Prelude to Canadian Qualifying

Tyres became the focal issue for teams and drivers, following an interesting second practice session in Montreal.

Drivers experienced extreme graining when they ran Bridgestone’s super-soft option tyre, most notably on the rears. This sparked widespread frustration amongst the pack, especially from McLaren’s drivers who had ran strongly in the first session – only to find themselves fall down the order in the afternoon.

“I’m not happy with how this afternoon went – I think today in general the track has just been incredibly difficult to drive,” Lewis Hamilton told reporters, “It’s very difficult to switch the tyres on, to get heat into the tyres, and it’s just like being on an ice rink out there. It’s so slippery.

“It’s a huge difference to how it was when I was here before. We had great grip [back then], the track got better and better, but we were struggling [today] for sure.

“We’re not pulling away down the straights, we have quite a lot of bottoming. There are areas we can improve on, we just have to do a big debrief now and figure out where we want to go with the car tomorrow.

“But it’s a bit of an unknown, because we tried a few things and the car was just as bad, if not worse.”

He added: “On the option tyre it’s unbelievable. With the graining I had on the option tyre, I had to come in.

“But I think a lot of people had the same experience, except perhaps the Red Bulls, so it’s going to be an interesting one.

“I don’t think you’ll be seeing a long first stint on the option tyre, that’s for sure.”

The 25-year-old’s comments were echoed by team-mate Jenson Button.

“I don’t know, we need to find out, because we were competitive this morning, maybe running less fuel than most people, but,” Button said of his problems in the second session. “This afternoon I struggled with the balance a little bit, instability under braking.”

“Then on the long runs it was a little bit emotional out there. The tyres aren’t lasting very long. I ran with the Option tyre at the end with heavy fuel and it grained so much I came in, put the primes and went two or three seconds quicker than the other cars, which were running Option.

“Still, I started graining as well. We’ve got a few tyre issues, everyone is struggling with the same thing, so I think it will be a pretty interesting race to see what happens with strategies.”

However, the British driver did concede that tyres were not the only issue that he had to contend, and that his car may have been carrying too much downforce.

“I actually lost grip this afternoon, so I’m guessing most people did go the other away. It’s strange how I lost grip in the afternoon when there’s a lot more rubber down, but we’ll get to the bottom of that for sure.”

“We think possibly we were a little bit too quick. Looking at our consistency we are struggling a little bit, so maybe we are not running enough downforce. But there’s a lot of info we got from today.

“This morning was good and this afternoon wasn’t so good so we have to work on that.”

The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve sits in a unique position in comparison with many other circuits on the Formula One calendar. As well as being unused for most of the year, the surface is often exposed to harsh conditions as Montreal is subjected to cold winters. 

Even though the circuit was resurfaced ahead of this year’s event, a mixture of the issues asforementioned meant that teams were presented with a track surface with very little grip. As a result, drivers were forced to wait for the track to rubber in before adequate grip could be found.

However, it would now appear that this process is taking longer than expected.

“The dirty track surface here and the cooler than usual temperatures meant that graining was today’s talking point.” Bridgestone’s Director of Motorsport Tyre Development, Hirohide Hamashima explained in his companies post-practice press release. “The tyres were not able to work to their full potential due to not reaching their best operating temperature.

“This meant the tyres were sliding, causing transverse graining on front tyres from braking and transverse graining on the rears from traction demands. We expect that the track surface will continue to improve with more rubber laid, and the graining will diminish.

“The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is always a difficult circuit to understand, even when weather conditions are favourable. We certainly would expect better performance from both compounds as the track surface gets more rubber laid on it and as the weather improves, but how the compounds will react relative to each other is a difficult question. Teams and drivers will have to work very hard this weekend.”

However, given the unpredictable weather which is currently overhead in Montreal, any rubber laid down on Friday could be washed away by qualifying.

“The track is pretty green with not much rubber which means the tyres are getting a hard time and everybody was struggling with graining.” said Michael Schumacher following practice. “If it rains, the track will remain green and it will probably be difficult to hold the tyres together again, even the harder compound. For tomorrow [Saturday], it is difficult to predict what we will be able to achieve.”

Schumacher’s warning appears to have come to fruition, with latest forecasts showing that light rain has fallen in Montreal and could continue for the rest of Saturday. As a result, drivers may be forced to make more than one change for tyres, if they are faced with a dry track on raceday. However,

Despite this, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso remains confident that the super-soft tyre will not be an issue, citing his team’s experience of the compound in the season’s opener in Bahrain.

“The soft tyre degrades very easily, but today is only Friday and the track conditions will change a lot between now and Sunday.” he said. “In Bahrain, after the first day, we were all concerned, but then we all pitted around lap 20 without having any problems.”

Mark Webber also shares this view and believes that the longevity of the super-soft tyres will improve by Sunday. The Australian driver is also admitted that qualifying could be a very close affair – with a number of drivers capable of setting competitive times.

“We thought McLaren might do more today, but it is early in the weekend,” he said. “We are pretty happy with how the day went. I think we were pleasantly surprised with the pace, which is a good thing for us.

“We’re going to have a tight fight tomorrow with everyone, but the car ran really well today and we will see how the weekend goes.”

“It is always the same in Montreal. The track is very tricky and we will see how it goes over the course of the weekend, but it is a normal thing for this surface in Montreal.

“The option is not great in fact it is pretty poor for most people. It is not going the best at the moment, but should be okay for Sunday.”

Remaining on the subject of tyres, and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner is confident that the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone will agree with the teams preferred tyre supplier for 2011.

Last week, FIA president Jean Todt went some way to politicise the issue by revealing that next year’s tyre supplier would be chosen by the sport’s governing body and its commercial rights holder. This is despite the fact that the Formula One Teams’ Association (FOTA) has long been in negotiations with a number of potential suppliers and looked set to be on course to finalise a deal with Italian company Pirelli.

However, Horner remains confident that all parties will be able to agree on deal, with time quickly running out.

“Hopefully it can be a collective consensus of opinion,” he is quoted as saying by Autosport. “What is massively important for us as an independent team is that costs are under control. Ideally there will be a single tyre supplier in order to ensure consistency and compatibility with all teams.

“I think the Pirelli deal that seems to be on the table looks to be commercially and practically very attractive, and that seems to be the consensus of the majority of teams. But it is important that the FIA and FOM agree with the relevant tyre suppliers.”

“Time is moving on quickly and people are starting to cast an eye to next year’s car. It is something that ideally will be sorted very shortly.”