The Canadian Grand Prix is always an exciting proposition, as F1 fans we expect a great race. Why? Just remind yourself of some of the great races over the last few decades and it’s impossible to deny that the Canadian GP is more often than not a thriller. Laura Leslie takes us through from the 70s to present day.
11978 – Villeneuve Coats the Podium
This was the first Canadian Grand Prix to be held at the freshly constructed ‘Circuit Île Notre-Dame’ in Montreal. Prior to the race Mario Andretti courted controversy by suggesting the track was selected by FOCA in order to favour Canada’s home hero Gilles Villeneuve.
Andretti said: “[I am] critical of our own FOCA officials who were sent here to approve the track.”.
Despite Andretti’s comments, the title battle had already been decided in his favour leaving Montreal a dead rubber race. Andretti would go on to qualify in ninth place, before finishing the race in a lacklustre tenth place. Villeneuve bagged third place on the grid behind Jean-Pierre Jarier and Jody Scheckter.
The choice to host the race in October brought a wave of much colder weather than Formula One was normally accustomed to. The temperature was as low as 3C prior to the start.
Jarier led away comfortably on the first lap, Villeneuve slipped behind Alan Jones and would remain there with Scheckter for 18 laps. On lap 25 Villeneuve bullied his way past Scheckter for second place, the battle having a little bit more punch to it after the recent announcement that Scheckter was moving to Ferrari to be Villeneuve’s new team-mate.
Heartbreakingly for Jarier, who looked on course for his first victory, his Lotus ground to a halt late in the race handing the lead to crowd favourite Villenueve. It was a lead that Villeneuve would never relinquish and he claimed his maiden F1 win on home soil.
Rather amusingly Villeneuve would end up on the podium wearing a thick coat in order to battle off the plummeting temperature. His win however, left the crowds below feeling very warm indeed.
21991 – Mansell’s last lap disaster
Nigel Mansell lined-up for the 1991 Canadian Grand Prix with pressure building up on his shoulders. Title rival Ayrton Senna had won the first four rounds of the season, while Mansell had only recorded a solitary second place finish in Monaco. With 34 points to recover, Mansell could not afford any mistakes.
Mansell started the race well, jumping pole sitter Riccardo Patrese on the run down to turn one. Patrese had out-qualified Mansell in each of the previous five rounds. The day brightened even further for Mansell when Senna retired with alternator maladies. Patrese and Alain Prost would both retire from gearbox failure.
Mansell was never troubled thereafter and he began the final lap with what seemed like an unassailable lead. Shockingly Mansell began to trundle to a halt as he rounded the hairpin for the last time. People immediately began to suspect his gearbox, Mansell slumped dejectedly next to his stricken car.
Nelson Piquet breezed by the Williams to take the victory, but all eyes were still on the distraught Mansell. After the race, rumours spread that Mansell himself was the cause of his retirement after accidentally switching his car off while prematurely waving to the crowd. Mansell has always denied this, Williams backing their driver up by saying it was an electrical issue.
Mansell’s last lap loss made him the first driver in F1 history to lose a race on the final lap having led every lap beforehand. It is a feat yet to be repeated again since.
31995 – Happy Birthday Jean Alesi
The 1995 Canadian Grand Prix could hardly be called a thriller, however the result would be one of the most popular of the decade. Michael Schumacher entered the weekend in scintillating form and he stormed to pole ahead of Damon Hill.
Schumacher dominated the race in the opening laps pulling away from Hill and the Ferrari pair of Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi. Hill’s Williams team-mate David Coulthard threw his car into the gravel trap on lap two.
Alesi would move up the order as first Berger dropped back, Hill then retired with gearbox trouble. The popular Frenchman was celebrating his thirty-first birthday and would be hoping for similar trouble for leader Schumacher.
On lap 57 Alesi’s wishes came true as Schumacher began to slow towards the end of the lap. Benetton immediately called the championship leader into the pits and a 70 second pit stop left him out of the points. With just 10 laps to go Alesi found himself in the cat bird seat.
Alesi’s career had been littered with ifs, buts and maybes. On numerous his car had let him down while in a winning position and he had been burdened by many a lacklustre car. Despite this he was considered one of the best of his generation.
The crowd began to go wild as Alesi began lap 58. On many occasions he had come tantalising close to his maiden win, however fate had always denied him. Alesi crossed the line in tears and immediately fans began to spill out onto the circuit to celebrate with him.
On his final laps Alesi said: “Every time I braked I had tears hitting my visor, for about a lap I felt disoriented but then I said to myself: ‘now you have to get back to driving…’”.
The Ferrari ground to a halt just after the hairpin on the slowing down lap, out of fuel. This time fate had smiled on Alesi. Ironically it was Schumacher who gave Alesi a ride back to the pits. Sadly it would be Alesi’s only grand prix victory.
“I could not have wished for a better birthday present” Alesi spoke after the race.
Behind Alesi there were further milestones, for the Jordan team – they bagged their first ever double podium as a constructor and for Eddie Irvine who grabbed his first podium since his debut in 1993.
41999 – Say hello to the Wall of Champions
Like the entire 1999 season, the Canadian Grand Prix was utterly chaotic from start to finish. Michael Schumacher was on pole, Mika Hakkinen missing out by the narrowest of margins, the pair backed up by team-mates Eddie Irvine and David Coulthard in third and fourth.
Immediately the first lap brought an accident. Jarno Trulli mistimed his pass on Heinz-Harald Frentzen, this left Trulli spinning across turn one into the path of both Rubens Barrichello and Jean Alesi. Trulli and Alesi retired on the spot at the same place for the second year in a row.
A couple of laps later reigning world sportscar champion Ricardo Zonta, returning from injury earlier in the year, began a sequence of crashes at the same turn. Zonta scraped his BAR along the barrier at turn 14, the incident enough to rip the right rear corner off the car. The safety car was deployed for the first of what would turn out to be four periods.
1996 champion Damon Hill become the second victim into the turn 14 wall just a handful of laps later. Rather scandalously the third driver to hit the same wall was race leader and double world champion Michael Schumacher. In an uncharacteristically unforced error, Schumacher planted his Ferrari into the concrete after taking too much kerb at the preceding chicane.
Schumacher was clearly embarrassed by his crash saying: “I lost control of the car because I went off the racing line and got on the dirt and ended up in the wall. This was clearly my mistake. I usually make one mistake a year. I hope that this incident was the last for the season,”.
The final driver to come a cropper at turn 14 was 1997 champion Jacques Villeneuve. The home favourite suffered a nasty looking crash after he made the same mistake as Schumacher. Afterwards Villeneuve complained of pain in his foot but was declared fit for the next race in France.
The infamous wall would forever be known as the ‘Wall of Champions’.
The action didn’t end there though, with three laps remaining Frentzen suffered an almighty accident owed to brake failure. The race was immediately neutralised by the safety car while medics attended to an injured Frentzen. The German was later diagnosed with a small haemorrhage on his skull.
There was not time to get the race restarted and so for the first time in Formula One history a race ended under yellow flags. Hakkinen leading home Giancarlo Fisichella and Irvine.
52001 – Brothers in Arms
The 2001 Canadian Grand Prix was a battle of power. BMW had just returned to winning ways with Williams and were determined to show Ferrari up on a track they had dominated on since 1997.
The front-row was an all Schumacher lock-out, Michael’s Ferrari heading Ralf’s BMW-Williams by half a second. A battle royal between the two was set for Sunday.
Michael led the race from the start but he had Ralf breathing down his neck, the reigning world champion couldn’t relax for a single second. On lap 20 a Juan Pablo Montoya crash, with Rubens Barrichello seemingly spinning in sympathy when he approached the stricken BMW-Williams, brought out a safety car.
It didn’t seem to faze the top two as they continued their relentless pace until Michael pitted on lap 45. This was Ralf’s time to pounce. A series of stunning in-laps allowed Ralf to emerge from the pits ahead of his brother. He had played Michael at his own game and was now on course to win his second career grand prix.
Ralf would eventually cross the finish line a whopping 20 seconds ahead of Michael. It was the first time in Formula One history that two brothers had finished a race in first and second. Mika Hakkinen famously saying after the race: “Thank god there are not three of them!”.
62007 – Kubica Rolls With It
Just like in 1999, the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix would end with four safety cars, a winner in a McLaren Mercedes and a driver in hospital after suffering an almighty crash.
Lewis Hamilton came into Canada in a bullish mood and also in the world championship lead. He had yet to finish off the podium, an unbelievable feat for a rookie. A maiden pole position only increased his confidence this this race would see him rise to the top step for the first time in Formula One.
In contrast, team-mate Fernando Alonso was all over the place mentally during the weekend. The reigning world champion qualified four tenths away from Hamilton. Alonso made a schoolboy error into the second turn by apparently trying to win the race there and then, instead he fluffed it across the grass and down the order.
Hamilton was unchallenged from then on. His only obstacle being the repeated appearance of the safety car and the interruption to his rhythm.
About a third of the way into the race Robert Kubica suffered a horrific looking crash in his BMW-Sauber. After striking the right rear tyre of Jarno Trulli’s Toyota, Kubica’s car rocketed into the barrier heading towards the hairpin. The impact shattered the BMW-Sauber and sent Kubica tumbling back across the track, how everyone avoided him is a miracle.
Eventually Kubica’s car came to a halt on it’s side, his feet clearly visible through the front of the chassis. Unbelievably Kubica escaped the crash with a sprained ankle and concussion. This was enough to put him out of the following race in the US.
A reporter asked Kubica a few weeks later if he had watched a replay of his crash to which Kubica amusing replied: “Yeah, I have seen it also live when I was there. (Laughter) But also Scott has good position to look at it there!”
Remarkably Kubica would return to Montreal the following year and follow in Hamilton’s footsteps by taking his maiden grand prix win.
72011 – Last Lap Victory
The longest race in Formula One history. The 2011 Canadian Grand Prix lasted a total of four hours and four minutes, it would have an average speed of just 46.5mph and its winner was in last place entering lap 40.
The safety car led the field away off the grid. A handful of laps later it returned to the pits, with pole sitter Sebastian Vettel immediately building up a lead over Fernando Alonso.
Rule number one of motorsport is ‘don’t crash into your team-mate’, something that clearly skipped the minds of McLaren pairing Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. The two collided coming down the main straight, Hamilton coming off far worse and heading into instant retirement.
A second safety car prompted Button to switch to intermediate tyres. Unfortunately for Button he sped under the safety car and was given a drive through penalty. He dropped to last.
On lap 20 a third safety car was called after a torrential rainstorm battered the circuit making driving impossible. It would take two hours for the storm to clear and the race to resume. After another switch to intermediate tyres, Button found himself battling with Alonso for ninth place.
Button mistimed a pass inside Alonso and left the Spaniard’s Ferrari beached on the outside kerb. The collision would result in puncture and another trip to the pits for Button. He rejoined in twenty-first place, seemingly out of contention.
Surprisingly Button immediately began to carve his way back through the field and by lap 44 he was back in fourteenth. Twelve laps later he was fourth and gaining on Mark Webber, Michael Schumacher and race leader Vettel at a vast rate of knots.
A bizarre clash between Nick Heidfeld and Kamui Kobayashi left the former in the barrier and the race under another safety car period. This helped Button enormously and by lap 65 he was right on the gearbox of Webber. A quick cut of the final chicane by Webber handed Button third on a silver platter, just a few corners later he also passed Schumacher for second and set off after Vettel.
As the leading pair crossed the line to begin the final tour, just 0.9secs separated them and Button remained relentless with his pressure on Vettel. The Brit refused to give up and as Vettel entered turn six he slid wide, remarkably handing the lead of the race to Button.
Button brought his McLaren-Mercedes home to the impossible win and put his name in the history books forever.