LONDON (Reuters) - The sevens are aligning for Lewis Hamilton in Canada with another of Michael Schumacher’s Formula One records in his sights as Mercedes aim for a seventh win in seven races this season.
Montreal has been a happy hunting ground for the five times world champion and Sunday could see the Briton equal Schumacher’s seven Canadian Grand Prix victories between 1994 and 2004.
Yet Hamilton, who leads Finnish team mate Valtteri Bottas by 17 points in the standings after four wins out of six, can take nothing for granted at a power-sensitive track named after Ferrari great Gilles Villeneuve.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel won from pole position in Canada last year and Mercedes have suggested the high-speed circuit could again favour Italian rivals whose season has yet to get into gear.
“We are beginning to see more clearly the strengths and weaknesses of our car. In the past six races, we were very strong in the corners but lost time on the straights,” said principal Toto Wolff.
“This will make Canada a huge challenge for us as the track characteristics could favour our opponents - there are many long straights, and fewer corners in which to make up lap time.”
Hamilton, who took the first Formula One win of his career at the circuit with McLaren in 2007, indicated after winning the previous race in Monaco that a Mercedes engine upgrade was expected.
While Mercedes have kept a lid on their plans, the timing would be right since the rules allow each driver three engines per season and Canada comes a third of the way through the 21-race championship.
Ferrari, Renault and Honda have already introduced their upgraded engines.
A main concern for the champions will be tyre management, with Hamilton struggling on the wrong choice in Monaco.
“We need to learn from Monaco... because this situation in Montreal, you lose the race,” Wolff told reporters at the time, cautioning also against too much confidence after such an unprecedented start to the campaign.
“We must never be carried away by saying we are just flying at the moment and it’s going to continue like this,” said the Austrian.
Ferrari were out of sorts in Monaco, despite Vettel finishing second for the team’s best result so far this season, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen posing the biggest threat to Hamilton but hit with a time penalty.
“It’s a fun track, at least you can overtake if needed and I always enjoy going there,” said Verstappen, who was third in Canada last year behind second-placed Bottas.
“I expect Ferrari to be more competitive in Canada, so for us it may be a bit more difficult, but as always we will try and maximise the result.”
Bottas, beaten into third in Monaco after a pitlane clash with Verstappen that cost him second place and Mercedes a sixth successive one-two, will be fired up to claw back points from Hamilton.
While rivals talked up Ferrari’s prospects, team boss Mattia Binotto has sounded less optimistic.
“We know we’re not competitive enough right now,” he said. “And for the time being we haven’t got any more changes coming on the car that will have a significant effect on the problems we have encountered since the start of the season.”
Away from the leaders, the Racing Point team (previously Force India) will be looking for a strong first home race under their Canadian ownership.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Sudipto Ganguly