Debate: is F1 too fast for Montreal?

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Fernando Alonso, McLaren-Mercedes, Montreal, 2007, 470150

Last year F1 fans held their breath as Robert Kubica’s BMW ricocheted off the retaining wall at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve with sickening force.

Faced with the task of improving the safety provisions at that bend the organisers have decided the best thing they could do was to bring the wall closer to the track. Is this a sign that F1 has outgrown the Montreal circuit?

Accorsing to the track owners, moving the wall closer to the track reduces the chance of it being hit at as critical an angle as Kubica’s car did last year. The theory is if the car strikes the wall with only a glancing blow the energy will be dissipated more gradually, reducing risk to the driver.

However there’s little doubt that the ideal solution would be to have a run-off area there. But in the tight confines of the Isle Notre-Dame that simply isn’t possible. The Casino hairpin at the end of the straight where Kubica crashed has already been moved once to increase the run-off at the far end of the track.

There are plenty of other points around the circuit where barriers stand in places where tarmac run-off ight be preferable.

The circuit owners have also apparently lowered some of the more unforgiving kerbs this year, especially those at the chicane by the ‘Wall of Champions’. And a taller debris fence now stands at the site of Kubica’s crash to reduce the chance of a car clearing the wall and hitting traffic on the other side of the track.

I hope that Formula 1 can continue visiting the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve because it’s an excellent track that’s been on the F1 calendar for 30 years almost without interruption.

This year two new street circuits at Valencia and Singapore arrive on the F1 calendar. I wonder if this is a sign that, after years of Hermann Tilke building circuits with run-off so vast the spectactors can barely glimpse the cars, the F1 authorities have finally accepted that cars are always going to hit walls and the best thing to do is figure out how best to protect a driver in that eventuality?

Videos of Robert Kubica’s crash in last year’s Canadian Grand Prix

Have you been to the Canadian Grand Prix at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve? Share your experiences with other F1 fans.

35 comments on “Debate: is F1 too fast for Montreal?”

  1. I’d disagree, Keith. How can F1 be too fast for Montreal and not Monaco?

    There isn’t a lot of room at the part of the Canadian track where Kubica went off last year for a run-off area and if there isn’t a wall to stop a car then it will be out of control when it comes back onto the track (on the other side of the hairpin). F1 cars aren’t designed to be hit at odd angles, which is why Sato had to be airlifted to hospital after his Jordan was T-boned by Heidfield’s Sauber a few years back in Austria.

    A bigger issue at Canada has to be why the tarmac reacts in such a way that only the racing line is anywhere near grippy. Why, when a driver has to deviate from the best route, are they immediately in the wall?

  2. I’ve commented on this elsewhere, but last year, kubica’s car hit a section of barrier that was coming back towards the track, meaning that he hit it nearing head-on.

    I can only assume that when we hear about the barrier being brought closer to the track, they mean that the section immediately *before* the one kubica hit has been moved in line with the section he *did* hit, meaning that if a repeat occurred, it would be a glancing, side impact rather than an almost head-on one.

    I really wish there were some pictures for us to have a look at.

    I really don’t feel that F1 is too fast for montreal, and think that neutering the kerbs on the last turn is a bit of an over-reaction, not to mention the fact that I *liked* the risk of a driver making a mistake and going out of the race, a risk that big tarmac run-off areas are all but eliminating.

  3. I’m with you on the kerbs Kris. I’m all for safety, but F1 is supposed to be difficult.

  4. I disagree that Montreal is somehow no longer suited to F1. With respect to Robert and his driving ability, he made a mistake, messed up his overtaking move, lost control and crashed. The accident was spectacular, I know, I was in the grandstands to see it.

    Building in more runoff areas just makes for dumber drivers. They need to know that there are consequences when they make bad decisions on the race track. I’m not endorsing crashes like the one we saw in Montreal but acres of runoff is ridiculous. It takes the race away from the paying spectator AND it encourages bad driving.

    Montreal is a wonderful, natural track and requires a driver to respect it, much like Monaco and Melbourne. I don’t think F1 should move away from these venues because of a crash. Drivers need to adapt.

    The corner has been re-profiled to prevent a driver from getting airborne before hitting the wall. But again, drivers need to recognize and respect the track. Montreal is unforgiving but hey, it’s not a go-kart race out there – it’s a grand prix.

    These pilots need to be sensible when they make a move on the track. Kubica was taking a risk on a restart and he would agree, there was a good chance something could go wrong. He would admit he took a big chance and paid for it but I don’t he would argue for Montreal to be abandoned.

  5. Is F1 too fast for Montreal? No, no, no. Circuit Gilles Villeneuve provides an excellent challenge for the drivers. Yes, it is tight in places, and yes perhaps some of the safety areas aren’t as advanced as those found at Sakhir or Turkey. But motor sport is dangerous and accidents can happen at any track in the world. I think the issue of the tarmac is because the roads are not used when the race isn’t on. They just seem to be used by the occasional car, and mostly joggers and skaters. Add in the marbles from the running of F1 cars and I can see why the outside of corners are slippery.

  6. If Formula 1 has become too fast for Montreal, I don’t think we should drop the circuit from the calendar. Instead the Formula 1 cars should be slowed down.

  7. I’ve dug up a picture of the fence in question, but the picture shwows the moment of impact, so I’d advise against clicking on it if you’re of a nervous disposition.

    Image is here:

    As you can see, if they take the section of barrier immediately before the point of impact, and bring it into line with the point that he did hit, this should prevent a similar accident from happening again.

  8. Absolutely not

    Montreal is a fantastic track and when you think that it hasn’t changed in terms of runoff from the days of the turbos (when they had over 1000bhp) then i dont think F1 is too fast for Montreal. Just because a circuit doesn’t have alot of run off doesnt mean it isnt safe. Look at Nascar and all other oval racing series. The runoff at oval tracks consists of barriers…and thats it. Yet still cars race by them at over 200mph.

    I think a solution at fast tracks such as Montreal would be to have crash barriers that deform to the impact like they have in American series now, such as Indycar. It would lessen the energy of impact that drivers like Kubica experience when they crash head on. Runoff is important in F1, and im all for safety, but lack of run off doesnt mean its too unsafe. It just means that we have to find other ways to keep the drivers safe.

    F1 is meant to be difficult. we can’t just let the drivers make a mistake and get away with it. in many ways, run off allows for stupid mistakes to get away scot free!

  9. — “I wonder if this is a sign that, after years of Hermann Tilke building circuits with run-off so vast the spectactors can barely glimpse the cars, the F1 authorities have finally accepted that cars are always going to hit walls and the best thing to do is figure out how best to protect a driver in that eventuality?” —

    I hope this is the case. Formula 1 is supposed to be very difficult and street circuits leave no room for error. FIA should look into ways to protect the driver in the tighter confines.

  10. On the GP this weekend, showers (or thunderstorms depending on which report you see) are predicted this weekend at the circuit, so we may have another wet race.

  11. TommyBellingham
    5th June 2008, 18:10

    Montreal is one of the biggest challenges I agree that F1 should be difficult too much run off on certain circuits. Cough Cough Bahrain

  12. I don’t think that F1 has become too fast for Montreal and as others have said it is such a great circuit steeped in history that it shouldn’t be dropped from the calender either.

    I disagree with Pinguest who suggested that F1 cars should be slowed down (assuming that he/she means in general). The cars have been slowed down enough in recent times and part of the reason why Formula 1 is what it is, is because the cars are so fast. Also, as others have said, F1 is meant to be difficult and part of that difficulty is trying to control that powerful beast round a race track.

    I’m inclined to agree with Keith when he says that (as they’ve been doing anyway), the governing bodies should keep trying to improve driver protection.

  13. I don’t want Montreal to be dropped, but I’m gonna play Devil’s Advocate here and question wether we are being too eager to accept too big a risk. I mean, the cars today have less hp, but in many ways are more difficult to control than the 1000+hp of the turbos. They get to speed way faster, and corner faster, so I believe on that specific moment Kubica was faster than anyone ever before.
    The FIA has indeed slowed the cars, but much, much more on the straights than on the corners, so yes, maybe F1’s cornering speeds do have outgrown this circuit.
    Accidents are unpredictable, right? Let’s not forget that. Anything can happen, and as much as I want GP racing to be difficult, if Kubica had hit his head (literally) on the wall there, we might be today crying over what could have been. I think the question is: what risks are we willing to accept here?

  14. Rob, I don’t think Kubica messed up his overtaking, Trulli just happened to move into his part at that very moment he was about to make a pass. Just an accident, you cant really attribute it to either of them. And if “silly” Coulthard can give us even higher side impact head protect, why cant the wall be modified?

  15. I still remember what drew me to F1. All that techno driven drivel and the speed and the GODS who went at high speeds. F1 is not a sport for pansies. Do not get me wrong, ‘am all for safety, but i think trying to slow things down is actually dumbing F1 down. Well sort of. We see some stupid rule changes every-time someone felt this way(FIA), don’t we? :P

    Can’t make everyone happy i guess… but this is supposed to be a sport where we could tell the difference between a boy and man and then, a man and a superman.

  16. I love tracks like Montreal where you are actually punished for mistakes. I agree with what the did in bring in the way to better defect the energy of a off track wall (they could make it even better by adopting NASCAR’s SAFER wall technology (LINK: that absorbers a great deal of the energy from a crash.)

    I don’t agree with lowering the kerbs. That has nothing to do with safety in my opinion, especially at the wall of champions chicane. Kerbs are supposed to be the limit of the race track, not an extension.

  17. google maps appears to show the upgraded barriers leading up to the hairpin, if im interpreting the map correctly :)


  18. Yes, from the image, it looks like the main part of the wall has indeed been brought forward, or rather a new section has brought it forward. This would make it safer now. Those small walls stickout out look very daunting, though.

  19. It’s not that f1 is too fast for it, but you can always learn from the past and modify things like they did.
    The worst was the bump in that area.. sure it’s gone aswell.
    They should have a look at the ovals, wich use those safer barriers, that’s a good step forward!

  20. **head protection

  21. I agree with Cooperman’s original statement, if F1 are too fast for Canada, they are too fast for Monaco.

    There are already variations on tire barriers and variants of the so-called SAFER barrier under development that will likely see their debut at Valencia and Singapore, and I think I referenced such a barrier when Kovalainen crashed in Spain. If it is successful, it gives the possibility of bringing back places like Imola and Zolder, if the powers-that-be want it.

    I wish I could remember its name, or the designers that were working on it, but I saw the pictures of it three years ago… it looked like compressed plastic.

  22. Oh, Cooperman, the reason why a deviation from the racing line can cause a wreck (at any track) is because tires deteriorate and leave little bits along the sides of the racing line. They are pushed off the line by the air current of the cars leaving them, but collect on the sides of the line. If no natural force removes them, and a car runs them over, the car will not mechanically grip and the driver is at the mercy of the car’s momentum. This is what drivers call “the marbles”.

  23. I think this is a natural reaction to a very bad accident, but it would be an overreaction of epic quantity if Montreal was dropped from the championship.
    For me, Kubica’s crash highlighted everything F1 has done right in the years following Imola 1994. The car proved itself, the safety devices inside the car proved themselves (i.e the HANS device), and the driver emerged relatively unscathed.
    I appreciate the facts though. One close call does not mean that we can drop our guard, just because we have gone fourteen years without tragedy.
    My main concern about the section where Kubica crashed was that his car could have cleared the barrier, and gone into incoming traffic leaving the Casino hairpin.
    It would seem that, by reading your article Keith, that the track organisers at Montreal have heeded this lesson, and I have every faith in their abilities.
    There are plenty of sections, at plenty of circuits, where the potential for a serious accident abound. As you also mentioned, all one can do is lessen that possiblity, with good planning and forward thinking.

  24. @Kris 5 June 2008 at 4:39 pm

    Is that someone sitting in a deckchair in the background of that photo? Hardly a safe place for a spectator/marshall to be if it is, and highlights an immediate safety concern, albeit not one of the drivers.

    I don’t think that Montreal is dangerous, or at least any more so that any other track. Accidents can, and will, happen anywhere after all. Best just to minimise what risks you can because no matter how well you plan or prepare, something unexpected will always crop up. Groundhog, anyone?

    If Kubica is not worried about returning there, then I don’t think we should be.

  25. I raced (support) races at the 1980 and 1981 Canadien GP. That circuit is PERFECT all it needed was better toilet facilities !!!!!

  26. I’m not a fan of the big run-off areas. Anyone remember fuji last year when someone ran off the track in the last corner and made a pass? Can’t remember who that was. Barrichello? There should be a penalty for going off the track…like the sand traps of yesteryear. Or for example, Laguna Seca, where the cars get slowed down but don’t necessarily get stuck.

    If anyone’s interested, Indycar here in the states uses the SAFER barrier. You can read about it here:

  27. Jonesracing82
    6th June 2008, 8:21

    F1 has been going to Montreal for 30yrs as u say, and how many times has that very wall been hit?
    it was a freak accident and that wall wont b touched for a long time yet!
    lowering the kerbs is stupid as the drivers will now simply drive over them!

  28. “Is that someone sitting in a deckchair in the background of that photo?”

    Yes, that’s Scott Speed sitting in the deckchair. Just like the placement of the Toro Rosso in the shot, you would think that behind the wall, it would be perfectly safe. And it was in the end, but it was close. Goes to show what the freakish accident it was.

  29. Even if Montreal is dangerous, it offers what many new circuits lack. The tight confines between walls means we always have exciting races in Montreal, compared to say Sepand, maybe?

  30. What rubbish!

    Montreal is fab track, it always takes a bad accident to recommend improvements, Oz is similar with the number of walls there too..

    May I just add, it is one of the best places in the world to go to F1 race, Montreal closes a full street for a huge carnival experience F1 Style and its great!

    Super track, excellent facilities

    Keith – go there and see for yourself!

  31. KB – I’d love to mate but you guys are going to have to start clicking on a lot more adverts!

  32. Montreal never seems to produce a bad race. From what I can remember every single year I’ve watched it the race has been one of the best ones of the season

  33. > I’d disagree, Keith. How can F1 be too fast for Montreal and not Monaco?

    I think most people accept that F1 is too fast for Monaco.

    However I’d say it’s such a glamorous, historic, popular and commercially useful occasion that compromises are made for it that other races might not be able to command.

  34. lol Keith, am sure you have had plenty of clicks.

    When I went I did the USGP and Canadian double, was a fab experience, and the drivers were much more accessible than they are in Europe.

    I was relatively cheap, and the hotel in Montreal went all out for the fans, they had Grand Prix packs in the room which included the programme and other sponsors memorabilia, they certainly know how to welcome F1 fans to the city.

    I even shared a plane with the super Ross Brawn from Montreal – Chicago, and from Chicago – Indy, I was star struck…great memories!

  35. Let me quickly chime in that the wall Kubica hit has not been struck nearly as often as the one that reads “Bienvenue au Québec”. In fact, there’s something quite poetic about that wall…

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