The Start Finish line at the circuit Gilles Villeneuve, photo by PH Stop

Local heroes in Montreal are French Canadian drivers Gilles Villeneuve and Jacques Villeneuve, though you might also hear fans talking about Uncle Jacques, or Jacques Villeneuve senior, Gilles’ brother and 1997 World champion Jacques’ uncle. Uncle Jacques tried and failed to qualify for Formula One races three times but had more luck in CART and Can-Am.


The circuit Gilles Villeneuve as well as being a semi-street circuit with small run offs and close walls is actually a high speed circuit, this and an abrasive track leads to high tyre degradation and a often unpredictable race: add to that the wall of champions and a few other spots where accidents are common and it is anyone’s race.


Both Lewis Hamilton in 2007 and Robert Kubica is 2008 won their first races here. In 2009 there was no Canadian Grand Prix and no grand Prix in North America; it wasn’t just the Canadians who weren’t happy though, fans who regularly attend the race and those who regularly watch it on TV love the circuit and were relived to see it back in 2010.


In 2010 the Canadian Grand Prix didn’t fail to deliver, with different drivers fighting for the lead including, Webber, Alonso, Vettel and Hamilton but places changed drastically as different drivers found themselves on tyres with significantly different levels of wear. Webber lost out while Hamilton came through to win from teammate Button.


It is Button’s victory in 2011 though that many now call the best Canadian Grand Prix of all time and many call the best grand prix of all time, it was certainly a classic.


Hamilton colliding with Button and retiring, Button changing his nose then fighting back, then getting a penalty and fighting back and then tangling with Alonso and getting a puncture that left him again at the back from which he fought back to pass Vettel on the final lap to take victory. In the middle of all that of course was a two-hour delay as the track became too wet and there were also a total of six safety cars making it the longest grand prix ever and the one with the most safety cars.



Early in the race in 2011 before Hamilton retired, photo by Lee & Chantelle McArthur

Looking further back at Canadian Grand Prix, they have been at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve – originally the Ile de Notre Dame circuit – since 1978, the 1991 Canadian Grand Prix and 1995 Canadian Grand Prix stand out. The 1991 race being where Mansell slowed on his final lap thinking victory was assured and stalled allowing Piquet to win. In 1995 we saw Jean Alesi’s one and only Formula One Victory.


If you ask a Canadian fan though it will be the 1978 Canadian Grand Prix that they would call the all time classic, won by Gilles Villeneuve in his first full season it was also his first race win and a great drive beating Jody Scheckter who came second.


The Track :

The surface of the track has to go through harsh Canadian winters, ideally they would resurface every year, generally they patch it up, often problems don’t rear their head until Friday practice where sometimes large sections break up. Even when the track doesn’t break up it is often quite abrasive.


So the Canadian Grand Prix is one that involves a lot of pit-stops traditionally and lost front wings are also common putting the number up further, the wall of champions however tends to knock cars out of the race more often.