There was a time when the city of Montreal was not the kindest host to McLaren. When Circuit Gilles Villeneuve opened its doors to Formula One in 1978, it was Ferrari that enjoyed the first win, and McLaren didn't find victory at the track until 10 years later. What's more, the initial 26 events at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve saw McLaren win just four times, a relatively small tally considering rival Ferrari claimed 10 victories while Williams had seven in that same span.
Since 2005, however, McLaren has been the most successful team at the picturesque venue. In the six grands prix since, the constructor has won four times, including each of the past two races. Those victories have come in very different fashions as well. Last year, Jenson Button battled through severe wet conditions as well as contact with teammate Lewis Hamilton before overtaking a dominant Sebastian Vettel in the waning moments. The year prior, the conditions were dry when Hamilton looked to be the dominant driver. His victory took just a touch over an hour and a half, compared to Button's win, which spanned over four hours.
The fact that McLaren claimed both events means that this team can handle a range of challenges that Circuit Gilles Villeneuve has to offer, and thus is arguably the team to beat heading to Montreal despite Red Bull's recent run this year. In addition, Red Bull may lose a bit of its edge after it must now redesign the floor of the car to eliminate holes that were deemed illegal. With an expected design alteration, it further raises questions as to Red Bull's performance in Sunday's Grand Prix of Canada.
This is also a track the team has never won at, so Red Bull certainly has something to prove this time out, as team principal Christian Horner told La Presse, "Even if the circuit is not the most exciting of the season, it has always produced exciting racing. This is one of the only races that Red Bull has never won, even though we came very close last year. It would be wonderful to come back and rectify the situation. In Montreal, power is crucial. It's the complete opposite of Monaco. Who knows if we'll be competitive, but we'll be in attack mode."
One driver to watch this weekend may be Nico Rosberg. The Mercedes pilot has collected 59 points in his last four starts, more than any other driver in that span, and he's been a prominent factor so far this year. At this point, few would probably be surprised to see him running near the front again.
As for the circuit itself, there should be one question raised based on recent history: Is the winner in Canada the man to beat in the championship battle? If one of the usual suspects takes the top place on the podium, the answer may seem rather obvious, but in actuality they may have an uphill battle the rest of the way if relatively new trends weigh in. Of the past six winners here, only one has gone on to win the championship (Fernando Alonso in 2006) that same season, so this grand prix has certainly not been a great title predictor recently.
Perhaps part of the reason is that the circuit is unlike most on the calendar. The walls leave little room for errors, and the surface is notoriously tough on tires. There are also some fast straights mixed with very slow bends, which makes for a challenging setup. And when wet weather plays a part, as it did last year, it makes for a rather unpredictable event. The first few corners on the opening lap are typically chaotic as well, meaning some drivers may find themselves out of the running very early on.