Since it was first held in 1967 the Canadian Grand Prix has become a much loved stop on the F1 calendar. With a track that tends to produce drama, an army of passionate fans and an oh-so-scenic setting the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve was much missed in 2009, and we’re all too happy to see its return this season. So, without further ado, here are Badger’s three to remember from this great race.
“I just kept saying to myself: ‘Ferrari is the best! Ferrari is the best! It doesn’t break. It never breaks!” (Gilles Villeneuve).
The first race held at the current home of the Canadian Grand Prix was in 1978 when, after spells at Mosport and Mount Tremblant, the event pitched up at the Île Notre-Dame circuit in Montreal. And there was hope of a home winner, with Quebec native Gilles Villeneuve now a full time Formula One driver for Ferrari. He headed to the season closer in Montreal seeking his first F1 victory. But surely that would be too perfect a story?
Jean-Pierre Jarrier was on pole, driving the title winning Lotus 79 in place of Ronnie Peterson, the Swede having lost his life a few weeks earlier. With Lotus having won over half the races that year the Frenchman entered race day as favourite.
Jarrier led away from the start and quickly built a comfortable advantage. Villeneuve meanwhile was putting in a very determined drive, and sent the crowd in to delirium as he passed Jody Scheckter’s Wolf-Ford for second place- but they were about to get an even bigger reason to cheer.
Because on lap 47 the all-conquering Jarrier was suddenly unlapped by two backmarkers. He was clearly in trouble, and soon retired in the pits. He had been by far the quickest man on the track, but Jarrier now surrendered his lead to the local hero.
With the home crowd willing him on Villeneuve went on to win by 13 seconds from Jody Scheckter and Carlos Reutemann in the second Ferrari. He had claimed his first F1 win, and he’d done it on home soil.
“To win a Grand Prix is something. But to win your first Grand Prix at home is completely unthinkable,” Villeneuve said afterwards. “I have to thank Mr Ferrari and all the team. It’s an enormous satisfaction. This is the happiest day of my life!”
There was to be no repeat victory in Canada- though he did finish on the podium in both 1979 and 1981- but Gilles had already done enough to win himself an adoration from Canadian motorsport fans that would last for the rest of his life and beyond.
He died in practice for the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder in 1982. When F1 arrived at Île Notre-Dame just over a month later the track had a new name: The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. In Canada and across the world Gilles will not be forgotten.
“On the last lap, the team came on the radio, saying ‘Push, push… Nigel is stopping’. It was a big surprise – a nice surprise!” (Nelson Piquet)
Nigel Mansell probably doesn’t look back on the 1991 Canadian Grand Prix with fond memories. Nelson Piquet on the other hand almost certainly does. We’re not looking to drag up any bad memories for all you Mansell fans out there, but when a driver breaks down so close to home it’s inevitable that it’ll be one to remember.
Mansell’s Teammate Ricardo Patrese had taken pole, but it was the Briton who led in to turn one and quickly began to pull away. By one-third distance the Williams cars had built a lead, but the first chink in their armour showed when Patrese began to slow. He was able to keep it going, but dropped behind Piquet’s Benetton and the Tyrrell of Stefano Modena as the race reached its closing stages.
Mansell meanwhile had been in total control, and led across the line to start the final lap. Then, just a few corners from home, as he waved to the crowd, Mansell’s car slowed dramatically. He’d lost power, and was grinding to a halt. He was passed by a somewhat shocked Piquet, who claimed the final- and perhaps the luckiest- win of his F1 career. Behind him Modena was a career-best second, whilst Patrese saved some face for Williams, albeit 40 seconds down in third.
Afterwards, Mansell was understandably gutted: “It is almost unbelievable. I went into the hairpin changed down from fifth to fourth, like I had done the previous 68 laps, and then it went to neutral and the engine cut almost simultaneously, like there was an electrical failure. It just stopped, it was as simple as that. When you are that far in front and have driven a fantastic race, like I think I did, there really is nothing to say except we’ll have to try again. Up to that point I had had no problems at all”.
Piquet and Mansell never got on, so the fact that Nelson inherited the win must have made it all the worse for Nigel- and, conversely, all the sweeter for the Brazilian. We definitely fancy some last lap lead changes this weekend, but we can do without a repeat of what happened to Nige – it’s just too cruel.
“Winning with Ferrari is special, something you cannot get with any other team.” (Jean Alesi)
When he burst on to the F1 scene in 1989 many people had Jean Alesi down as a future world champion. As it turned out he would only win one grand prix, and he did it in Canada 15 years ago. It was his 31st birthday, and one he will never forget.
Qualifying 5th Alesi’s road to victory was aided by some good luck. The Williams of David Coulthard departed on lap one, spinning in to the gravel; a collision between Mika Hakkinen (McLaren) and Johnny Herbert (Benetton) at the hairpin ruined their race; and the second Williams of Damon Hill dropped out on lap 51.
These might have been challengers, but Alesi had done the hard work too, and their retirements weren’t the root of his victory. He’d passed teammate Gerhard Berger early on and fought his way past the Williams of Hill on lap 16- the Frenchman deserved to be up there.
All this had left Jean in second, behind Michael Schumacher’s Benetton, though he was nowhere near he German’s pace. But, with 10 laps to go, Michael’s race ran in to trouble.
Suddenly slowing dramatically, the Benetton crawled in to the pits and didn’t emerge for another minute and a half, handing the leading to Alesi. Schumacher was now 8th, and despite a huge speed advantage had no hope of catching the Ferrari.
And so Alesi was able to bring it home for the victory. Montreal has a genuine love for the Ferrari team thanks to Gilles Villeneuve’s heroics for the Scuderia, and with Alesi being a Frenchman his victory in this predominately French-speaking part of Canada was naturally very well received. Fans flooded on to the track to celebrate the team’s first win in nearly a year.
The man himself was overjoyed too. He’d finally claimed victory after close to 100 grand prix, and after the race Alesi jubilantly threw his helmet in to the crowd. Six years later he finished 5th in Montreal, securing his and the struggling Prost team’s first points of the season. Once again the little Frenchman threw his helmet to the crowd. That 5th place meant almost as much as the win- Montreal had been good to him.