This weekend is the 30th anniversary of F1’s first world championship race at Montreal. F1 Fanatic guest writer Journeyer takes us through the history of the race at the track we now call the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve – starting with the last Canadian Grand Prix not held at the track.
The Canadian Grand Prix has always been a rough and tumble race, testing the endurance of both driver and car. And many a time it has gotten the better of both, sometimes with shocking consequences.
Here’s a look back at the history of the race that will be the only North American round this year.
This was the last race held at Mosport Park, after it had previously been held at Mont-Tremblant. It was the Wolf team’s last Grand Prix win with Jody Scheckter – Walter Wolf having bought the outfit from Frank Williams. Curiously, Wolf began its decline as the new Williams team began its ascendancy.
Also, Niki Lauda quit from Ferrari on the Friday before the race. Ironically, two years later he left Brabham on the Friday before the 1979 Canadian Grand Prix. In 1977 it was Canadian Gilles Villeneuve who made his first appearance for Ferrari as Lauda’s replacement.
One year later Villeneuve won the first race in Montreal, the capital of his home province of Quebec. The race was held on the Iles Notre Dame, which hosted Expo 76. Note in this video the stunning speed of Jean-Pierre Jarier, who replaced Ronnie Petersen at Lotus, the Swede having been killed in the Italian Grand Prix.
A black year for Canada in F1. First, Villeneuve was killed at Zolder during qualifying. And at the Canadian Grand Prix, at the circuit now named after Villeneuve, another driver lost his life.
Ricardo Paletti died after slamming into the back of Didier Pironi’s stalled Ferrari. It was as if Pironi had a curse following him since his famous argument with Villeneuve at Imola, and he was later seriously injured in practice for the German Grand Prix, ending his F1 career.
Some people may find this video disturbing. Discretion is advised.
Nigel Mansell should have been en route to his first Grand Prix win of the season. But while slowing down on the last lap to wave to his fans, his car stalled. That left him sixth. Instead, it was left to Nelson Piquet to get what would prove to be his last Grand Prix win.
The closest Ferrari ever got to a driver with the emotional appeal of Villeneuve since his death was with the mercurial Jean Alesi.
Given his talent, many were surprised he took six years to win a Grand Prix. But thanks to an equal dose of speed and luck, he snatched the first (and only) win of his career from Michael Schumacher. The two Jordan drivers joined him on the podium.
The Prost team was still doing well in the early part of the year, picking up where the previous incarnation Ligier had left off. That came to an abrupt end when lead driver Olivier Panis crashed heavily into the barriers, breaking both of his legs. Although he managed to return to F1, both he and the Prost team were never the same again and fell into a slow decline.
This race was wall-to-wall action. At the first start, Jordan’s Ralf Schumacher stalled. In the ensuing chaos, Benetton’s Alex Wurz crashed in spectacular fashion after trying to overtake the Sauber of Jean Alesi, taking out Jarno Trulli’s Prost as well.
That caused the race to be restarted. At the second start, the younger Schumacher spun off and in the ensuing chaos, Trulli got pushed sideways and went over the top of Alesi.
As for the race, Michael Schumacher proved to have the quickest car in the Ferrari, but lost time due to a penalty he got after forcing Frentzen’s Williams onto the grass. Nonetheless, he managed to pass all the cars ahead of him, including early leader Giancarlo Fisichella in the Benetton, to win.
More Canadian Grand Prix history: 1978 Canadian Grand Prix flashback
The second part of Journeyer’s history of the Canadian Grand Prix at Montreal will be available here tomorrow. If you want to write a guest article for F1 Fanatic you can find all the information you need here.