Lewis Hamilton came out with some uncharacteristic fighting talk after qualifying on the second row for the 2023 Canadian Grand Prix.
Initially fourth, but elevated to third after Nico Hulkenberg‘s grid penalty, Hamilton set his sights on battling Fernando Alonso and Max Verstappen at the front of the race with George Russell now joining him on the front row.
But does Mercedes‘ pace back that up, and is there a way to make the race strategy work in their favour to help that?
What’s the best race strategy for the Canadian GP?
After a sodden first two days in Canada, and a very limited slate of support series on Sunday, the track will effectively be as fresh as Friday morning come the grand prix which does open up some strategic options for teams.
Pirelli expect one and two-stop strategies will be very closely matched, with a medium-hard-hard of the latter possibly slightly faster.
That would see an early pit window of Laps 15-22, and then the second stop likely coming in the 40s before a sprint to the end.
However, out of the top four drivers only Verstappen and Alonso have two sets of hard tyres, so Mercedes will be forced to switch things up.
They could race aggressively and run a long middle stint on the hards, up to Lap 50, and then put on another set of mediums to sprint to the chequered flag. Or, there’s the alternate one-stop hard-medium strategy.
Rain and safety cars
We’ve seen rainfall on all three complete sessions in Canada so far, but that streak will almost certainly in the grand prix.
Even the most optimistic weather forecasts don’t go above 20 percent chance of rainfall, so given teams have had very limited dry running over the weekend they’ll be more in the dark than usual on raceday.
However, there’s a much higher likelihood of either a safety car or red flag, owing to the close walls and lack of runoff area at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
The infamous Wall of Champions earned its name for a reason – and none of the three current Formula 1 champions on the grid have crashed there so it may be due another victim.
Safety cars have appeared in 14 races in Montreal since 1997, including the 2022 Canadian GP which set up a scintillating sprint to the finish between Verstappen and Carlos Sainz.
And if Mercedes do opt for the one-stop in contrast to their rivals, a well-timed safety car would fire them to the front of the race.
“The rain that has fallen could make a two-stop race look even more competitive,” Pirelli‘s Motorsport Director Mario Isola said.
“A one stop, starting on hard and switching to medium, could be the choice for those starting from the second half of the grid.
“It would allow them to have greater flexibility to deal with any eventualities, especially on this track where the safety car has often been called on to do plenty of laps.”
Does anyone have the pace to beat Verstappen?
Put simply, we don’t know. There’s only been one session of significant dry-running and, FP2 saw a huge divergence in long runs as Mercedes took theirs at the start of the session, while Red Bull and Aston Martin went early.
So Mercedes were over a second behind Red Bull, but track evolution will have played a part in that. Meanwhile, Alonso only averaged a few tenths behind Verstappen but it’s from such a limited sample size.
What could prove the difference is Red Bull‘s monster DRS, on a track with three DRS zones then once Verstappen‘s a second behind, it’s all but over.
Meanwhile, that will aid Sergio Perez as he fights his way up from 12th on the grid and he could yet fight for the podium.