Lewis heads across the Atlantic

Vodafone McLaren Mercedes travels across the Atlantic for round seven of the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship, the Canadian Grand Prix, which is being staged in the North American country for the 40th time.

The first Canadian race took place in 1967 at the Mosport track in Toronto. Mont-Tremblant hosted the event for two years in 1968 and 1970 before it moved to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in 1978.

The team has won the Canadian Grand Prix on ten occasions with the most recent victory taken by Lewis Hamilton last year. It marked the Brit’s maiden win in Formula 1, coming in his sixth race in the series.

Lewis Hamilton

Following your Monaco win, we now move to Canada, what are your thoughts ahead of this race?"As I said on Sunday, winning at Monaco is the highlight of my career, it was a very emotional victory for me as it is something I have dreamed of since I was a kid. I will never forget the moment, but now my only focus with the team is Canada. We have good momentum right now and we are pushing to keep that going and to keep developing. The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is one of my favourite tracks and following my debut win there last year it is a very special place for me and I hope that we will be quick there again this year. It is renowned for its difficult track surfaces, particularly with tyre graining, and the walls. Despite being very fast, it can feel like a street circuit with the barriers very close, but it is good fun to drive at and I am looking forward to getting back there."

As you mentioned, the track surface is one of the main factors during the race weekend, how does this affect the grip levels and tyre wear?"Well everyone is in the same boat for the tyre choice, and it can get quite complicated to choose the right tyre for the entire weekend given the evolution the circuits go through, particularly Canada. We have worked closely with Bridgestone on this and hope we have the right compounds to manage the track conditions. There is always a lot of graining at this track and because it is only used one a year, it is very dirty when we first start running. That soon clears up on the racing line, but this dirt and the marbles from the graining make it very slippery off-line."

The low downforce layout of the track places great importance on efficient cornering. With reduced aero grip, what exactly is required from the car to make it quick through the corners?"Mechanical grip is key. You also need a well balanced car that doesn’t oversteer - but that is not as easy as it might sound! You have to really make a compromise on corner entry, particularly those after the long straights. This means your time through the corner will be faster."

It is a year since your debut Grand Prix pole and victory at the Canadian Grand Prix, what are you memories of that weekend and how do you feel you have developed as a driver in the 12 months since?"Last year in Canada was one of the biggest accomplishments of my life, to take my maiden pole and victory in Formula 1 was incredible, even more so as it was with Vodafone McLaren Mercedes. It would be great to go back there and do the same, and that is what we are working hard to achieve. Since then I think I’ve matured a lot, I think I have grown stronger as a driver and have become closer to the team."

Heikki Kovalainen

What are your expectations ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix?"I am going to Montreal to get a good result with the team. The last few races have been pretty difficult for one reason or another, but all the time we know the car is quick and now I am hoping to be able to demonstrate that."

How competitive do you feel the MP4-23 will be at the Canadian Grand Prix?"Lewis won there last year and, if that is anything to go by, I hope and think the car will be fast again this year. It’s another track that is not that normal, it is almost like a street circuit and a key characteristic that we have to manage over the race is the big change in grip levels throughout the weekend. You have to chase the track a little bit some times with the set up, and also wait for the track to come to you. It’s such a different character after Monaco, which is a lot of slow, tight corners. Montreal is all about straight lines and heavy braking. I always look forward to going there, it is another big challenge and the racing is normally pretty good."

What is key to a strong performance at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve?"Braking is number one for this track, it is very heavy on the brakes and we have to pay special attention to make sure they last the race. It is also definitely key to a good lap at this track to be able to ride the kerbs well; basically you are trying to straight line them so you can go faster through the corner. The most important thing is being able to take those bumps and the hits well and for it not to disrupt the car too much. So in general the car needs to be quite soft."

As you demonstrated last year, overtaking is possible at this track, where are the prime passing opportunities?"I had a disastrous weekend up to Sunday last year and then during the race the incidents and safety cars meant the strategy played into my favour. I overtook a few cars, and then eventually I just found myself in fourth. I was close to Alex Wurz and raced against him to take third. It didn’t come off, but it does show that anything can happen in a race and you must never give up, wherever you are you just have to carry on and keep pushing. The best places to pass are at the end of each of the straights. This means there are three key opportunities with one very long straight and two that are a bit shorter. You can slipstream and then pass under braking or follow the car ahead through the slower corners and make another move."

Martin Whitmarsh, CEO Formula 1, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes

Coming out of Monaco, what is the mood within the team?"Overall the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team comes out of Monaco a third of the way through the season leading the Drivers’ Championship and second in the Constructors’ title. Consequentially, particularly on the back of a fabulous win in Monaco, the mood is very good. The feeling is that there is good development momentum in the team and that we have an exciting season ahead of us. Inevitably Lewis comes out of Monaco in a very positive frame of mind and firmly believing that he can build upon that success and have a strong Championship fight. Heikki of course has performed quite brilliantly in his first six races with the team and therefore has to come out of it with some disappointment. Whilst there is underlying satisfaction with his personal performance, Heikki has suffered some misfortune, which has taken from him the opportunity to win his first Grand Prix. But he is an extremely positive guy who realises that he has a great career ahead of him and there is no doubt that he is going to enjoy many Grand Prix victories during the course of his career."

Next stop Montreal where track characteristics are completely opposite to the narrow streets of Monaco."We have a car which excels in high speed corners and there aren’t too many of those in Canada, however, we have a reasonably good track record at this event. It is about high speed down the straights, braking stability, durability of the braking system, traction out of the corners, which are relatively short but with high speeds into them. All this means it is an unusual circuit that is not the easiest to forecast, but we have every reason to believe we have made improvements on the car and the whole team is looking forward to carrying our championship campaign forward."

This is traditionally a tough race for brakes, what measure does the team take towards maintaining performance throughout the race and the weekend?"Inevitably all of the teams have to review their braking systems prior to the Canadian round of the Championship as it would be extremely unusual if the more standard brakes used at conventional circuits would last the Canadian Grand Prix. There have been many occasions in the past where quite simply the brakes have worn out before the end and that is something that we all have to work very hard at. As the hardest circuit on brakes in terms of wear, the team and Akebono, with areas such as friction materials and cooling systems, work to have a special Canadian Grand Prix set-up. "

Norbert Haug, Vice President, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport

How do you evaluate the balance of power after the first third of the season and prior to the Canadian Grand Prix?"The previous three races in Barcelona, Istanbul and Monte Carlo provided completely different challenges for teams and drivers and offered probably the widest possible spectrum of three consecutive Grands Prix. Vodafone McLaren Mercedes was capable of achieving podium finishes at all three tracks and scored these positions in the races. Whilst Lewis ended up third, second and first respectively, a broken wheel rim, a tyre slashed by a competitor and a software problem while engaging first gear at the start to the formation lap in Monaco prevented Heikki from scoring a similar amount of points. Now Lewis leads the Drivers’ World Championship with a gap of three points, one year ago his advantage after six races was eight points."

What are the specific demands of the Montreal circuit for drivers, cars and teams?"First of all, the race is renowned for its many Safety Car periods. In the previous five years, there has been at least one Safety Car period in 42 percent of all races; in Canada there have been Safety Car periods in three out of the last five races which is 60 percent. No other circuit is more demanding for the brakes than Montreal; four times per lap the cars slow down from 300km/h and more to about 100km/h. Montreal puts also strain on the engines; on the long straight, the cars run under full throttle for 15 seconds out of the total lap time of about 75 seconds.

How difficult is it for teams and drivers to adjust to such extremely opposed demands like in Monaco and Montreal?"It is true - apart from the same initials and from being street circuits, the venues of these two consecutive Grands Prix have only a few things in common considering their demands. The team was able to deal with these contrasts at best; Lewis won his first Formula 1 race in Canada, and one year later, he arrives in Montreal as six-time Formula 1 winner, current winner of the Monaco GP and with 16 podium finishes out of his 23 Grands Prix."