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Formula 1 returns to Montreal

A little more than two years after Roberta Kubica took the chequered flag in his breakthrough Canadian Grand Prix victory, Formula One is finally back on track at the quirky Gilles Villeneuve circuit.

"The return of Formula 1 to North America is a very positive move for the sport," McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh said. "I think everybody is tremendously looking forward to the Canadian Grand Prix."

A fixture on Isle Notre Dame from 1978-2008, the race was scrapped in 2009 after organisers failed to reach an agreement with F1 rights holder Bernie Ecclestone.

Late last year, the race was revived through to 2014 with over CDN$70 million in public money. The Canadian government and Montreal tourism bureau are providing CDN$24 million each, Quebec is giving CDN$19 million and the municipal government nearly CDN$5 million.

"The residents of Montreal really take this race to their hearts, and there's always a fantastic atmosphere throughout the race weekend," Whitmarsh said. "The circuit itself is fast and unforgiving - practically the perfect recipe for exciting, unpredictable and close racing."

The 4.361-kilometer road circuit sits on the slender landfill island hugging the southern bank of the St. Lawrence River, directly across from Montreal's historic waterfront and downtown skyline. With long straights and slow, sharp corners and chicanes, the track will test the cars' brakes, especially with heavy fuel loads early in the race.

"It's fantastic to be going back to Montreal after a year away," said reigning world champion Jenson Button, who has won races this year with McLaren after moving from Brawn GP. "I think everyone in Formula 1 loves the city, the people and the track, so it's very fitting that we're heading back."

In the 2008 race, Kubica sped to his lone Formula One victory, teaming up with Nick Heidfeld to give BMW Sauber a 1-2 finish.

"I like the characteristics of the track," said Kubica, now driving for Renault. "It's kind of a mix between a high- and low-speed track because there are big braking zones and some long straights, where top speed is important."

Two weeks ago in the Turkish Grand Prix, 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton led McLaren to a 1-2 finish after a costly run-in between Red Bull teammates Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel. Vettel touched Webber as he tried to pass for the lead, and he spun out of the race. Webber recovered to finish third behind Button.

"Looking back at the pace of the Turkish Grand Prix, which was run pretty much flat-out from start to finish, it's going to be interesting to see how Canada plays out," Button said. "It's an extremely fast circuit, but it isn't a place that tolerates even the slightest mistake because of the proximity of the concrete walls."

Webber, the winner last month in Spain and Monaco in consecutive weekends, leads the season standings with 93 points. Button is five points back, and third-place Hamilton trails Webber by nine points.

Hamilton won the 2007 race in Montreal for his first grand prix victory.

"Seems like such a long time ago, but I still have some absolutely fantastic memories of that weekend," Hamilton said. "The pole position, the crazy number of safety cars, the uncertainty in the final laps, and then, at last, crossing the line, which just a massive feeling of relief and amazement at the same time."


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