Race Facts – Canadian Grand Prix

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Learn about the history of the Canadian Grand Prix at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. The 2019 Canadian Grand Prix is on 6-9 June. 

Formula 1 has a rich tradition in Canada stretching back to 1967, when the country first hosted a round of the World Championship. For the first ten years, the race was held at Mosport Park in Ontario (8 races) and Circuit Mont-Tremblant (2 races), before safety concerns saw the event move in 1978 to its current home on a man-made island in the St Lawrence river in Montreal. Originally called the Île Notre-Dame Circuit after the island on which it is located, the track was renamed in 1982 after the tragic death of home-grown hero Gilles Villenueve, who won the inaugural 1978 race at the circuit in a Ferrari.

The island on which the circuit is located also hosted the World Expo in 1967 – the most distinctive reminder of which is the Biosphere dome, now an environmental museum.  Île Notre-Dame was also the scene for rowing and canoeing events at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Both Île Notre-Dame and neighboring St Helen’s Island are part of Parc Jean Drapeau, a recreational space which is popular year-round with locals.

Since its debut in 1978, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve has only been absent twice from the F1 calendar, most recently in 2009 when contractual issues saw the event lose its place to Abu Dhabi. In March 2017, the organizers signed a new contract with the Formula 1 Group that will see the race remain on the calendar until at least 2029. 

Canadian Grand Prix: Did You Know?

  • Michael Schumacher holds the record for the greatest number of wins at Circuit Gilles Villenueve. He won seven times between 1994-2004. Lewis Hamilton is not far behind now with six wins, including the last three races.
  • Riccardo Paletti, in only his second F1 race, was killed at the start of the 1982 race when he crashed into the Ferrari of pole-sitter Didier Peroni, who had stalled when the race got underway. Paletti’s death came only five weeks after Gilles Villeneuve had perished during qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix and was the last death during an F1 race until Ayrton Senna at Imola in 1994.
  • Jacques Villeneuve, Canada’s only Formula 1 World Champion (1997), never won the Canadian Formula 1 Grand Prix at the circuit named after his father. His best result was 2nd on debut in 1996.
  • The 2001 Canadian Grand Prix was unique in that it was the first time two brothers finished 1st and 2nd in an F1 race. Ralf Schumacher won and Michael followed him home.
  • Robert Kubica’s victory here in 2008 was the first, and so far only, ever F1 victory by a Polish driver.
  • German drivers have more podium finishes than drivers from any other nation at this circuit (24). Strangely though, Sebastian Vettel’s third place finish in 2014 is the only time a German has finished on the final step of the podium here.
  • Alan Jones, Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton are the only drivers who’ve taken back-to-back wins at this circuit. It’s a list which Sebastian Vettel could join in 2019.
  • Pole position has been decided by less than a tenth of a second at four of the last six Canadian Grands Prix.
  • Just one champion has been crowned at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve since 1978. That was Alan Jones, who took the title here in 1980 when the Canadian Grand Prix was held toward the end of the season.

The Wall of Champions

The last corner at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve (turn 13) is a tricky chicane which leads on to the start-finish straight. It has become known as the Wall of Champions due to the number of F1 greats it has caught out over the years. The list of drivers to have had accidents at turn 13 includes Michael Schumacher, Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve, Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel. In March 2017, it was announced that the wall would undergo modifications ahead of the next race, as it was deemed too dangerous for the new design of F1 cars.

Montreal’s Memorable Moments

  • 1991: Mansell out of fuel: Nigel Mansell qualified in second place for the 1991 Canadian Grand Prix, and soon made light work of easing by his team-mate for the lead at the start; a position which he’d remain in for the majority of the afternoon. Such was Mansell’s confidence, he began the final lap of the race by waving to the fans. And then, suddenly, his Williams began to slow. Just half a lap from victory, Mansell’s car ran out of fuel and ground to a halt at the hairpin. Nelson Piquet, who was 57 seconds behind Mansell before his stoppage, flew past and took the win. It was the Brazilian’s final win of his career.
  • 1995: Alesi’s only win: Jean Alesi got the best birthday present possible in 1995 as he took his first and only F1 win at the Canadian Grand Prix. The Frenchman started from fifth in his Ferrari, and overtook all in front, aside from Michael Schumacher. Then, on lap 57, Schumacher was forced to pit with electrical issues, allowing Alesi to slide by into the lead. Alesi stayed there until the end, and emerged as the popular winner of the race. His Ferrari came to a halt on the lap back to the pits, as he was out of fuel. Schumacher collected Alesi and the Ferrari driver completed a triumphant return to the pits on the side of Schumacher’s Benetton.
  • 2007: Hamilton’s first win: The 2007 Canadian Grand Prix was one of chaos, as the Safety Car was called out four times over the course of the race. Most seriously, Robert Kubica crashed his BMW Sauber heavily at the hairpin, and was lucky to emerge largely unhurt. In the end, just twelve drivers reached the end of the race, including Takuma Sato, who pulled off an unlikely overtake in his Super Aguri on Fernando Alonso. Throughout it all, Lewis Hamilton kept his cool to take his first F1 win on only his sixth attempt. Kubica would make up for his crash the following season, by taking victory at the track.
  • 2011: Button’s unlikely victory: The 2011 Canadian Grand Prix, plagued by Safety Car stints and red flag periods, is the longest Formula 1 race on record, lasting over 4 hours; and the race winner wasn’t decided until the very last minute. Heavy rain made for tricky conditions, and there was plenty of drama. Jenson Button collided with Lewis Hamilton on the main straight, putting the latter out of the race. Button then received a drive-through penalty for speeding behind the Safety Car. When the red flag was shown due to the conditions, the McLaren driver was LAST on the road. Undeterred, the Brit valiantly fought back but a botched overtake on Fernando Alonso saw him pick up a puncture and he dropped to the back of the field once again. Nothing could stop Button in the conditions which played to his strengths and, by the start of the final lap, the McLaren driver was right on the tail of Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull. Feeling the pressure, Vettel went too wide into turn 6, allowing Button past to take one of the most remarkable victories in F1.
  • 2014: Ricciardo’s first win: The 2014 Canadian Grand Prix was the first of the hybrid era which Mercedes failed to win. Both of their cars ran into the same difficulties, Lewis Hamilton taking the more immediate ailments and being forced to retire with brake failure. Nico Rosberg continued, albeit slowly, as a queue of traffic began to form behind him. Daniel Ricciardo was able to move past Felipe Massa, Sergio Perez and team-mate Sebastian Vettel to hunt down Rosberg’s Mercedes. Soon enough, Ricciardo made the move on Rosberg to lead the race. A collision on the penultimate lap between Perez and Massa brought out the Safety Car, leaving Ricciardo to lead the drivers over the line for the final time, and scoring his first F1 victory.

Canadian Grand Prix Facts

Circuit NameCircuit Gilles Villeneuve
First race1978
Track Length4.361km (14 turns)
Race Distance70 laps (305.27 km)
Lap Record1:13.622, Rubens Barichello, (Ferrari, 2004)
2018 Result1st Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 1:28:31.377
2nd Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +7.376s
3rd Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +8.36s
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About the Author ()

Andrew Balfour is the Founder and Editor of F1Destinations.com. He originally hails from Adelaide, where he went to his first F1 race way back in 1987. He's been resident in Europe for almost 15 years and travels regularly to F1 races around the world.

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