It’s becoming increasingly difficult – some would say impossible – to envision a situation in which Ferrari mounts the top step of the podium purely on merit in 2019. Despite its strong showings during testing and flashes of speed through the year to date, Mercedes has proved it has a car formidable on street circuits and permanent tracks, in slow corners and sweeping bends and during the daytime or in the night alike.
The latest body blow came at the Monaco Grand Prix, which Mercedes would have completely controlled but for Valtteri Bottas being hit by Max Verstappen in the pit lane, dropping him to third. Ironically Sebastian Vettel claimed his and Ferrari’s best result of the year by picking up second behind Lewis Hamilton.
But hope springs eternal, and this weekend Ferrari will attempt to convert its podium sugar hit into a sustained performance in Canada, which it pencilled in as a near-certain victory earlier in the season.
The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is one of the fastest tracks on the calendar. Upwards of 45 per cent of a driver’s time is spent hard on the throttle, putting a premium on engine power, and given Ferrari has led the power stakes since last season, it’d be reasonable to assume a repeat of Sebastian Vettel’s lights-to-flag Canadian victory in 2018 should be on the cards this time around.
However, even this final refuge of Ferrari optimism comes with some serious caveats. For one, Ferrari has already blown its first of two power unit upgrades this season, bringing it to last month’s Spanish Grand Prix only to find it had little impact on its package’s overall competitiveness. Mercedes, on the other hand, has kept its powder dry and is poised to bring its first update of the year to the circuit at which power is crucial.
Worse, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is a notably smooth track at which only slow-speed corners break up the straights, making tyre warm-up more difficult than at circuits comprising faster turns that put higher energy loads through the car.
Tyre warm-up has already been identified as a chief problem for Ferrari. The team has openly admitted it is yet to fully grasp Pirelli’s new thinner-tread tyres, which have been designed with a higher operating window to ameliorate the overheating problems suffered at some circuits last year.
But if Ferrari managed to overcome both Mercedes’s engine upgrade and its tyre troubles sufficient to challenge for pole and victory, it would still have to find a way around Lewis Hamilton.
Hamilton has owned the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in the modern era, with his six victories placing him only one win behind all-time record-holder Michael Schumacher. Indeed Montreal is one of the Briton’s happiest hunting grounds, equalled only by his six wins in the United States, Hungarian and Chinese grands prix.
He’s in fine form to equal Schumacher’s Canada record too, for despite Hamilton assessing his first six races as “quite an average performance from myself”, his four wins and two second-place finishes make for his strongest-ever start to a season.
If there were ever a time for Ferrari to snap out of its 2019 funk – for both the sake of the championship as well as for the team’s own self-esteem – the Canadian Grand Prix would be it. It’s just a shame that the odds are steeply stacked against the Italians in an increasingly silver-coloured season.