Formula 1?s lost nations: Canada

The 2008 Canadian Grand Prix was the last for the time being

The 2008 Canadian Grand Prix was the last for the time being

Last world champion: Jacques Villeneuve, Williams, 1997
Last Grand Prix winner: Jacques Villeneuve, Nurburgring, 1997
Last Grand Prix starter: Jacques Villeneuve, BMW, Hockenheimring, 2006
Last Grand Prix: Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal, 2008

Canada is a new addition to the ‘lost nations’: Its Grand Prix has just been cancelled, and it had a former world champion until 2006. But will it ever be back?

Canada?s F1 history

Does any country have as fine a history of Formula 1 circuits as Canada? Undulating Mosport, picturesque Mont Tremblant, punishing Montreal ?ǣ each challenging and unusual, and all now sadly missing from F1.

Formula 1?s visits to Canada began in 1967. Most of the early races were held at Mosport, near Lake Ontario, but its crests and sweeps were last seen in 1977 after which growing safety concerns forced it off the calendar. It earned a place in F1 history for being the first venue where a safety car was used during a Grand Prix ?ǣ it proved a total shambles, and it two decades passed before the practice became commonplace.

Mosport?s replacement was a twisty circuit on a man-made island near Montreal. The first F1 visitors in 1978 derided its ??Mickey Mouse? layout. But as the configuration was tweaked (and other venues became increasingly bland) the Montreal circuit gained a reputation for punishing cars and drivers alike.

That first race was won by Gilles Villeneuve who assumed instant hero status in his home country. But even after Villeneuve?s untimely death in 1982 (whereupon the circuit was named after him) and despite no other Canadian drivers taking his place in the sport, the popularity of F1 in Canada endured. The race remained on the calendar every year, except in 1987, due to a row over sponsorship.

Ten years later Canada finally produced a world champion. Jacques Villeneuve, son of Gilles, arrived in F1 with the CART championship and an Indy 500 win under his belt, and came close to winning the world championship in his first season. He won the title in 1997, but he never emulated his father in winning his home Grand Prix. A switch to the ill-fated BAR project in 1999 was the ruining of Villeneuve?s career, which he failed to revive in later appearances for Renault and BMW.

He was unceremoniously dumped by BMW halfway through 2006 in favour of Robert Kubica. Bernie Ecclestone did much the same to the Canadian Grand Prix promoters at the end of 2008, claiming they hadn?t been paying their bills. That may have been the case, but F1 has deprived itself of another popular venue and passionate crowd at a time when most tracks are struggling to fill the grandstands at Grands Prix.

Canada?s F1 future

Robert Wickens is a man to watch in Formula Two this year. Wickens has driven for the Canadian A1 Grand Prix team and blown hot and cold on occasions: winning in fine style at Durban one day; causing a crash by driving against the flow of traffic the next.

But he has the all-important backing of Red Bull, and a strong showing in WSR this year could put him on the path to F1.

Canadian F1 driver biographies

Formula 1′s lost nations

Rob Wickens in the F3 Euro Series round at the Hockenheimring in 2008

Rob Wickens in the F3 Euro Series round at the Hockenheimring in 2008

Images (C) www.mclaren.com, Red Bull / GEPA

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24 comments on Formula 1?s lost nations: Canada

  1. I am still gutted that Montreal was so unceremoniously dumped from the calendar. It was one of the highlights of the season for me, along with Monaco, Spa & Melbourne. It was also the next GP I was planning on attending. Guess I’ll have to go to Laguna Seca & watch MotoGP instead.

  2. Steven Roy said on 3rd February 2009, 5:57

    Bernie simply doesn’t know how to do business in North America as he has demonstrated so often. I live in hope that CVC will realise this and fire him.

    Apart from its importance to the sponsors and the fact the fans like it it seems insane that a circuit that could have been designed to highlight KERS has been removed from the calendar the same year that KERS has been introduced. No joined up thinking in F1.

    Jacques Villeneuve should have been hassling Schumacher rather than wasting his talent at BAR. Some people will believe it was the car that made him successful at Williams but the guy was that good. His motivation was severely diluted by banging his head against the wall at BAR for so long and by the time he had a competitive team mate he was not the force he had been. I think he was trying to fulfil his father’s destiny as Gilles had inteneded setting up his own team but never had the chance. Whether he would have done so or not we will never know but I have my doubts. He was on his way to McLaren for 1983 and you have to think that had he settled in there he would have racked up wins and titles and forgotten about Team Villeneuve. Had he gone there you have to wonder what would have happened to Prost when he got fired by Renault at the end of 1983 but I digress.

    I hope F1 returns to Montreal in the very near future.

  3. I’m Canadian and I love Formula 1, so it goes without saying that 2009 just isn’t going to be the same for me. Every year I counted down the days until I could finally see and hear the lovely scream of F1 engines from the stands again, like a kid waiting for Christmas.

    I sincerely hope we can get the GP back, not just for my own selfish interests but for the good of F1. It’s a guaranteed sell out, with or without a Canadian driver. In 2008 the crowds in my stand cheered with half a dozen polish gents who stood and sang their national anthem as Kubica stood on top of the podium, and the year prior everyone celebrated Hamilton’s first career win. There are lots of F1 fanatics in Canada more than happy to cheer on anyone who can deliver a great show!

    Formula 1 needs to maintain its roots while expanding into new territory, not cut historic events from the calendar in an attempt to acquire new sponsors in growing economies. IMHO the follow countries should always host a grand prix, the only question should be which track hosts the race: Britain, Australia, Spain, Germany, Hungary, Belgium, Italy, France, Japan, Brazil, Canada, and USA. This will maintain the foundation of Formula 1, and I don’t know about you but I sure don’t mind if they want to add another 10 events on top of those! Less testing, more racing. Wouldn’t that be grand?

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