Canadian GP: Can Ferrari finally capitalise on speed strengths?
F1 2019 is not working out as hoped for Ferrari, but does high-speed Montreal present them with a Mercedes-beating opportunity? Mark Hughes assesses their chances this weekend...
Last Updated: 06/06/19 4:51pm
Despite Ferrari being nowhere near Mercedes' qualifying pace in the last two races, Montreal offers the Italian team genuine hope amid a so far dispiriting season.
For the reasons why, think back to Baku.
That was the most recent race where teams run in their low-downforce configuration and Ferrari, despite its front-end grip limitations, had potentially the fastest car there.
When's the Canadian GP on Sky?
When, where and how to watch the Canadian GP from Montreal live only on Sky Sports F1 as Hamilton bids to extend his title lead.
Before his Q2 crash, Charles Leclerc appeared to have around 0.3s on the Mercs and even though Mercedes went on to lock out the front row, they did it with the aid of powerful slipstreaming tows that Sebastian Vettel was denied.
Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas received tows worth 0.35s and 0.28s respectively. Vettel, without a tow, qualified only 0.2s behind.
The Ferrari was the fastest car around Baku.
The Ferrari is an inherently lower-drag car than the Mercedes and when the circuit configuration favours this aspect, it can offset to a greater extent the gains made by the Merc's downforce advantage. The Ferrari's drag advantage is accentuated even further when both cars switch to their low-downforce packages.
Combine this with a small Ferrari qualifying mode power advantage, and the red cars should be well in contention around the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
Simulation based upon Baku suggests that the Ferrari should be making up around 0.7s on the Mercs down the Montreal straights - and there are doubts about whether the cars spend enough time in the corners for the Mercedes to be able to make all of that back up.
Montreal vies with Monza as the least downforce-sensitive track on the calendar - i.e an increase in downforce buys you less lap time than at any other track, around 30 per cent less than it buys at Barcelona, for example.
That said, most of the corners are fairly slow speed, and this is where the Merc's grip advantage over the Ferrari is at its greatest. It's probably going to be very tight over the lap.
The bad news for Ferrari is that such circuits are outliers.
Other than Baku and Montreal, the only other chances Ferrari should get to convert its lower drag into something meaningful are likely to be Spa and Monza. The Baku opportunity was blown by Leclerc's qualifying error and Merc's clever tactics in the final Q3 runs.
It's vitally important for the team's spirit, if nothing else, that maximum advantage is taken of the rare opportunity that Montreal presents Ferrari.
Until Ferrari can get to the bottom of its fundamental lack of low-speed grip, outlier circuits such as Montreal are likely to be the only bright spots. As Vettel says: "We've now had two opportunities to test at circuits where we've raced [Bahrain and Barcelona] and it's clear that it's isn't a case of we can just change one or two things and we're there, and we've found the secret to switch the car on. It's just a fact right now that we are not strong enough."
A repeat of Vettel's comfortable victory here last year would at least be a nice pressure release while work continues on finding the longer-term solution.
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