Canadian GP preview: time to take the Bull by the horns

Right, so the Bahrain Grand Prix is definitely not going to happen. Well, that’s the latest on the situation, anyway. By the time we’ve finished writing this blog post, the race could well have been reinstated, the track redesigned, changed back again and the whole thing cancelled. Again.

Not quite sure what we’re blathering about? Before we focus on Canada and launch into our usual pre-race speculation, allow us to try to shed some light on what the hell has been going on.

Having agreed on Friday last week that the race should be rescheduled, the FIA pencilled Bahrain back on to the 2011 calendar for October 30 – the date originally set aside for the inaugural Indian Grand Prix. This meant shifting India to December 11, provisionally making 2011 the latest-finishing season since 1963.

In typically outspoken form, Mark Webber was the first to voice his doubts about Bahrain back on Saturday. “It’s obvious that the parties involved have struggled to reach a decision, but sadly I feel that they still haven’t made the right one,” pondered Marko on his official website. “Like it or not, F1 and sport in general isn’t above having a social responsibility and conscience.”

Still, as the news of the decision filtered through, it became clear that ‘social responsibility’ wasn’t necessarily the the key issue. On Tuesday, FOTA – the Formula One Teams Association – unanimously rejected the tentative rescheduling, explaining that its beef with stretching the season into December was that it would be ‘unbearable to our staff’, ignoring the issue of whether or not it would be morally sound to race in the country altogether. December is when the drivers and their teams like to chill out, after all, making the proposed move the equivalent of your boss shifting your Wednesday afternoon board meeting to 8pm on a Saturday night.

The same day, former motorsport boss Max Mosley chipped in with his disapproval, saying he’d be ‘astonished’ if the race went ahead, while Martin Brundle called the decision ‘a grave error’. Bernie Ecclestone then put the saga to rest yesterday, confirming that the sport’s rules forbid any calendar changes from being made without the approval of the participating teams.

“Hopefully we can return in the future, but of course it’s not on,” he told BBC Sport. “The schedule cannot be rescheduled without the agreement of the participants – they’re the facts.”

So anyway, that, in a proverbial nutshell, is pretty much the shape of things. Although they might change. Again. And so on to Canada.

Sebastian Vettel again, right? Actually, probably not. The Red Bulls have never run particularly well at the Gilles Villeneuve circuit, and aside from David Coulthard’s third place finish in 2007, it’s something of a bogey track for the team. McLaren, on the other hand, love the track’s high-speed corners – they finished first and second last year, while Lewis Hamilton also won back in 2007.

But then there’s a mildly resurgent Michael Schumacher. After a season’s best fifth place in qualifying last time out in Monaco, we’re tipping Schumi as a possible podium finisher at the race he’s already won a record seven times. After all, if he doesn’t get a move on soon, it’ll be a wonder if he even bothers returning to the grid in 2012.

And Ferrari? Not even Fernando Alonso – our somewhat optimistic tip for Monaco – believes the team have it in them. Asked about the possibility of race wins after Monaco he said: “I think at the moment it’s not possible.” And on the evidence of the season so far, you’d have to agree with him.

So, for our money it’s a straight fight between Red Bull and McLaren. While Lewis and Jenson have the form book on their side, Vettel and Webber have a stronger car than this time last year. Pole will certainly be harder for Vettel than it’s been so far this year, but if he can make it six from seven on Saturday, we can’t see anyone stopping him on Sunday.

Agree? Disagree? What about Bahrain – are the teams being a bunch of overpaid whingers, or are their greivances perfectly reasonable? While you summon up some bile, here’s our prediction for the top ten in qualifying:

1. Lewis Hamilton
2. Sebastian Vettel
3. Mark Webber
4. Jenson Button
5. Fernando Alonso
6. Nico Rosberg
7. Michael Schumacher
8. Felipe Massa
9. Nick Heidfeld
10. Vitaly Petrov

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