The 2013 Formula 1 world championship touches down in Canada this weekend, with the fallout from Mercedes' controversial Pirelli tyre test the talk of the paddock.
The German team romped to a stunning win at Monaco two weeks ago; Nico Rosberg produced flawless performances all through practice, qualifying and the race itself, to lift the trophy exactly 30 years after his father, Keke Rosberg, accomplished the same feat.
However, since then they have had to contend with allegations of ignoring FIA regulations that limit in-season testing. Mercedes and Pirelli, the tyre manufacturers, were found to have collaborated over a 1,000km test in May, using a 2013-spec car. The FIA have now confirmed the matter will be placed before the International Tribunal.
Mercedes drivers Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton will hope that off-track drama does not affect speed and reliability on track, particularly since both immediate rivals - Ferrari and Red Bull Racing-Renault, appear to be struggling at the moment.
Of course, having said that, the Monaco Grand Prix is, quite literally, a unique race track and venue it does not follow that Mercedes will be similarly dominant at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal. Therefore, expect the usual contenders - Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen - to be among the favourites this weekend.
As is usual, the race weekend kicks off on Friday, with the first two of three practice sessions. The third will be on Saturday morning, followed by qualifying in the afternoon. The race will be on Sunday afternoon.
Where to Watch Live
Live coverage of the first practice session for the 2013 Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix starts at 2.45pm BST on Sky Sports F1 and at 3pm BST on BBC Sport Interactive Freeview 1 and 1 HD.
Live coverage of the second practice session for the 2013 Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix starts at 6.45pm BST on Sky Sports F1.
Real-time updates are available on the Live Timing section of the sport's official website.
Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve Preview
- Name: Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve
- Length: 4.361km
- No of Laps: 70
- Lap Record: 1:13.622 - R Barrichello (Ferrari; 2004)
- 2012 Pole Position: 1:13.784 - S Vettel (Red Bull)
- 2012 Winner: L Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes)
Flying Lap and Technical Preview
The most distinctive feature of the Canadian Grand Prix is undoubtedly the Wall of Champions. Don't be fooled though... it isn't quite as glorious as it sounds. Turns 13 and 14 constitute a very fast right-left chicane that leads you on to the start-finish straight. The chicane comes at the end of the longest straight on the circuit and cars reach speeds of 320km/h by the end of that section, meaning they must brake from seventh gear to 135km/h in third gear in a very short distance.
A significant portion of any discussion of the Canadian Grand Prix usually revolves around braking and tyre wear and it is easy to see why. Coming off the start-finish straight, for example, drivers need to find just the right line for the first two corners while scrubbing down from over 300km/h to just about 130km/h and then to 75km/h.
The racing line through the first corner is critical; if you're not perfect through that then the long right-hander that is the second corner will force the car to run wide and drop speed in the short burst up to the first chicane. A late apex for the second corner could be useful to help build up speed for the exit.
Turns three and four constitute a medium-speed right-left chicane. A good lap time demands that the driver ride the kerbs through the corner and, like the Wall of Champions, line and speed through the chicane must be perfect. The barriers are right up to the edge of the track in this section and even a small mistake could be costly.
As the car exits the chicane and builds speed, the track curves gently to the right. Gently clip the apex through the turn and then once again you need to brake hard, from upwards of 250km/h to 98km/h in second gear for a slow left-hander. As with the earlier chicane, a good lap time demands the driver clip the kerbs on the way in and out, to maximise straight line speed for the short straight to the eighth and ninth corners, which are taken in a similar manner to the earlier chicane.
Again, a good exit is critical to help build speed to Turn 10, the Epingle hairpin. This is one of the best places to overtake on the circuit and also, one of only a few places on the track with enough run-off area to avoid major accidents. Cars will brake from upwards of 300km/h to 50-60km/h in first gear. Expect drivers to try and keep a tight inside line through this turn, for it exits on to the last straight of the lap and heads to the Wall of Champions.
The entire circuit can be hard on brakes and tyres, meaning the reliability and predictability of Pirelli's rubber will be called into question again. Hamilton stopped twice en route to his win last season, on laps 17 and 50. However, given the rate of wear we've seen so far this season and the fact this circuit is one of the most demanding for tyres, we may likely see three stops as the rule this year.
The Italian company has confirmed they will offer P Zero White (medium) and P Zero Red (supersoft) for this race. They will also be testing prototype medium rubbers but these will be available on Friday only.
Given the location of the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, changing weather conditions are a real possibility... as is rain at some point in the weekend. And forecasts show there will be rainfall before the start of the first practice session on Friday (10am local time).
Temperatures will likely be very cold as well, with fog expected earlier in the morning. The mercury should rise to no more than 15C for most of the day, meaning that apart from tyre wear being a problem, drivers and teams must also struggle to get the rubbers up to operating temperatures.
The rear straight is open to wind blowing off the St Lawrence River and across the track and there could be a lot of that, with wind speeds of up to 28km/h expected on Friday.
The second practice session starts at 2pm local time and while there may not be rain, it will still be cold and cloudy, with sunshine at an absolute premium.