwise be the case. Unless the attacking driver is in a real hurry, the Hairpin is often about the exit, and concentrating on getting the power down early for an advantage all the way down the back straight. There’s a really good overtaking spot at the end of that…

The Wall of Champions

The final chicane carries many names, but mostly it’s known for the uncompromising wall on the outside of the exit. Bearing the friendly message ‘Bienvenue au Québec’ it earned the nickname Mur du Québec (Wall of Quebec) until a higher-that-statistically-likely number of F1 World Champions gouged chunks out of it in short order. Damon Hill, Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve all came a cropper there – and suggesting an element of self-fulfilling expectation, Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel have both clattered it in recent years. It’s not so much the wall itself as the apex kerb on the other side of the track that tends to destabilise cars and shunt them sideways towards it – which makes it terribly interesting for spectators when cars are on a flat-out qualifying lap or side-by-side and fighting for position in the race…