Team McLaren Fan Blog: Canadian GP
2014 Canadian Grand Prix by Will & Bill McGuigan
My name is Will McGuigan (on Twitter @F1McG) and for the last 5 years, my father Bill and I have made an annual pilgrimage from Toronto to Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix.
Growing up I had always what I would call a ‘passing’ interest in Motorsport as we’d had the Toronto Indy for several years, and many Canadian drivers to cheer for in that series. Ultimately though, like most Canadian youngsters, my focus was predominantly on ice hockey. My Dad had always kept an eye on F1 since emigrating from Belfast 50 years ago, but really got back into it when Jacques Villeneuve made his move from Indy Cars. Once I came to the realization that my Maple Leafs were never going to give me a Stanley Cup, I too saw the light and became an F1 Fanatic.
It was the 2008 season which completely galvanized both of our focus on F1 and McLaren, culminating with Lewis’ heart-stopping Championship in Interlagos. When a new deal was sorted to bring the Canadian Grand Prix back in 2010 after a 1 year hiatus, our road trip plan immediately took shape.
As McLaren supporters, we’ve been extremely spoilt with the success and excitement experienced in Montreal such as Lewis and Jenson’s dominance in the 2010 edition. The 2011 Race with Jenson’s drive of a lifetime will probably never be eclipsed for drama, excitement and precipitation. We will never forget the look in both Jenson and his late, great, father John’s eyes after that race. Then in 2012 Lewis hunted down Vettel and gave us yet another surprise podium to celebrate. Last year, well ... all good things must come to an end I suppose.
We arrive in the late afternoon to our Hotel in ‘Old Montreal’ which is a great part of the City to stay in. Cobblestoned streets, restaurants and bars down every little alleyway, all within a very walkable few square kilometres. Several of the Teams stay down in this area as well so you’re almost certain to see some familiar faces from the grid out and about.
For the first night though we head up to Crescent Street which is always closed to traffic for nightly F1 street parties. It’s a good location to kick off the weekend and get a taste of the buzz that the entire City of Montreal has for the Grand Prix. It is the biggest weekend of the year for Hotels, Pubs and Restaurants so they do an excellent job rolling out the red carpet for race fans.
The Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve is a short subway ride from the Downtown, so if you have a good pair of shoes, you’re at the track and walking around the beautiful park and waterfront setting in no time. The best part of this otherwise pastoral setting, is that it has a narrow, dangerous, brake busting, engine destroying, 2.7 mile ribbon of highspeed straights, big kerbs and dicey chicanes that weaves it’s way through this park!
We’ve been sitting at the Pit Lane exit for a few years now and it gives you a great view from the starting grid, down through the ‘Virage Senna’ at Turns 1 & 2.
I’d been holding off judgement on the ‘noise’ of the new engines until hearing them in person. Yes, they are quieter. But the great thing about the circuit in Montreal is that you’re sitting right at the edge of the track, so it’s still quite a visceral experience. And after the race we saw on Sunday, the noise issue quickly left my mind. Kevin Magnussen was first out of the pits and put in many laps in all of the Free Practice Sessions as it was his first time to the track. He was quickly up to speed and millimetre perfect on a track that punishes even the slightest mistakes.
Jenson ran through a shorter version of laps and race simulation, because he obviously knows his way around this place. The McLaren’s looked very planted and stable going through the corners, but obviously the Silver Arrows dominated the top of the time sheets. That evening, we headed down into Old Montreal for a Q&A event with F1 Journalist Joe Saward which was a great way to cap off Day One with all the latest buzz from the Paddock, amongst several other well informed F1 Fans and a few cold pints.
Perfect blue skies and pleasant temperatures awaited race fans on Qualifying Day. After the Ferrari Challenge series boys (and their lovely V8’s) were finished, FP3 began. Kevin and Jenson pounded through the laps on both compounds, but with rising temperatures the rear tires were going off and their lap times plummeted. Surrounded by Force India, Sauber and Lotus was not going to be great for Qualifying! However the McLaren team figured it out quickly with Kevin narrowly missing out on Q3 by less than a tenth and Jenson doing his best in Q3 to move up. Still the Mercedes were over half a second up on their nearest competitors at the top, but Rosberg beat Hamilton to Pole? First Assumption proved wrong!
Another perfect day for racing greeted fans at the Circuit on Sunday. Probably not the torrents that Jenson was hoping for, but the stage was set. The Drivers head out for their parade lap on the back of some beautiful Austin Healey’s. My Father always brings the same Union Jack to wave and show his support to JB. Sure enough, he caught Jenson’s eye and got a big thumbs up from the man himself. The Grandstands are filled with knowledgeable and passionate fans in Montreal so that really lends to a collective sense of anticipation and excitement as the starting grid takes shape. Lights out and bam, Safety Car - this could get interesting. The race itself was tremendous. As expected the Silver Arrows took off, but Hamilton could not find a way around Rosberg - another assumption rubbished!
Both Jenson and Kevin made an early call to ditch the Option tire and took off for a long and smooth stint on the Prime. The McLaren’s pounded around putting up consistent lap times and started gaining places through the attrition of the race. This would prove helpful right up to the end. The battle at the front of the pack was very compelling. Finally, the bullet-proof Mercedes was pushed to its’ breaking point by our Canadian track! Lewis retires with brake failure and Nico’s sector times start falling back towards the field. Massa is flying and becomes the first car other than a Silver Arrow to lead a lap this season (albeit for 2).
The drive to the chequered flag were the most exciting of the season with a pack of cars finally hunting the Mercedes down all covered by less than 10 seconds. Perez on a 1 stopper and dying brakes. Ricciardo and Vettel with a renewed Red Bull underneath them and perennial fan favourite Massa, the quickest of all drivers in his Williams. And then, as the Canadian Grand Prix usual does, it reaches a fever pitch in the last laps. Ricciardo took Perez on the outside of Turn One. Later that lap he takes Rosberg’s lead into the final chicane. The crowd goes wild. And then the crash - right in front of us - to seal the maiden victory for Ricciardo.
Thankfully Massa and Perez were unhurt and the marshals were on scene instantly. And while all this was going on, that steely veteran Jenson had hunted down Hulkenberg AND Alonso in the penultimate lap to snatch 4th place? Kevin is the top rookie in the field, on the lead lap and in the points? Final assumptions literally smashed like Sergio and Felipe’s cars!
Wow. Even in the precision engineered world of Formula One, you never know what you’re going to get at the Canadian Grand Prix.
My Dad and I have always watched sports together. Hockey, Baseball, Rugby, Golf, the list goes on and on. But it is Formula One and Team McLaren that we discuss the most. We’re very fortunate that our home Grand Prix consistently delivers some of the most dramatic and exciting racing available anywhere. And now we have my 5 year old boy coming along who knows the entire starting grid, loves the cars and even knows what DRS is. Father/Son/Grandson - the tradition continues.
We Canadians are stereotypically Polite, Modest, Co-Operative, Funny, and Practical. You’ll find all of those attributes on the Streets of Montreal during a Grand Prix weekend so do come and visit us. However (and thankfully for F1) absolutely none of those attributes make it onto the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and the results speak for themselves!
Top 10 Things for an F1 Fan To Do In Montreal:
1. Experience All 3 Sectors Of The Track In The Support Races - Right At The Fences
2. Crescent Street Grand Prix Festival - Get a Patio Seat at Sir Winston Churchill’s Pub
3. Walk St. Paul Street in Old Montreal - Galleries, Pubs, Restaurants Galore
4. St. Laurent’s Grand Prix Street Fest - Get dressed up for this one!
5. Ferrari Street Party - Hotel Le St-James - Saturday Night
6. Journalist Joe Saward’s F1 Q&A - Friday Night - Pub St. Paul
7. Eat A Smoked Meat Sandwich at Schwartz’s Deli - Boulevard St. Laurent
8. Head up to the peak of Mont-Royal - Panoramic View of Entire City
9. Get onto the guest list for The Code 20 F1 After Party
10. One Word: Poutine