Canadian GP: Hamilton, Rosberg set for all-Mercedes battle
Teammates have finished 1-2 in past 5 races to start season
The tightly cornered Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve is a different track than most in Formula One, but don't expect the Mercedes AMG team to be any less dominant.
The Mercedes duo of three-time Canadian Grand Prix champion Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg has won all six races to start the season, finishing one-two in the last five. They will be the favourites again despite the close walls and hard braking on the 4.361-kilometre circuit.
"I don't think it will be different from the other weeks before," a resigned Nico Hulkenberg of the Force India team said Thursday from Montreal.
The race weekend begins with practice on Friday, and qualifying on Saturday, before the grandstands on the island track across from downtown Montreal fill up on what is expected to be sunny, warm day for the 45th Canadian Grand Prix on Sunday.
It will be first experience for Canadian fans of the quieter, more fuel-efficient 1.6-litre turbo engines introduced this year, which have dropped the formerly dominant Red Bull team down the grid and raised Mercedes AMG to near-invincibility.
In the opening six events, Rosberg has two wins and finished second four times to lead drivers standings with 122 points. Hamilton has four wins and one second to sit second with 118 points.
Next closest is Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, a two-time world champion, with 61 points. Sebastian Vettel, the F1 champion the last four years with Red Bull, is sixth with 45.
Some felt the peculiar Gilles-Villeneuve track, which features long straightaways leading into sharp turns, a hairpin and some tricky chicanes, might close the power gap on Mercedes.
No such luck, said Hamilton.
"I'll be guessing, but I don't feel that will be the case," the 29-year-old Briton said. "We're particularly strong in the straights, the Mercedes are, but I don't know.
"Maybe we'll be surprised this weekend, but the long straights do suit us very well. We have a very good power unit in our engines. Mercedes has done the best job with the engines, so Renault and Ferrari would have had to have done an exceptional job coming into this weekend in that area to be able to keep up with us on the straights."
The Mercedes supremacy is drawing comparisons to 1988, when the McLaren Honda team of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost won 15 of the 16 races on the schedule, with the Brazilian taking eight and Prost winning seven.
"In a way I'm honoured to hear those comparisons because that was an extremely high-level, big battle at the time, but I leave it at that," said Rosberg. "I don't really compare myself to that era. I want to do my own thing."
It seems the only thing that can stop Mercedes may be infighting between Hamilton and Rosberg, but even the tension that was building between them looks to have abated since a blow-up at Monaco two weeks ago, when Hamilton felt Rosberg cheated him of a chance to claim pole position.
Hamilton tweeted recently "we spoke and we're cool, still friends .noproblem."
The Hamilton-Rosberg duo already has Mercedes 141 points clear of Red Bull and 162 points ahead of Ferrari in the constructors' championship.
Vettel has had bad luck in Canada in the past, but broke through last year when he cruised to win from the pole, finishing 14 seconds ahead of Alonso.
Now he's grasping at any edge to stay competitive.
"It will be difficult to match the Mercedes-powered cars down the straights," the German said. "There are also some corners here and we've been competitive in the past.
"We were in a very good position in to win the race in 2011 and we won last year, so we have reason to be confident. But we know it could be a difficult weekend.
"We know that the corners are very tricky and demanding here and you can make up a lot of time in the corners. We'll try to do our best down the straights and try to do better than everyone else on the corners."
Another leveller could be the infamous wall of champions, a concrete barrier at the chicane leading to the final stretch to the finish line. Over the years, some of the sport's greatest drivers have crashed into it.
Jenson Button of McLaren Mercedes is confident that even with the lighter back end on this year's cars they should get through the turn OK.
"We've been driving these cars all year and if we can drive these cars around Monaco, I think we'll be all right around here," he said.
The McLaren, Force India and Williams teams also use Mercedes engines, but none has put the package of engine and car together quite like Mercedes AMG.
"In terms of the development of the car, it is working and we're going in the right direction," said Button, the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix winner who has found himself battling just to get into the points by finishing in the top 10 this season. "It's tough.
"When you've been fighting for wins and the team is used to fighting for wins, it's difficult when you find yourself in this situation."