Canadian Grand Mess

DEAN MCNULTY

, Last Updated: 7:30 AM ET

MONTREAL -- Racing impresario Normand Legault spent $5.5 million to give Circuit Gilles Villeneuve a facelift for the Formula One Canadian Grand Prix this year but all that got him yesterday was a chorus of complaints from the pampered princes of pavement.

Even pole-sitter and defending race champion Lewis Hamilton, who earlier in the week praised the Canadian circuit for giving him his first F-1 victory in 2007, dumped on the 4.361-kilometre permanent road course.

The 23-year-old Briton was still able to punch out a lap of one minute, 17.886 seconds to win the privilege of starting on the inside of the front row today. It was the track, though, that got all the attention afterward.

"The track surface isn't great so it will make it tricky (today)," Hamilton said.

The problem is that in several places on the circuit attempts at re-paving have resulted in the track breaking up -- Turn 10 was especially treacherous yesterday -- leaving debris on the racing line causing the cars to lose grip.

Robert Kubica, who briefly had the fastest qualifying effort of 1:18.498 in a BMW Sauber before settling for second behind Hamilton, feared today's race could be marred because of the dangerous track conditions.

"It has been a very difficult qualifying, with the track breaking down in a couple of corners," Kubica said. "It's easy to make a mistake, so you cannot carry much speed. It will be slippery and easy to make mistakes, so we have to watch out."

The most vocal of the critics, though, was defending world champion Kimi Raikkonen who lashed out, calling the track "a joke" after a finishing third in 1:18.735 in his Ferrari.

"I have a very good car all weekend, then suddenly because the weather heats up a little bit, the circuit didn't last very long," he said. "The problem is (re-paving), they redo it every year and every year it breaks down."

Raikkonen said he missed the hairpin Turn 10 because of so much debris on the track.

"Qualifying is quite a joke with the circuit," Raikkonen said. "The circuit breaks down and it is like you missed the corner because there is so much sand. I lost so much time in Turn 10, I couldn't turn around and went straight on and we had the car to win the pole."

The flying Finn predicted disaster today when 20 high-powered F-1 cars rocket around the 14-turn layout at speeds approaching 300 km/h.

"It will be a nightmare," Raikkonen said. "The track broke up after two laps (yesterday) so it will be interesting to see what happens (today)."

SIMILAR PROBLEMS

It is the same corner where the NASCAR Nationwide Series had similar problems last year, at one point forcing officials to stop the race to repair the damaged track.

Track workers were trying to fix the problem as late as an hour before qualifying yesterday but to no avail.

Toyota driver Jarno Trulli added his voice of concern that if the circuit can't be properly fixed, the racing today will be hazardous.

"Qualifying was exceptionally difficult because the track conditions were a disaster," he said. "The surface was breaking up and getting worse with every lap. I don't know what was going and I don't know how the race will go because the track surface is a huge concern."

Adding to the woes facing Legault and his Canadian Grand Prix team is that rain is in the forecast for today, making a bad situation worse.

Red Bull driver Mark Webber said such conditions will make the event more like a bumper car exhibition than a race.

"If we have greasy, changeable conditions (today), they'd better be sure they've fuelled the safety car up," he said.


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