COLUMN – Karun Chandhok: Canadian GP a mixed bag
The Canadian GP weekend was a real mixed bag of ups and downs for me. It was my first visit to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, or for that matter to Canada.
I’ve grown up watching lots of races there on TV and was really looking forward to driving there this season.
There were two things that hit me when we reached Montreal -
1) Just how big the hire cars were — we all ended up with huge SUVs out of some Puff Daddy video or in Bruno’s (Senna) case a 5 litre Mustang GT and
2) the weather was just as cold, wet and miserable as the UK.
The circuit itself is set alongside the old Olympic rowing basic built for the 1976 summer Games and provides the most picturesque backdrop to a paddock of the season.
Walking around the circuit on Thursday in the rain, it really surprised me how narrow the circuit was, with the walls a lot closer than you think. Certainly apart from Monaco, it is probably the narrowest circuit on the calendar with very little margin for error.
I was amazed when I went out on circuit for the first time in Free Practice 1 (FP1) just how low the grip levels were. It was cool and cloudy which meant that the tyres were way out of their temperature working range but even so, the car was sliding around a lot more than at Monaco even, which being a pure street circuit, you expect to be bad.
The graining that everyone suffered on both the types of tyres was pretty amazing — worse than anywhere else I have seen and it started to already give the whole pitlane an indication that the race won’t be the normal one stop straight forward strategy we’ve seen so far in 2010.
All things considered though, Friday in Montreal was probably my best Friday of the season. We were P2 of the ‘new teams class’ in both sessions and the team had done a great job to get us in a position to really compete with Virgin Racing for the first time this year despite no real aero upgrades thus far.
After a good Friday, Saturday was completely the opposite. First I had a gearbox problem in FP3 which meant that I didn’t even leave the pitlane and missed the entire session and then another problem in qualifying left me with only every alternate gear.
We tried to do one lap while playing with the settings on the steering wheel but to no avail and it was a frustrating day for the whole team on my side of the pits to watch the car go around for a lap with only 1st-3rd-5th and 7th gear.
Sunday’s race promised to be interesting and it totally lived up to it. From our side, we decided to gamble on no safety cars and do the opening two stints on primes with the options at the end when the circuit had more rubber.
I say gamble because the possibility of safety cars in Montreal is probably the highest on the calendar. I was really pleased with how the race panned out from my perspective.
Realistically at the moment, on pure pace, for Bruno and me, we’re racing just each other and the Virgins and I was quite pleased to have come out on top of that four car battle.
Bruno was losing pace after he touched the wall and then retired with gearbox trouble and even before Glock stopped I was four seconds ahead of him which was good encouragement for the team.
The downside was the battle to get out of the way of the leaders. The circuit is notoriously slippery off the racing line and it was very difficult to get out of people’s way.
Obviously near the end, Fernando lost some time behind me which allowed Jenson to get a run on him. It was a shame for him, but I had no idea Jenson was behind Buemi and him. I had gone off line to allow Buemi past into turn 6 and so was on the inside into turn 7.
Because of running off line, my tyres were covered in dirt and I didn’t have the acceleration I needed to get out of T7 quick enough to stay fully out of Fernando’s way.
Fernando has been one of the most understanding drivers when it came to the pace difference to the new teams and I did try to find him afterwards to explain but didn’t get a chance and will speak with him in at the next race.
Off to Valencia next and in some ways a similar circuit to Canada with long straights, big braking zones and mainly slow speed corners jumping over kerbs.
The temperature will be a lot higher than Montreal and that does make it pretty hard on tyres as well. I don’t think it’ll be as marginal as Montreal was but still should be an interesting weekend.