Saturday June 9th, 2001
By Alan Baldwin
Three things in particular spell danger for drivers at Sunday's Canadian Formula One Grand Prix - the start, the kerbs and the wall. Particularly the wall.
Ferrari's Brazilian driver Rubens Barrichello and Sauber's German Nick Heidfeld both hit it in qualifying on Saturday after misjudging their entry to the final chicane before the finish at the Gilles Villeneuve circuit. Both hit the high kerb, flew up and lost control.
"Let's just move away from the kerb and talk about the wall, which has claimed a few victims over the years," McLaren boss Ron Dennis told reporters. "I think it's the nature of the circuit. All circuits have characteristics, there's Eau Rouge (at Spa) and there's Monte Carlo where you are scraping the barriers.
"Canada has these two very nasty characteristics, it's the wall that people hit on the entry to the pit straight and it's those kerbs. I think the drivers have to drive accordingly.
"When they get the braking wrong it's pretty catastrophic," he added. "But I wouldn't change it. Everybody knows that they're there and what sort of damage is going to be inflicted if they get it wrong."
The wall does not discriminate between the good and the indifferent either. In 1999 three former champions all crashed in succession at the same spot.
Briton Damon Hill in the Jordan, Germany's Michael Schumacher in the Ferrari and Canadian Jacques Villeneuve in the BAR all fell foul of the unforgiving concrete. The two accidents on Saturday were dramatic as most scrapes with the wall tend to be.
Barrichello broadsided it, smashing in the right side of his car, while Heidfeld went in at a more acute angle and ripped a wheel off. On both occasions the qualifying had to be suspended to allow the debris to be cleaned up. The wall is there lap after lap, becoming more dangerous as drivers tire. But the first obstacle at the scenic island circuit in the St Lawrence River is, obviously enough, the start.
Over the years, this has provided plenty of chaos with four of the last five races suffering incidents as the field funnels into the tight corner. Last year's Grand Prix was an exception. But drivers were confident on Saturday that a pile-up could be avoided for the second year running, particularly after an uneventful start at the last race in Monaco.
"I think at 70 percent of the circuits there is an opportunity to have a crash if some drivers don't behave and that's what it comes down to," said Schumacher.
"You have to behave, you have to watch and you have to be a little bit extra careful when it is a tight first corner. Everybody knows that and we'll find out how they behave."
McLaren's David Coulthard, his main title rival who qualified third and was sitting alongside him at a news conference, chipped in with the observation that he was behind the German while Schumacher's brother Ralf was alongside at the front.
"It's normally the people who are behind," countered the Ferrari driver, who took pole ahead of Ralf's Williams. In Monaco, many people feared that Grand Prix, with cars funnelling into a tight right-hand corner on a narrow street circuit, could lead to disaster with the new electronic launch control software still suffering glitches.
Monaco, like Montreal, has had some momentous incidents off the start grid in the past. In the end, the start was uneventful - with the exception of Coulthard stalling on the formation lap and being forced to go from pole to the back of the grid.
"We all were afraid in Monaco and nothing happened. Everyone was super careful," said Canadian Jacques Villeneuve this week.
In Montreal three years ago, Austrian Alex Wurz had a truly dramatic start when he barrel-rolled his Benetton in an incident that damaged several cars. Remarkably, Wurz emerged unscathed and made the re-start in the spare Benetton.