Ah, Montreal… Our only visit to North America this season, but where the official language, as defined by the city's charter, is French. Go figure!
Actually, Montreal, the second-largest city in Canada after Toronto, always hosts one of the drivers’ and teams’ favourite weekends during the season. The atmosphere is brilliant, the food is great (have you ever try “poutine”, French fries with cheese and gravy?!?) and… well the night life is not bad either!
One of the many great things about Montreal is its weather – it can be incredibly hot in the summer and incredibly cold in winter. On average, the temperature will drop to around -25C every winter. But it doesn’t stop people from living normally as the city is equipped with an amazing 30km (18 miles) of underground walkways, indoor areas and tunnels.
The climate-controlled “underground city”, as nicknamed by the locals, includes 10 metro stations, 2 train stations, 2 bus stations, 62 buildings, 7 hotels, 1,615 apartments, 200 restaurants, 1,700 boutiques, 37 movie theatres and exhibition halls, 2 universities, 1 college and 10,000 indoor parking spaces… Not bad, but you better not be claustrophobic!
The Grand Prix itself takes place on the Ile Notre-Dame, an artificial island built for an exhibition in the 1960’s. People in Canada are famous for their “joie de vivre” and in 2008, a British magazine ranked the city 16th in a list of the world's 25 most liveable cities.
The track is also famous for its very hard braking and challenging corners, and the last one, ironically named “Bienvenue au Québec” (welcome to Quebec), was renamed “Wall of Champions” by the fans following the 1999 edition in which three former World Champions (Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve and… Michael Schumacher) all crashed into it at some point in the race.
The races in Montreal are normally far from being contact-shy, and six of the last nine races have featured Safety Cars; the historical probability of 67% is one of the year's highest.
Michael did particularly well at this track in the past, and has the highest number of wins, 7 (1994, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004). The 2010 edition, the team’s first race in Montreal as MERCEDES GP PETRONAS, saw Michael finishing just outside the points in 11th place while Nico scored 8 points thanks to his 6th place finish.
The two big questions marks this year will revolve around the tyres and the DRS zones. Last year, all of the teams suffered with big tyre problems because of graining and it’s hard to predict how the new Pirelli tyres will respond – all we know is that Pirelli themselves are expecting a thriller.
If you add, on top of that, two DRS zones which will increase overtaking at a circuit where passing was already possible… We’re in for an exciting one!