MONTREAL (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton could be in for another highly emotional and pivotal Canadian Grand Prix weekend as the Formula One world champion targets Michael Schumacher’s record of seven victories at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
With six wins and six poles, Hamilton’s love affair with Montreal has endured for more than a decade and shows no sign abating.
The Briton shed tears of joy after collecting his first career win in 2007 on the island circuit and there were more tears last year when he equalled childhood idol Ayrton Senna’s 65 career poles and was presented with a race worn helmet by the Brazilian great’s family.
That emotionally charged weekend was capped off by a sixth win in Canada.
Emotions are sure to be running high again this week as Hamilton and Mercedes set their sights set on equalling the mark of another Formula One giant, Schumacher.
The seven-times world champion, who holds the record of 91 Grand Prix wins, will be on the minds of many as the former Ferrari driver continues to suffer from severe head injuries sustained in skiing accident in the French Alps in 2013.
The return to Canada will also mark what many hope will be a return to action with the high speed Montreal circuit offering the possibility of more drama and racing than the Monaco Grand Prix procession led from start to finish by Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.
Certainly all the ingredients are in place for another thrilling Sunday afternoon as Hamilton, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Ricciardo bring their battle to Montreal.
With two wins each this season Hamilton (110), Vettel (96) and Ricciardo (72) sit one, two, three in the driver’s standings and also happen to be the only drivers to win in Canada over the last six years.
It marks only the third time in Formula One history that three teams have shared the first six races equally. The other occasions were 1987 and 1977.
However, Ricciardo will likely start the race with a grid penalty after winning in Monaco with a damaged power unit, Red Bull technical head Adrian Newey said this week.
The race will also see two other drivers chasing career milestones with Vettel looking to take his 50th career victory and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso (Canada winner in 2006) celebrating his 300th race entered.
“Montreal is a venue that almost always delivers an action-packed race,” said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff. “It’s a circuit where overtaking is relatively straightforward, speeds are high and the cars are pushed to their limits.
“In recent years, Mercedes has performed well in Montreal - and it’s one of Lewis’ most successful circuits, too.”
There is no denying that Hamilton, winner of five of the last eight in Montreal, has a level of comfort with the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve that he does not have with any other venue on the Formula One schedule.
In a career of highlights and firsts many have come in Montreal, including his first pole and win.
But others have also found the track to their liking including two of Hamilton’s biggest challengers.
Vettel stood top the podium in 2013 while Australian Ricciardo was the last driver to beat Hamilton to the finish coming home first in 2014.
Kimi Raikkonen’s name can also be added to the list of past winners giving Ferrari a potent one-two punch.
“After six races, we can see that we are in a stronger position in both championships than we were 12 months ago,” said Wolff. “But we also know that the battle is more fierce, with ourselves, Ferrari and Red Bull in the contention for race wins every weekend; there is not a moment to relax.
“It will be a close-fought weekend - as it has been at every race so far this year. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Editing by Christian Radnedge