Questions for Canada
What next in testgate, can Lewis Hamilton find some form, will Red Bull finally win in Montreal, can Ferrari bounce back and just what is happening at Sauber?...
By Pete Gill, James Galloway, William Esler and Sky Bet's Jamie Casey
Last Updated: 05/06/13 9:37am
Will more light begin to be shed on 'Testgate'?
Now that the shock at learning about Mercedes' three-day tyre test has evaporated and the press pack has had two weeks to plot interrogations offering no wriggle room for their prey, the Montreal weekend should provide clarity about a testing saga which, although complex and confusing, ultimately boils down to a straightforward question begging a straight answer: was it legal or not?
For all the interest in the who, where, when and why - and indeed what tyres were used and just how Mercedes and Pirelli managed to keep their Barcelona date a secret for so long - the crux of the matter, which will determine whether the furore escalates into a full-blown scandal or shrink into a non-story, is whether or not the governing body gave explicit permission for the test to be staged.
Mercedes said they did. The FIA say they didn't. Pirelli say Mercedes spoke to the FIA but they didn't listen in - which was very polite of them but rather rudely leaves the rest of us none the wiser. At least not yet.
What the F1 world is waiting to hear in Montreal is whether Mercedes can provide incontrovertible proof that they received explicit and full permission to stage a three-day test at Barcelona between May 15 and May 17. It's as straightforward as that. If Mercedes can produce the proof then, no matter the carping and complaining, they are in the clear and the story is over. And if they can't? Then the saga may be just beginning.
Is Montreal the place where Lewis Hamilton turns it around?
There is no doubt that the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is a place that Lewis Hamilton enjoys - he claimed his first ever grand prix victory there in 2007 and has gone on to win the race on two further occasions.
Over a single-lap Hamilton has usually shown prestigious pace in Canada - taking pole every year between 2007 and 2010 - and, coupled with Mercedes' Saturday performances thus far in 2013, it is hard to bet against him coming out on top in qualifying and stopping the momentum being built up by team-mate Nico Rosberg.
However, Hamilton has admitted he is struggling to find his groove at Mercedes and getting to grips with the W04. His team-mate has out-qualified him at the last three events and that has only happened once before in his career - Heikki Kovalainen achieved the feat in 2009. Without understating the job done by Rosberg, it is clear Hamilton is not at his attacking best.
Even if the 2008 World Champion does manage to take pole in Canada, the Silver Arrows' Achilles' heel all season has been rear-tyre wear and that is something that could exacerbated around the roads of Ile Notre-Dame, with the circuit placing great emphasis on drive out of the corners.
Indeed, after locking out the front row in Spain, both Mercedes cars went backwards in the race as they struggled with excessive wear-rates and Hamilton found himself lapped and out of the points at the chequered flag. With overtaking usually plentiful in Canada, it will not be possible to nurse their tyres and maintain the lead as the both cars did in Monaco. Thus, unless the team have made a significant step forward - through testing means or not - Hamilton could face a fight for a top-ten finish let alone stay in the battle for victory. WE
Will Red Bull end their Montreal hoodoo?
With Nico Rosberg having justified Mercedes' status as race favourites ahead of Monaco, the bookmakers have little choice but to side with the in-form team ahead of Canada, with the German 2/1 to be on pole for the fourth race running.
Red Bull have never won at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and their Montreal hoodoo is deemed more likely to continue than to be brought to a triumphant end, with Ross Brawn's Mercedes 13/8 favourites to produce the race winner, while the RB9 is given a weaker chance at 9/4 with Sky Bet. Finally, after weeks of outperforming team-mate Lewis Hamilton, Sky Bet are giving Rosberg the recognition his deserves by making him 4/7 to qualify on the front row in comparison to the Englishman at 4/6, while Sebastian Vettel is rated 4/5 to do likewise.
Despite Red Bull's failings at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, the pacey track theoretically suits their strengths and Vettel is favourite (9/4) to set the fastest lap, while many punters have seen value in Mark Webber - who upped his performance in Monaco - at 20/1 to be on pole, 25/1 to lead the first lap and 16/1 to win the race - not bad odds for a driver with nine career wins, 11 pole positions and 36 podiums. As for qualifying, Mercedes are once again expected to front the grid (8/15) ahead of Red Bull (9/4) while Ferrari's Fernando Alonso is 3/1 to go quickest in P1. JC
Will Ferrari's Monaco form prove a blip?
Are the odds stacked against Ferrari this weekend? For starters, Canada is a notoriously unhappy hunting ground for Scuderia. A Ferrari driver last won at Montreal as long ago as 2004 and the team have have scored just a solitary podium - when Fernando Alonso stood on the lowest step in 2010 - in the decade since. There's no particular reason why the F138 should struggle with the Gilles Villeneuve lay-out, but the place itself just doesn't seem to like Ferrari.
Yet while even history declares that historical trends are easily bucked, shifting momentum in sport tends to be far more problematic - and Ferrari will arrive in Canada on the back-foot after losing their way at Monaco. Having blitzed the opposition in Spain, the team garnered just six points in the Principality after suspension failure resulted in Felipe Massa writing off his Ferrari while Fernando Alonso did not hook up his car at any point over the weekend. It must have been a very strange experience for the Spaniard, normally so adept at moving through the field on race day, as he regressed from fifth to ninth before Kimi Raikkonen's tangle with Sergio Perez brought a measure of consolation.
Most troubling of all, nor do Ferrari seem to be any closer to finding a cure for their qualifying travails either. Alonso has yet to start a race on the front row this season and in both Spain and Monaco he started behind Raikkonen - a relegation which in effect relegated the Ferrari to the fourth-fastest car in qualifying trim behind the Lotus, Red Bull and Mercedes. Race day in Monaco may well prove to be just a blip, but Sundays will continue to be an increasingly difficult proposition for Fernando unless Ferrari finally find a way of fixing their Saturday fault. PG
What's going on at Sauber?
Perhaps it shouldn't be too surprising given their inherently understated nature, yet amid all the head-shaking over what exactly went awry at McLaren and Williams over the winter, it's almost gone unnoticed that Sauber's fortunes have also nosedived rather spectacularly from this time last year.
Only the most basic of 2012 v 2013 comparisons speaks volumes: whereas after six races last season the Hinwil outfit had 41 points on the board, this time round it's just five - none of which have been garnered in the last three races.
So what's gone wrong, and more importantly, can Sauber belatedly kick their season into life? Rear-end stability problems with the C32 have proved the car's downfall since the start of the year, something a new rear wing introduced two races ago in Barcelona was designed to address, but a pair of 11th-place finishes since then hardly represents eye-catching progress. Unlike last year's tyre-friendly C31, which allowed Sergio Perez to sneak his way to a podium in Montreal, the 2013 incarnation also doesn't appear as happy on its rubber as was bluntly highlighted by Nico Hulkenberg's nightmare final laps on badly-worn soft tyres in Monaco.
The team themselves insist that the recent upgrades have had the desired effect and there's still further potential to tap from them so in that regard, and with Monaco such an anomaly in terms of track characteristics anyway, Canada should be a good test of where Sauber really are at and whether the summer months hold more promise for them. But in such times of underperformance, the question of perceived budgetary constraints is perennially asked of Sauber and this year, with so much resource increasingly having to be directed simultaneously at 2014 by everyone, you do suspect the Swiss may find it tougher to make major progress up the order from here. JG