F1 Preview: 2016 Canadian Grand Prix

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With the first six races of the 2016 Formula 1 season being spread over a somewhat leisurely 11-week period, this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix marks the beginning of a relentless run leading up to the summer break.

Following the race in Montreal on Sunday, the F1 paddock will face a swift pack-up ahead of the jaunt over to Azerbaijan for the returning European Grand Prix in Baku, forming the first back-to-back of the season.

Six races in the next eight weeks will leave the drivers in need of the summer break that then follows, but as we saw in Monaco, just one grand prix can be enough for the momentum to swing.

Lewis Hamilton arrives at the site of his first F1 victory back in 2008 riding high after winning in Monaco two weeks ago and cutting the deficit to championship leader Nico Rosberg by almost half.

However, the two Mercedes drivers may have more than just each other to contend with in Montreal, with Red Bull enjoying a resurgence in recent weeks.

Here are our talking points, track stats and TV times ahead of this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix.

2016 Canadian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Can Lewis keep it going?

It may have taken six races for Hamilton to pick up his first win of the season and first victory over Rosberg since the 2015 US GP, but he could not have wished to do it in more emphatic fashion.

While Rosberg was made to look decidedly average, citing a lack of confidence in the car en route to a seventh-place finish, Hamilton excelled in the damp conditions Monaco offered to beat Daniel Ricciardo, who had been the fastest driver all weekend long.

Rosberg’s charge for the title in 2014 came apart after the Hungarian Grand Prix where the momentum swung dramatically in Hamilton’s favor. Could Monaco be where the tide turned in the 2016 race?

For Hamilton, Canada has been a very happy hunting ground over the years. He has won at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on four occasions, and rarely goes without being in the running for victory. The aim on Sunday will be to pick up where he left off in Monaco and whittle down Rosberg’s lead further.

Naturally, the challenge for Rosberg is to stop this from happening. We’re still yet to see a straight fight between them in dry conditions – and with rain on the horizon in Montreal, we may not for another week at least.

Ricciardo seeks redemption after Monaco blunder

Another driver whose first victory came in Canada is Daniel Ricciardo, who capitalized on a clash between Rosberg and Hamilton back in 2014 to score a popular win. Since then, he has won a further two races – but really, it should be four.

After a strategy error cost him the chance to win in Spain last month, Ricciardo stunned in Monaco by taking his first pole position, putting the newly-upgraded Renault power unit to very good use.

The race seemed to be Ricciardo’s to lose after forging a 13-second lead in the opening stages – only for Red Bull to lose it for him. A tire blunder in the pits left him a disgruntled second come the end of the race, knowing he should really have won the race.

The Red Bull RB12 is well-suited to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, and with the upgraded Renault power unit now fitted to both cars, the team will be hopeful of a big result on Sunday.

Max Verstappen will hope to at least match Ricciardo, but it is the Australian who will be leading Red Bull’s bid to mix it with the Mercedes boys and make up for his Monaco disappointment.

Groundhog day for Ferrari

The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is known for many things, but in particular: groundhogs, which are known to scamper across the track during the race and, as Anthony Davidson found out to his cost in 2007, occasionally get in the way of the cars.

It may be groundhog day for Ferrari once again this weekend. All season long, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen have spoken warmly of the SF16-H car, saying how it has the pace to battle at the front. And all season long, we’ve yet to see the Italian marque really take the fight to Mercedes.

With Red Bull on the rise, Ferrari risks becoming the third-fastest team once again. Another engine update has been promised for Canada, yet the previous incarnations have failed to offer the big step that had been hoped for.

So unless things change quickly this weekend, it could be another tough race for Ferrari.

Haas gets closer to home

This weekend’s race is set to be the first that Haas enjoys a sizeable amount of support at given the number of American fans that will be making the trip to Montreal.

Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez will be hope to make up for a difficult couple of races where the reality of racing in F1 has started to bite the American team.

Grosjean has ran well in Montreal before, finishing second in 2012 for Lotus, while Gutierrez’s long points drought desperately needs to end sooner rather than later.

Strangely enough, the Canadian Grand Prix is actually the closest race on the F1 calendar to Haas’ headquarters in Kannapolis, North Carolina.

By road, Google Maps estimates it would take 14 hours and 48 minutes to get from the team’s American base to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, compared to the 17 hours and 26 minutes it would take to drive to the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas.

The reaction to Rossi

This weekend’s race is the first since Manor reserve driver Alexander Rossi claimed his stunning victory in the Indy 500 for Andretti Herta Autosport, coming hours after the Monaco Grand Prix had finished.

With Le Mans also on the horizon, it is likely that a few drivers will be asked about possible options to try something different in the future, perhaps to emulate Rossi or Nico Hulkenberg, who won the 24-hour race with Porsche last year.

Rossi won’t be in Montreal due to his racing commitments in Texas at the Firestone 600, but you can bet his name will be on many lips in the F1 paddock.

Given the Rio Haryanto’s Manor funding is only enough to get him to Hungary, could the American add some F1 races to his calendar once the F1 season is done?

2016 Canadian Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
: 14
Lap Record: Rubens Barrichello 1:13.622 (2004)
Tire Compounds: Soft/Super-Soft/Ultra-Soft
2015 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2015 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:14.393
2015 Fastest Lap: Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 1:16.987
DRS Zones: Main Straight (T14 to T1); T12 to T13

2016 Canadian Grand Prix – TV Times

Free Practice 1: NBC Sports Live Extra 10am ET 6/10
Free Practice 2: NBCSN 2pm ET 6/10
Free Practice 3: NBC Sports Live Extra 10am ET 6/11
Qualifying: NBCSN 1pm ET 6/11
Race: NBC 1pm ET 6/12

Jenson Button joins NASCAR Garage 56 at Le Mans with Jimmie Johnson, Rockenfeller

Jenson Button NASCAR Le Mans
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The NASCAR Garage 56 entry in the 24 Hours of Le Mans will be driven by champions of three major-league series — Jenson Button, Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The lineup of the Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Next Gen Camaro was announced Saturday before the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

NASCAR’s Garage 56 project was announced in March 2022 as a joint effort by NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear. It marks the return of a NASCAR team to Le Mans for the first time in nearly 50 years with Hendrick fielding a Camaro ZL1 as the “Garage 56” entry in the 100th edition of the sports car classic.

It’s long been expected the car would include Johnson, the seven-time Cup Series champion who is returning to NASCAR’s premier series as a driver-owner in 2023. Rockenfeller, the 2013 DTM champion and 2010 Le Mans overall winner, has attended every NASCAR Garage 56 test since last year while racking up simulator testing hours.

The surprise was Button, the 2009 Formula One champion who has become a popular commentator. Rick Hendrick initially said wanted four-time Cup champion and current Hendrick Motorsports COO Jeff Gordon to drive the car, and Gordon had raced a sports car at Indianapolis last year to test his race shape.

GARAGE 56 ANSWERS, ANALYSISMore on the NASCAR-Hendrick entry for the 24 Hours of Le Mans

“Since the beginning of the Garage 56 project, it has been our goal to partner with the top racers in the world to represent us in Le Mans,” NASCAR chairman and CEO Jim France said in a release. “The lineup of Jimmie, ‘Rocky’ and Jenson is everything we could have dreamed of – three elite drivers who have won at the highest levels of motorsports worldwide. As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of NASCAR, we are honored to have these world-class champions help bring the sights and sounds of a NASCAR race car to fans in Le Mans, and across the world.”

Button had one of the most prolific careers in F1 history finishing with 15 wins and 50 podiums on top of his 2009 World Championship and is widely considered one of the top British drivers of all time.

“As a lifelong racing fan, I have always dreamed of racing certain cars, with and against certain drivers and competing in certain events,” Button said in a release. “In June, a number of those dreams will come true in one event when I get to bring NASCAR to the world stage alongside my pals Jimmie and ‘Rocky’ for the 100th anniversary of the most prestigious race in the world. I’m really looking forward to sharing this journey with NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and current and future NASCAR fans from around the world.”

Johnson will make his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut a year after starting his first Indy 500. He has 83 victories in the Cup Series, where he will return for the Daytona 500 next month with his Legacy Motor Club team.

He also has been involved with testing the Garage 56 Camaro.

“I’m super thrilled – it’s been at the top of my bucket list to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans someday,” Johnson said. “To have this opportunity come – and to partner with everybody and this driver lineup – is truly an incredible opportunity and one that I am thankful to be a part of.”

Rockenfeller teamed with Johnson on the No. 48 Ally Cadillac in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2021-22. The German driver has been the lead test driver for Garage 56 and has driven during every on-track test.

“It has been a great journey so far with the whole team and project,” Rockenfeller said. “To be involved as a driver from day one until now was already a great honor, and to now have Jimmie and Jenson alongside me as teammates in Le Mans is unbelievable.”

The car will continue testing with all three drivers next week at the Daytona International Speedway road course. Rolex 24 and four-time IMSA champion Jordan Taylor, who drives for Corvette Racing, will be the team’s backup driver and coach. Taylor also won the GTE Pro class in 2015 at Le Mans, where he has four podium finishes.

The project also is being supported by IMSA GTP team Action Express, whose general manager is former NASCAR executive and Daytona 500-winning crew chief Gary Nelson. Action Express built the first test car for the Garage 56 but since has handed off the project to Hendrick, where it’s being over seen by vice president of competition Chad Knaus (the crew chief for Johnson’s seven championships).

“Action Express got it going and built the mule car, and then Hendrick joined the program, took it from where we had it, and they’re doing a major percentage of the work,” Nelson told NBC Sports. “We just did a test a couple months ago on a wet track. We’ve done a couple of other tests as they were ramping their program up. Now their car is good, tested and running. We’re still involved and here to help. The Hendrick guys have taken the reins, and Rick Hendrick and Chad Knaus are a thrill to work with and doing a much better job. It’s more NASCAR than prototype racing.”