The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve may not demand quite the inch-perfect precision of Monaco but it remains a formidable challenge. The track, sandwiched into the Île Notre-Dame between the 1976 Olympic Games rowing lake and the St Lawrence river, puts a premium on accuracy, with walls an ever-present threat and little run‑off. It is among the best venues on the current calendar and Lewis Hamilton has, to an extent, made it his own.
He goes into this weekend confident following his first victory of the season in Monte Carlo and having narrowed the gap to his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg, but remains unwavering in his determination to take each race as it comes and is taking nothing for granted in Canada, despite his impressive record here.
Hamilton played down any perceived advantage at a circuit where he has won four times from nine races, including a masterful pole-to-flag victory last year. Rosberg, in contrast, has yet to win in Canada. When the British driver was asked if his record here was significant, he said: “Not at all. I don’t feel any different. You should never assume anything.”
However, while the world champion is, perhaps understandably given the problems that have beset the opening of his season, not wanting to overplay expectations, it is hard not to feel that he does have the upper hand at Gilles Villeneuve, where he took the first win of his career in 2007. Only Michael Schumacher, with seven, has more victories in Montreal, a circuit that undoubtedly plays to Hamilton’s strengths.
The high-speed track, which will this weekend present the season’s first really accurate indicator of where the teams are relative to one another in power terms, is also heavy on the brakes. There are seven high-speed braking zones, including four coming off sections where the cars reach more than 186mph. Managing the anchors is key for the long term, as Rosberg discovered to his cost last year, but a deft touch on the brake pedal can make more of a difference, and there Hamilton has a distinct advantage. Which he did acknowledge.
“It’s a braking circuit,” he said. “Since I was a kid I was always a late braker, so [success here] is probably something to do with that. It’s generally been good here. This is a naturally good track for me. Hopefully I’ll be able to capitalise on that.”
His skill in this area and the Mercedes advantage at the track was acknowledged by his former team-mate Jenson Button. “He is good under braking,” he said. “Braking is very important here, you need a car that works over kerbs and straight-line speed, and Mercedes have all three.”
Nonetheless, despite this and having cut Rosberg’s lead in the world championship from 43 to 24 points with the win in Monaco, there remains still only cautious optimism in the Hamilton camp.
“I feel positive coming here but I’m anxious of how it’s gone so far,” he said. “I’m not arriving all excited thinking everything is going to be great again because we had one win. There are potholes we could easily manoeuvre but could also fall down. I’m conscious of that.”
A trouble-free weekend, beginning with qualifying on Saturday, will be the first step he needs in eating away at Rosberg’s advantage. Two ERS failures in China and Russia have cost him over the single-lap discipline and at Monaco a power issue denied him a shot at the fastest lap. But these were incidents he insisted had not overshadowed his performances.
“I felt like I was on it every weekend so it was not a case of waiting for it to click and I’d be on it,” he said. “When the car stays together and we keep it together, then I will get the result.”
Indeed this season in the qualifying sessions in which he has not had a mechanical issue, he has claimed pole: in Australia, Bahrain and Spain. “If you look at the races where I have lost points, it has not been down to my driving,” he said. “I will still continue to drive the way I have done all season and as I did in the last race.”
The Monaco victory was just the fillip his season required, albeit aided by Red Bull’s uncharacteristic pit-stop error for Daniel Ricciardo and much as he wanted to keep the result in perspective as a race win rather than a turning point, it will have focused Rosberg’s mind, if nothing else, on just how quickly fortunes can change.
“Arriving at the last race 43 points behind and now being 24 – it just shows that the goalposts are moving all the time,” said Hamilton, who topped the time sheets, three-10ths quicker than Rosberg in free practice one. “With 15 races still to go it shows that anything is possible.”
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