Tuesday June 5th, 2001
By Alan Baldwin
A fifth Canadian Formula One Grand Prix win is on the cards for Michael Schumacher but the world champion is wary of Williams and younger brother Ralf. Montreal has in the past favoured the Ferrari ace more than any other driver -- three of his wins here have been in the last four years -- and he has also been on pole five times.
On paper he is favourite to extend his 12-point championship lead and also take his fifth win of the year. His major title rival, David Coulthard, has never won in Canada and McLaren have been unsettled recently by unreliable software and a legal tussle with rivals Jaguar over the contract of technical director Adrian Newey.
Last year Schumacher won the Canadian Grand Prix -- also his fifth win of that season -- after Coulthard stalled on the formation lap and was given a stop-go penalty. This year he arrives in Montreal having won in Monaco after Coulthard's McLaren again stalled on the formation lap, a victory that ensures Schumacher will still lead the standings at the next round in Germany. The win in Monaco was also his fifth success there.
"I have won four times in Montreal but the past is no guarantee for the future," Schumacher said last week. "Ferrari have a good car to fight with but it will not be easy to win."
The Gilles Villeneuve circuit is known as one of the most punishing on the calendar and also has some long fast straights twinned with some medium chicanes and slow hairpins. After testing at the French Magny-Cours circuit last week, Schumacher was confident the Ferrari would be fast there but he also took note of the times recorded by his brother's Williams team.
Williams test driver Marc Gene was fastest at that session, lapping inside the official track record.
"Tyres are the unknown factor," admitted Schumacher, whose team uses Bridgestone while Williams are on Michelin. "When those used by Williams work well they are in a position to beat us, as happened at Imola and at the tests. And apart from the tyres, it (Montreal) suits the characteristics of my brother's car perfectly with its great acceleration and highest straight-line speed."
Ralf won for the first time in his career at Imola this year but Williams have had only three finishes in fourteen starts so far in 2001, with Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya retiring six times. Coulthard will be looking for his third pole of the season, knowing that being on the front row in Canada is as crucial as in Monaco to reduce the risk of a first-corner crash.
"The Canadian Grand Prix is one of my favourite races of the season," said the Scot, the only driver to have finished in the points at every race so far this season.
"With cars bunching up, wheels getting intertwined and all too often all hell breaking loose, the best way to avoid becoming involved in an incident here is to start at the front," he wrote in the latest edition of F1 magazine.
Despite his enthusiasm for Canada, Coulthard's record at the circuit makes grim reading however. In 1995 he crashed on the second lap and in 1997 he went out while leading due to an electrical problem. In 1998 he put his McLaren on pole and then had to retire after the race was twice re-started due to accidents. The Scot has failed to score in the last four races in Montreal and was seventh in 1999 and 2000.
His teammate Mika Hakkinen, who holds the lap record, won the race in 1999 on the way to his second title. Brazilian Rubens Barrichello, Schumacher's Ferrari teammate, has twice been runner-up in Canada as, more surprisingly, has Italian Giancarlo Fisichella in the Benetton.
But, with the Benettons struggling among the tail-enders this season, it would take a minor miracle for Fisichella to notch up his fifth successive podium at the circuit. The locals will be hoping Jacques Villeneuve, in a BAR, can get back on the podium at a venue named after his late father, while Jaguar will be seeking to show that they are on the move after their third place in Monaco.