ATLAS F1   Volume 6, Issue 24 Email to Friend   Printable Version

Atlas F1   A Lap of Montreal

Fastest race lap: 1:19.379 (M.Schumacher, Ferrari, 1998);
Fastest Qualifying Lap: 1:18.095 (M.Schumacher, Ferrari, 1997)

The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve gives the impression of being permanent, but this circuit is constructed annually. Located in downtown Montreal, on the Ile Notre-Dame, on the St Lawrence River, it provides a hard challenge to both cars and drivers, with its mix of fast and slow corners and quick barrier lined straights. It is often a race of attrition where it is rare to see even half of the grid complete the distance.

Ile Notre-Dame hosted the 1967 World Fair and then in Canada's Olympic year was the location for the rowing basin. Since 1978 it has been the home of the Canadian Grand Prix and recently was re-named to commemorate the country's favourite racing driver, the late Gilles Villeneuve.

With two hairpins, and a wide variety of slow and fast corners, traction and good braking balance are required. Straight line speed is often sacrificed for greater downforce.

Montreal track map
If you want to read the driving instruction while looking at the map, Click here to open the map in a separate window

So, what's a fast lap like? Crossing the start finish line, the track kinks right slightly before turning sharp left. The drivers take this corner in 2nd before slowing down further for the 1st gear Pits Hairpin. Accelerating out of this tight right hander, the cars pass through a fast, twisty set of curves before slamming on the brakes once more for the 3rd gear left/right complex.

The track then has a short straight before the next corner, the drivers often using the opportunity for overtaking manoeuvres. This chicane is taken in 2nd gear and helps close the field up before the final hairpin. L'épingle - the hairpin - is the slowest point on the circuit but often causes the most excitement, opponents often driving side-by-side as they enter the final straight.

The longest straight on the circuit used to contain two flat out kinks but was interrupted by a temporary chicane for the 1994 and 1995 events. In 1996, the straight ran the entire length uninterrupted once more. The final corner before the start/finish line is another fast chicane that sees the drivers slide wide before beginning another fast lap of this tough, bumpy circuit.

A Lap of Circuit Gilles Villeneuve with Alex Wurz:

"A lap of the Montreal circuit starts on the short pit straight where we reach over 300 km/h in 5th gear before braking for the very difficult 1st and 2nd corners. The first is taken at just under 120 km/h in 2nd gear and leads straight into the even tighter second corner which is taken in around 80 km/h in 1st gear.

"Out of this corner you are always fighting for traction on the short 255 km/h straight which leads into the first of the proper chicanes, this is taken in 2nd gear with speed increasing from around 115 km/h to 130 km/h for the 2nd part. After this is the only fast corner on the circuit taken in 4th gear at just under 270 km/h. It's a difficult corner which should be just flat in Qualifying, it requires extreme car control and has no run-off area.

"On leaving this corner we have to brake for another chicane, the first part of which is taken in 2nd gear at just over 90 km/h, the right-hand part is taken in 3rd gear at about 130 km/h. I then accelerate to just over 300 km/h on the back straight before entering the very bumpy breaking area for the next chicane. This chicane is taken in 2nd gear all the way through with a minimum speed of around 110 km/h.

"Again I will reach nearly 300 km/h before braking for the hairpin which is the second 1st gear corner on the track taken at 60 km/h. The entry to this corner is a good place to overtake. The second main overtaking opportunity occurs at the end of the main straight, where we brake from 325 km/h to take the final chicane in 2nd gear at c130 km/h.

"This final corner is very difficult and has been the scene of many retirements due to cars hitting the wall."

Facts and Stats about Canada

  • Canada has a curious place in the history of Grand Prix racing. It has held Grands Prix for many years. It has produced Grand Prix drivers and even a Grand Prix car (or one that took part in a Grand Prix, anyway), but ask anyone to name a Canadian Grand Prix driver who doesn't have the name Villeneuve and you're likely to draw a blank.

    The Villeneuves, of course, have a memorable place in Grand Prix history. Gilles Villeneuve tackled 67 Grands Prix between 1977 and 1982, won six of them and scored 107 World Championship points. Son Jacques recently surpassed his father's total of races, reaching his 71st at Nurburgring, and has scored 185 points and won 11 races.

    But apart from those two, no other Canadian has scored a World Championship point. Most have done a handful of races - usually US or Canadian Grands Prix - and often in quite respectable machinery. Mike Fisher, for instance, did two races in the Lotus in which Jim Clark dominated the 1965 season. Bill Brack raced works Lotus and BRMs. George Eaton did 11 races with BRM, while Allen Berg, the most recent Canadian driver before Jacques Villeneuve, did a full season with Osella in 1986.

    Peter Ryan was the first Canadian Grand Prix driver and seemed very promising. He beat Stirling Moss in a Canadian Grand Prix sports car race in a Lotus 23, and after making his Formula One debut, went to Europe to get on the Grand Prix ladder by racing in Formula Junior. But, after beating Pete Arundell in one race, he sadly lost his life in a racing accident.

    Peter Broeker, the next Canadian, also came close to winning a World Championship point, but for a different reason. He entered a Canadian-built Stebro in the US Grand Prix of 1963, a Formula Junior car uprated with a 1500cc engine. The combination was 15 seconds off the pace, but soldiered on to finish seventh, one place away from a points-scoring finish. But he was 22 laps behind the leader.

  • The notoriety has continued with the races, particularly recently. After last year's Canadian Grand Prix, and the two before it, observers will be watching and waiting to see just how eventful things will be this year. For the last two years, there have been first corner accidents, one requiring a stoppage, the other a safety car interlude. The safety car appeared four times in last year's race, and actually took the chequered flag at the end of the race. And four World Champions all crashed at the same corner: Ricardo Zonta (World Sports Car champion), Damon Hill, Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve.

  • This will be the 32nd Canadian Grand Prix held, the 22nd on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, which is the third venue for the race. The first Canadian Grand Prix took place on the Mosport Park circuit near Toronto in Ontario in 1967, alternating with the Mont Tremblant track near Montreal for the first four years of its existence.

    It then remained at Mosport until 1977 when the track was considered too dangerous, and with interest growing in the career of Canada's own Gilles Villeneuve, the race was moved to a hastily prepared track on the Ile de Notre Dame, site of Expo '67 and the rowing basin used in the 1976 Olympics, on the St Lawrence River. Gilles Villeneuve won that first race on a track that would be named after him following his death in 1982. This is the 22nd Grand Prix on the circuit.

  • That victory of Gilles Villeneuve's was one of seven that have been won by Ferrari - including Jean Alesi's only Grand Prix win, in 1995, of course - but after Mika Hakkinen's victory last year, McLaren has now eased ahead to have won eight times in Canada. Williams has won six times.

  • Ferrari has had two 1-2 finishes in 1970 and 1985; Williams has had three: 1980, 1989 and 1996, while McLaren has had two - in 1968 and 1988. Williams has occupied the front row three times, and McLaren four, but Ferrari has never managed it.

  • Most successful drivers in Canada have been Nelson Piquet and Michael Schumacher who have each won three times. Piquet led from start to finish from pole position and took fastest lap in 1984, while Michael Schumacher did the same in 1994. Piquet scored Pirelli's last win driving for Benetton in 1991; it was also his own last win. And if you're looking for a manufacturer, then Benetton would seem a good bet. Since 1990, they've finished second six times, plus two wins and a third. In fact they've only once finished off the rostrum in that time.

  • Incidentally, Jackie Stewart scored Tyrrell's first ever pole position, in its very first race, in Canada in 1970. The 1973 race was Jackie's 99th and final Grand Prix. The 1980 Canadian Grand Prix, which was the penultimate race of the year because it used to feature later in the season, was the venue at which Alan Jones clinched his World Championship title.

  • The Canadian Grand Prix also has some dubious records. It was the first Grand Prix to be stopped, because of rain, in 1971 after 64 of the 80 laps. It was stopped again in 1980 because of a startline accident and again in 1981, because of rain, at the two hour mark. Another startline accident caused the race to be stopped the following year. Mike Thackwell was unable to take the restart in the 1980 race but even so, some people consider him still to be the youngest ever driver to have started a Grand Prix at 19 years and 182 days. These days Tackwell is a teacher in Guildford, England.

  • There have been a rash of stoppages recently, too. The race was stopped a lap early in 1995 due to spectators on the circuit. Olivier Panis's accident caused an early stoppage in 1997 and a first corner accident caused a stoppage in 1998. (Last year's first corner accident was controlled by the safety car). The 1973 race also has the dubious honour of being the first Grand Prix to be controlled by a safety car; and last year's race was the first to finish under the safety car after Heinz-Harald Frentzen's accident. That meant that the first seven - the only cars still on the same lap - were covered by 5.004s, surely a record - if a slightly dubious one!

    Related Links

    The official Canadian GP web site

    The Canadian GP FORIX page

    The Montreal circuit FORIX page

      Related Articles

    The 1999 Atlas F1 Canadian GP Review Issue

    The 1998 Atlas F1 Canadian GP Review Issue

    The 1997 Atlas F1 Canadian GP Review Issue

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