The Canadian Grand Prix has been a popular fixture on the Formula One calendar since the first race was held there in 1967, missing only three years since then.  Its current home is the street circuit on a man-made island in the St. Lawrence River in the city of Montreal, originally called the Circuit Île Notre-Dame, it was renamed the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve following the death of the eponymous Canadian driver in 1982.  Before moving there in 1978 the Canadian GP was held at two other venues, Mosport Park in Ontario, and Circuit Mont-Tremblant in Quebec.

The race began life in 1961, initially as a sports car event and it was held at Mosport Park (the name is a contraction of motor sport, and so is pronounced Mo-sport, rather than Mos-port, for those unfamiliar with the name).  The circuit, which is still used for other motorsport disciplines, has a series of flowing curves and changes in elevation and is a challenging circuit for drivers.  It was also quite a dangerous circuit: serious crashes in the practice sessions for the 1977 race, involving Ian Ashley’s Hesketh hitting a television tower after jumping the barriers and Jochen Mass’ McLaren almost flattening a crash barrier, were the final straw and safety concerns were part of the reason for the move to the current Montreal circuit.

The first F1 championship race in 1967 there, was won by Jack Brabham in his own car, with his teammate Denny Hulme taking second, starting a bit of a trend for 1-2 finishes in Canadian Grands Prix.

The following year’s race was held at the Circuit Mont-Tremblant in Quebec, and the intention was to alternate the event between the two circuits, quite possibly in recognition of Canada’s Franco-British heritage.  The circuit had similar changes in elevation to the Mosport Park circuit, but had more corners and tighter bends.  The 1968 race was led from the start by New Zealander Chris Amon and it looked as though he would win it easily, until his legendary bad luck intervened and a problem with the transmission of his Ferrari caused his retirement from the lead, with just seventeen out of ninety laps remaining.  His two fellow Kiwis, Denny Hulme and Bruce McLaren finished 1-2 for the McLaren team, which meant that, thanks to Amon’s retirement, the opportunity of a New Zealand sweep of all three podium places was sadly missed.

The race returned to Mosport Park in 1969, where Jackie Stewart and Jacky Ickx were battling for the lead, until the thirty third lap, when the two of them were lapping the 48 year old Canadian Al Pease in his privately entered Eagle-Climax for the fourth time.  As they passed Pease, Stewart and Ickx collided – the Brabham of Ickx was able to continue the race and went on to win it, while Stewart’s Matra was unable to continue.  Stewart complained about Pease to team boss Ken Tyrell, who complained to the organisers.  Despite Pease being a home driver, they took the decision to black flag him and Pease became the only driver in F1 history to have been disqualified for being too slow.

In 1970 the race was back at Mont Tremblant, where Jacky Ickx won the race again, with his new Swiss team mate at Ferrari, Clay Regazzoni, completing a 1-2 for the Scuderia.  This was to be the last F1 race at this circuit.  Safety concerns, particularly over the surface damage caused to the track by the extreme winter weather at this mountainous location, were compounded by a dispute with the local racing authorities before the next scheduled race in 1972.  As a result the Canadian GP was held only at Mosport Park from 1971 through to 1977.

Mosport Park 1971 – credit: Cahier Archive

The 1971 race was strongly affected by the weather.  The start of the race was delayed, after a fatal accident in one of the support races, and by the time it started there was heavy rain, which ultimately lead to the race being red flagged after 64 laps.  This was the first ever F1 championship race to be stopped in this way, leaving Jackie Stewart as the race winner for Tyrell.  Stewart went on to win again in Canada in 1972, in the race rescheduled from Mont Tremblant to Mosport Park, now upgraded to increase the level of safety at the circuit.

1973 was again a wet race and it also saw the first use of a safety car in F1, which unfortunately made an error in not picking up the leaders.  This allowed three cars to gain almost a full lap on the rest of the pack.  Emerson Fittipaldi managed to gain enough ground in his Lotus on those drivers to gain second place, but Peter Revson managed to hold on to the advantage his McLaren had gained from the safety car to take the win.  Fittipaldi, now driving for McLaren, went on to win the Canadian GP the following year, on the way to his second drivers’ championship, after Ferrari’s Niki Lauda had crashed from the lead.

There was no Canadian Grand Prix in the 1975 season, but when the race returned in 1976 it was won by McLaren’s James Hunt.  He had arrived in Canada to discover that Ferrari’s protest against his use of a spare car in that year’s British Grand Prix had been upheld by the FIA and he had been disqualified from that race and so consequently suffered the loss of nine championship points.  This gave Hunt the incentive he needed and after his usual poor start, Hunt gained the lead on lap ten and held onto it for the rest of the race.  Lauda finished out of the points in eighth place, and the season moved closer to its famous rain soaked conclusion in Japan.

The Canadian Grand Prix the following year, was the last F1 race held at Mosport, before the move to Montreal.  The event was marred by the accidents and incidents in practice already mentioned, which caused the end of Ian Ashley’s career.  The race was eventually won by South African Jody Scheckter for Wolf, after James Hunt, who had been competing for the lead with Mario Andretti, was forced to retire after colliding with his McLaren teammate, Jochen Mass, and Andretti himself retired three laps from the end with engine failure.  However, despite all this, the race is also notable for the Ferrari debut of a young driver, who had driven one race earlier in that season for McLaren – the French-Canadian driver Gilles Villeneuve, who would go on to win the race the following year in its new venue in Montreal which would eventually be named after him.

Gilles Villeneuve, Canadian Grand Prix 1979 - credit: Cahier Archive
Gilles Villeneuve, Canadian Grand Prix 1979 – credit: Cahier Archive