For the second consecutive year, Sunday's Formula One Canadian Grand Prix will be all about the rubber that's hitting the road.
With Pirelli tires giving Formula One teams and drivers fits again this year, managing the temperamental rubber will certainly be the key to winning in Montreal, although the smooth track surface of the 4.631-kilometre Circuit Gilles Villeneuve means tire degradation likely won't be a drastic as it has been in other races this year.
But if history has anything to say about it, fans should take a good look at Lotus driver Kimi Räikkönen when trying to pick a favourite to take the win in the 70-lap race (Sunday, 1:55 p.m. ET on TSN).
With Räikkönen's car showing an uncanny ability to keep its tires fresher than the rest, he might pick up where Lotus left off last year in Montreal. Both the Lotuses easily completed the 2012 Canadian Grand Prix on one-stop strategies and more than kept pace with those stopping twice.
The biggest reason Lotus didn't leave Montreal with a win in 2012 was its poor qualifying pace last year, something that was its Achilles heel pretty much throughout all of last season.
Last year, Räikkönen started 12th and moved up to eighth by the finish line, while his teammate Romain Grosjean went from seventh on the grid to second at the checkered flag. The Frenchman put on a show in the second half of the race, moving from eighth to second in the final 35 laps and would have like scored his first career win had the race been 75 laps instead of 70.
The 2013 results show that Lotus continues to be one of the best in making the tires work and a poor grid spot shouldn't be an issue for Räikkönen this weekend, since the car has shown a huge improvement in qualifying compared to last season. In 2012, Räikkönen averaged ninth on the grid through the first six races before Montreal; this season, he has brought that down exactly by half, with an average starting position of 4.5 in the same six races.
With Räikkönen starting higher up the grid this season, the 2007 world champion's average finish going into Montreal has dropped from almost seventh to fourth. Heading to Canada, Räikkönen is second overall in points with 86, 21 behind leader and reigning three-time world champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull Racing. Ferrari's Fernando Alonso is third with 78 points. Drivers get 25 points for a win.
Vettel is always a threat whenever he gets into his car, but he has never found the magic in Montreal.
The German looked to be on his way to a win in 2011, but a mistake while leading on the final lap allowed McLaren's Jenson Button to slip past for the victory. While the Red Bull also has not been great on its tires, Montreal's configuration and a smooth track surface should help in that regard and make the Red Bulls more competitive.
Unfortunately for Grosjean, his chances of repeating on the podium this year suffered a huge blow two weeks ago when he rear-ended another car during the race at Monaco, which resulted in a 10-place grid penalty in Montreal.
Räikkönen's biggest rival in Montreal will likely be Alonso, who will be looking for his third win of the season. He'd also like to erase the memory of a disappointing Monaco Grand Prix two weeks ago where he finished seventh and fell a further 12 points back of Vettel.
Although Alonso took the 2012 championship battle to the last race of the year before losing to Vettel by a slim three points, the two-time world champion easily outdrove his car all year and took it to heights that it didn't deserve. For 2013, Ferrari has solved the rear downforce issues that dogged the car last year and has produced a package that not only shows impressive race pace, but also works the Pirelli tires well.
Pirelli originally planned to bring a new compound to Montreal for the race, but the sport's governing Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile ruled that it could not drastically change its offerings.
Instead, the drivers will test two sets of new construction tires during Friday practice to help Pirelli solve a problem it is having with the tread detaching, something that has happened on several occasions this year. The revised rubber with the new structures in Kevlar will be available in races beginning with the British Grand Prix in two weeks.
"The new tires have overcome the problem of delamination," Pirelli said in a release.
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