Formula 1

Montreal the way: Five facts about the Canadian Grand Prix

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MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 05: Daniil Kvyat of Russia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing drives during practice for the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 5, 2015 in Montreal, Canada. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images) - Credit: Red Bull Content Pool

The Canadian Grand Prix has now been part of the Formula One calendar since 1967, when it originally took place in Mosport, Ontario. Two further venues have played host to the North American race, with the current track in Montreal having staged the event since its inception in 1978. Prior to that, Mosport held the event eight times and Mont-Tremblant in Quebec was the location twice.

The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is a high-speed, low downforce track, with cars reaching speeds in excess of 300kph. With its high kerbs and close walls, we are usually served up a highly entertaining race.

To get you in the mood for the Canadian Grand Prix this weekend, here are five interesting facts for you to digest:

  • The Mercurial Gilles Villeneuve

Gilles Villeneuve is the only Canadian driver to have won his home race, which he achieved only once back in 1978 during his first season with Ferrari, but it was the scene of his debut victory.

The French-Canadian won only six races during in his illustrious career, but his heroic driving style would have you believe it was and should have been many more. Villeneuve is often named as one of the fastest and naturally gifted drivers the F1 world has ever seen, on account of the fact that he rarely drove the best car on the grid, but was still able to wrestle them into positions no one else could. He was an enigma who, had he lived longer, would no doubt have gone on to win countless titles.

The Montreal track was originally called the Île Notre-Dame Circuit after the island on which it is based, but following his tragic death during qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix in 1982, the track was re-named in Villeneuve’s honour.

His son Jacques Villeneuve, became Canada’s only F1 world champion, when he took the drivers’ championship in 1997. His best finish in the Canadian Grand Prix was second, during his debut season the year before.

  • Jean Alesi finally victorious

Jean Alesi‘s sole victory in F1, was achieved at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in 1995. The Frenchman was driving the number 27 Ferrari at the time, the same number that Gilles Villeneuve drove with, and it was an emotional result for all.

From his 202 races, it was a travesty that Alesi was only able to secure one grand prix victory. One of the unluckiest drivers in F1, plagued by technical issues and bad luck since joining the Scuderia Ferrari team in 1991, he was a natural talent who wore his heart on his sleeve, and was sublime to watch in the wet.

  • Schumacher reigns supreme on the streets of Montreal

Michael Schumacher is by far the most successful driver at the Canadian Grand Prix, taking seven victories, and making it to the podium on 12 occasions, with Lewis Hamilton having the next best record with four wins.

One of the more memorable of those victories was in 1998, when despite a ten second stop-go penalty for running Heinz-Harald Frentzen off the road that dropped the German down to third place, Schumacher clawed his way back to the front. Having first of all over taken Damon Hill, he then chased down Giancarlo Fisichella, before the final bout of pit stops allowed Schumacher to come out ahead and win the race.

In the following seven years the German would claim a further five victories in Montreal, all during his dominant spell with Ferrari, at a track he had mastered like no other could, and has still not been beaten on wins there to this day.

  • What’s in a name?

The final corner of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is ironically named as the “Wall of Champions” after a number of former Drivers’ Championship winners were caught out by the concrete that graces the outside of this fabled section of the track.

In 1999, Damon Hill, Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve all succumbed to its magnetism in the same race, along with Ricardo Zonta and Schumacher’s brother Ralf in qualifying. It has claimed many more unlucky drivers in the years before and afterwards, including Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel, and is undoubtedly one of F1’s most notorious race wreckers!

  • McLaren monopolise in Montreal

The McLaren F1 team is the most successful team in Canada having taken 13 victories there, the first coming during the 1968 season in Mont-Tremblant with Denny Hulme at the wheel, and the last with Lewis Hamilton in 2012.

The most dramatic victory however was a win for Jenson Button in 2011, during the longest ever F1 race in history at four hours and four minutes, having been prolonged due to persistent rain. On a drying track the Brit, who was twice relegated to the back of the grid and pitted five times as well as once to see out a time penalty received for speeding under the safety car, took the lead on the final lap, after pressuring Sebastian Vettel, then driving for Red Bull Racing, into a mistake. It was one of the bet comebacks in history, and one of Button’s finest moments.

Any such miracle has been a struggle for the McLaren F1 team of late, but could their fortunes be about to change, as they introduce a new turbocharger at this weekend’s race?

Going into the 2016 Canadian Grand Prix, the tides are starting to turn at the head of the championship, following Lewis Hamilton’s first victory of the season in Monaco, which has reduced the gap to team-mate and current leader Nico Rosberg to just 24 points. Can the Brit carry that form into Canada and knock the German’s confidence with a win this weekend?

Scuderia Ferrari were again off the pace at the last race in Monaco, but will chassis and PU upgrades installed for Canada see them make gains?

Red Bull Racing were victorious in Spain, and would almost certainly have taken the win in Monte-Carlo last time out, had it not been for their pit stop blunder with driver Daniel Ricciardo – but can they worry the Mercedes AMG PETRONAS squad with their pace and performance once again?

Many teams are hoping for a return to form in Montreal, and that with coupled with the unpredictable weather in Canadian climbs should make for an interesting race!

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