Canadian Grand Prix

One of the most unpredictable events on the Formula 1 calendar is the Canadian Grand Prix. Races on the Montreal track are always incredibly exciting and usually full of surprises. Predicting the winner is impossible most of the time because often the favourites here encounter mishaps during the race, with surprise podium finishes always on offer.

The Canadian Grand Prix runs on a 4.361 km circuit reaching a total of 70 laps (305.27 km).

It was the most-watched Formula One GP in the world in 2005 and it was also the third most-watched sporting event worldwide, behind the first place Super Bowl XXXIX and the UEFA Champions League Final.

Preceding the qualifying session in 2014, the Grand Prix organizers announced they had agreed to a 10-year extension to keep the Canadian Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve through 2024. However, because of COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 event was postponed indefinitely in Canada.

How did the Canadian Grand Prix Start?

The early Canadian Grand Prix was one of the premier events of the new Canadian Sports Car Championship, a series which had been created alongside the Canadian Grand Prix at Mosport Park near Toronto in 1961. Still in its original layout configuration, Mosport Park was a spectacular and challenging circuit which had many ups and downs; the circuit was popular with drivers. Several international sports car as well as Formula One drivers participated in the event. For the first five years, the event would be won by drivers with either prior Formula One experience, or would enter the championship after winning the Canadian Grand Prix. In 1966 the Canadian-American Challenge Cup ran the event, with American Mark Donohue winning. Formula One took over the following year (1967), although the CSCC and Can-Am series continued to compete at Mosport in their own events. After 1971, safety concerns led to the Grand Prix moving permanently to Mosport.

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In 1978, the Canadian Grand Prix moved to its current home at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on Notre Dame Island in Montreal after similar safety concerns with Mosport.

Where is the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve located?

The race circuit is on Notre Dame Island, a man-made island in the St. Lawrence River most of which was originally built up for the Expo in 1967. Saint Helen’s Island to the northwest was artificially enlarged for the Expo ’67 fairgrounds and a prominent remnant of the fair, the Biosphere can be regularly seen during television coverage of racing events. Almost half of the track – from the hairpin turn until after the pit area – runs alongside the Olympic Basin, a huge rectangular basin which was created for the rowing and canoeing events of Montréal’s 1976 Summer Olympics.

Over the winter of 2018-19 the paddock was torn down and completely rebuilt before the Grand Prix. The old paddock had been in use since 1988.

What does the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve look like?

The circuit stretches at 4.361 km with 14 turns. Barriers run close to the circuit and many experienced drivers have been caught out by them. A particularly famous part of the circuit is the wall on the outside of the exit of the final chicane before the start/finish straight. In 1999 the wall, which bears the name Bienvenue au Québec (“Welcome to Quebec”) giving it the nickname “Mur du Québec” (Quebec Wall), ended the race of three Formula One World Champions, Damon Hill, Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve along with FIA GT champion Ricardo Zonta. Since then the wall has been nicknamed “The Wall of Champions”. In recent years 2009 world champion Jenson Button (2005) and four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel (2011, during free practice) have also fallen victim to the wall.

For the first few years of its existence, the track consisted of technical, medium speed chicanes and a relatively low overall lap speed. However, over the years the circuit has transformed into a power track, with straight line speed being very much a priority.

Were there changes in the circuit?

Renovations and development have always been a part of making the circuit an exciting venue for the Formula One races. The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve did not become stagnant at all. It has undergone several changes since its first race considering the safety of the drivers.

Between 1986 and 1988 (with a one-year gap occurring in 1987 due to a cancellation over a legal dispute between Labatt and Molson), the pit lane and start-finish straight were relocated from the hairpin to the exit of the fast right-left chicane, which became the final corner.

After the fatal crashes of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna at Imola earlier in the year, in 1994 a chicane was inserted between the Casino corner and the hairpin to decrease top speed.

Both the chicane and the Casino corner removed and the layout changed in the 1996 race; the run from the hairpin at the bottom of the circuit was turned into a straight.

In 2002 the exit of the pit lane was changed to make exiting the pit lane safer for drivers. This also shortened the total length of the circuit.

Changes were also made in 2005. The curbs on the final chicane were controversial amongst drivers in the run-up to the Grand Prix. The curbs were made higher and more difficult for the drivers to see, making it even more challenging.

In 2017, Tecpro barriers were installed and replaced the older tire barriers due to the higher cornering speeds of the new Formula One cars and the new safety requirements imposed by the FIA. With the 2017 technical regulations, experts predicted the F1 cars to be quicker by three to five seconds a lap in June at Montréal. The 2017’s F1 event also saw a change to the exit of the last chicane (the Wall of Champions) with its angle modified, because the FIA found it was dangerous.

What are the most exciting parts of the Gilles Villeneuve circuit?

Senna ‘S’ turns

The very challenging turns one and two of the circuit has become known as the Senna ‘S’. From a bird’s eye view, turns one and two together can represent an ‘S’ shape. But because the pit-exit was redesigned merging into turn two, the ‘S’ shape is not so evident on first glance.

The Turn 8, which is the Droit du Casino corner, is after the bridge underpass and is known as a ‘quick kink’ before Turn 9 and the rush to a passing zone at the Hairpin curve.

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The Hairpin Curve

Turn 10 at Île Notre-Dame is probably the best example of a 180° hairpin turn design with full wheel lock during F1 competition. The various lines taken entering the hairpin curve can predict overtaking on the apex, or exit during race competition. Braking too late can see racecars offline into the runoff area, and many spinning in front of packed grandstands. Many overtakes can be seen at this location due to engine differences and drivers’ race craft.

Wall of Champions

Entering turns 12 & 13 drivers encounter one of the best passing zones completing the long straight after the hairpin. Many duels have been seen exiting turn 12 with some race cars deciding to cut corner 13 into the run-off, with many going a bit ‘too hot’ apexing Turn 13 and not exiting intact. Turn 14 is dubbed the “Wall of Champions” after three former Drivers’ World Champions found the outside wall in the 1999 race. In Formula 1 races, a car damaged after gracing the Wall of Champions brings out a Safety Car or VSC. The exit barrier was previously poignantly marked with advertising by Tourisme Québec during the F1 event.

How to go to the Canadian Grand Prix?

Montreal is a contemporary metropolitan with a strong and proficient public transport system – it’s also a great going around for sight-seeing purposes. It’s best to take the metro to get to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve if you’re staying downtown.

  • Airplane to Montreal

Montreal-Trudeau (airport code: YUL) is a very hectic hub that offers regular and charter domestic, trans border (U.S.) and international flights and is located 20 km from downtown Montreal. Getting to and from YUL Airport has normally been very convenient with options including taxis, car rentals, shuttles, limousines, buses and hotel shuttles available. There are over 20 hotel and motel accommodations within a four-mile proximity if you wish to stay near the airport.

Domestic flights: Daily available flights between Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal offer a great deal of discounts for domestic routes within Canada. Airlines worth considering include Rouge (Air Canada’s discount carrier), Air Transat and WestJet.

Flights from the USA: there are hundreds of available flights from major hubs in the USA to Montreal. You may opt to take direct flights with Air Canada, US Airways, American Airlines, Delta, United Airlines, Air Transat and WestJet.

Flights from Europe: Affordable flights to Montreal can be served in New York, Chicago or Toronto. Direct flights usually take about 7-9 hours.

Other long-haul flights: Coming from Australia in June, air fares range around $1500-2500 AUD. With at least 1-2 stopovers, all flights take more than 24 hours to Montreal. Few travels from Asia and Middle East to North America have the longest direct flights taking about 15 hours on average.

  • Taking the Adirondack Train from New York to Montreal

Adirondack daily services are known to have to most attractive train journeys. Reserved seat tickets on this train cost around $150 USD return on Grand Prix weekend. From New York’s Penn Station, headlong connections are accessible to Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, DC.

  • Montreal Airport to the City

Airport Taxis: It’s a walk in the park to find a taxi once you’ve cleared out of the airport. Drivers can speak English and French and fares to the city center are regulated set at a maximum of $41 CAD. It is customary, though not compulsory, to tip taxi drivers.

Uber: apply for a service and wait around Door 6 at the Departures area.

Airport Bus: Public shuttle buses are available 24/7. 1-2 bus stops regularly happen at Lionel Groulx Metro station and Rene Levesque Boulevard West, running around the Montreal metropolitan area. Prepare about $10 CAD for a one-way ticket.

Rental Cars: it has never been easier applying for the best deals available at Rentalcars.com.

  • Getting to Circuit Gilles Villeneuve

Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is located on Île Notre-Dame in central Montreal. From airport terminals, you can reach the downtown in less than 20 minutes. Public transports such as shuttle buses, taxis and limousines are strongly advice since they service all major downtown hotels from the airport.  On Grand Prix weekends, it will be difficult to secure a parking space due to lack of spaces in the downtown areas near the circuit. It’s best to buy your tickets in advance for your return trip to avoid long queues and other possible inconveniences. We suggest buying the special 3-day transit pass for $19 CAD.

It can be pretty crowded on the weekend but at least there’s less risk of getting lost on the way to the circuit. Most people will be heading to the track so be ready for a 15 to 30-minute walk from the Jean Drapeau metro station, the closest one near the Biosphere accessible by the bridge.

If you want to get a lot closer to the Main Grandstand, you may want to take the 167 bus from the metro station to the casino.

In addition, there is also a less crowded and speedy trip by ferry that costs about $4.25 CAD from the old port to Isle Ste. Helene, the island right next to the circuit where the metro is also located. However though, they only run once every hour.

Where is the best place to watch the Canadian Grand Prix?

The Canadian GP in Montreal ensure a watching experience that offers great satisfaction. However, not everything is perfect. Just like every circuit in all F1 races, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve has some downsides. We’re talking about the cheaper grandstands and the general admission. These places lack elevation advantage compared to prime grandstands. Surely, Instagram people would be annoyed by catch fence alongside the asphalt track.

That being said, there are still a lot of great views to be had. There are choices for the budget-conscious that offer a glimpse of F1 cars passing by, as well as some mid-prices grandstands with excellent views.

Most grandstands at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve have metal bleachers as seats which can be really uncomfortable during extreme weathers, so we advise you to bring something that would make you comfortable – maybe a cushion or any insulator material to sit on.

  • Grandstands 11 and 12: Senna Curve

These two grandstands are just some of the prime grandstands to watch the Grand Prix in Montreal – choosing the right spots. Scene of incidents and the anticipation of 20 F1 cars battling against each other into this bottleneck on the opening lap is often witnessed here.

The fans will surely love this best section of the track. They’ve got the best view of the pit lane and starting grid and this gives an experience of being at the heart of the race. Most importantly, this section is elevated and the catch fence that surround will not be a big issue for the spectators.

This is the furthermost point from the Jean-Drapeau metro station and this is just a little disadvantage for people who does not want to take long walks. Featuring the circuit’s elongated structure, that is quite a distance (about 3.5km) and certainly something that you should be considering if you have mobility issues.

Spectators in these two grandstands can actually choose which blocks their allocated seat will be in. Small price difference in the cost represents different advantages in viewing the race. Prime sections of each grandstand, in fact, are closely alike to each other compared to the other half of the same grandstand.

The first 3 sections of Grandstand 11 feature views all the way from the ‘Wall of Champions’ and the final corner to the exit of the Senna curve. This viewing point also covers the starting grid, turn 1 and the exit of the pit lane. These spots has greater advantage compared to its neighboring Grandstand 12 as the prime grandstand at the Canadian Grand Prix.

Sadly, for fans in remaining blocks (4 to 7), trees are obstructing their view but they will still get a good view of the Senna Curve though turn 1’s view is obstructed.

Sections 5, 6 and 7 of Grandstand 12offers a very similar view to Grandstand 11: sections 1, 2, and 3 (just like what is described above). It doesn’t give the fans a direct view, so if you’re seated there, you’ll probably need to make adjustments turning your body to face the main straight to make yourself comfortable. The giant screen for this grandstand is located to the far right. Because of the way the grandstand in orientated, though distant, it’s also possible to see as far as turn 3 from this position.

Price range:

Grandstand 11 (Section 1,2,3)                  USD 368 (3 days)

Grandstand 11 (Section 4,5,6,7)               USD 344 (3 days)

Grandstand 12                                             USD 344 (3 days)

Grandstand 12 (Section 5,6,7)                   USD 368 (3 days)

  • Grandstand 33

Grandstand 33 is a greatly belittled spot. The seats are situated at the medium speed chicane, making up turns 6 and 7. Overtakes and crashes are very unlikely to take place in this section. On the bright side, it highlights F1 cars’ agility, braking and acceleration. Not to mention the giant screen in front. Reserve a seat at the uppermost rows for the catch the best scenes of the race, especially the majestic appearance of the cars after passing through the dense trees.

Price: USD 228 (3 days)

  • Grandstand 31

This is Fernando Alonso’s best pick among all grandstands. In 2017 saw his unforeseen meet and greet with a quite a number of spectators when his Honda engine capitulated on lap 66.

Turn 8 after the long straight is usually where overtaking happens through turn 9. This is where drivers try to make a passing attempt into the following hairpin. Turn 8 could somewhat be a distant view for the people watching because of the big area.

Price: USD 228 (3 days)

  • Grandstand 34, 21, 15 and 24

Grandstands at the Epingle Hairpin are a worthy selection, noting the slowest section of the track great for capturing Instagram worthy photos. It is also a key exciting location where you can witness overtakes and thrilling car manoeuvres.

Given the massive load of fans, you can guarantee a great atmosphere in this stadium-like unit of the track. Appreciate the thrill of hearing the raging sound of the race cars running at 60kph, engaging the gears, and roaring off again down the Casino Straight – together with the roaring cheers of a thousand fans will totally get you hyped.

Another advantage is the convenience that it offers since it is very close to the metro station. Choosing to be seated in this grandstand will give you the benefit of leaving immediately after the race, ease off your mobility problems and any problems related to distance.

A.     Grandstand 34

Positioned in the inner track, the hairpin circles around Grandstand 34 posing a rare stance. Spectators don’t have any issues with the fence hindering a decent shot of the cars. The only hitch with this stand compared to grandstands 21 and 24 is that you’ll get a different feel of the action.

B.      Grandstand 21

Grandstand 21 perhaps is the best place to watch the tremendous braking capacity of an F1 car at the Canadian Grand Prix circuit. Contrary to Grandstand 24, you’ll be situated near to the track, taking the pleasure in the sound of cars running at lightning speed. You may spot a great angle for shots as the cars perform braking maneuvers. The only off here is the only thing that you’ll see when the cars brake is the rear part as they pass the hairpin’s apex.

C.      Grandstand 15

How thrilling it is to see all the cars rushing towards you! You can experience this at Grandstand 15. You will have a full view of the Epingle Hairpin from turn 9 to where the cars disappear out of sight passing the curve going to Casino Straight. You might need a pair of binoculars for this. Why? Because the track in this grandstand is far from the spectators – For safety purposes, of course!

D.     Lance Stroll Grandstand (24)

Officially known as Grandstand 24, Lance Stroll Grandstand is undeniably one of the best options at the hairpin that you can very nearly touch. It also has a good view of the approach, almost as far as turn 9.

Upper sections have a perfect view of most of the circuit without being obstructed by the catch fencing and with the iconic background of the Biosphere should give you amazing photos.

Prices:

Grandstand 15                 USD 344 (3 days)

Grandstand 21                 USD 344 (3 days)

Grandstand 24                 USD 344 (3 days)

Grandstand 34                 USD 263 (3 days)

  • Grandstand 46 and 47 – Casino Straight

The circuit’s least favorites are the previously named Popular Grandstand, but now more fittingly known as Grandstand 46 and its neighboring Grandstand 47 along the Casino Straight.

This location is unlikely to have any meaningful view, but only good as a general admission reserved seat. If so, you get a chance to get a better watch of the race by strolling around the general admission area and return to your seat when you’re tired.

Nonetheless, it’s still not advisable to select these stands although a few number of people would still suffice.

Price:

Grandstand 46                 USD 180 (3 days)

Grandstand 47                 USD 72-160 (3 days)

  • Grandstand 1 – Main Straight

Grandstand 1 is a typical main straight preference. You can anticipate the typical race ambience such as the pre-race build up on the grid, the fans watching, mesmerizingly quick pit stops, the podium ceremony and post-race interviews with the top three finishers. Being in this grandstand means you’re likely to see the things that you came for, like drivers overtaking and out manoeuvring each other.

Price: USD 476 (3 days)

  • Platine Grandstand – Turn 1

Platine Grandstand is considered one of the most desirable seats at Montreal. Located on the main straight in the middle of the grid and turn 1, this grandstand is the best to witness the start of the race.  There’s a bit of a compromise on both fronts because you’re not seated directly in front of the grid or turn one.

It’s unlikely that you’ll have a clear view of the track due to the shallow nature of the stand and obstructed by the safety fencing.

But here is the best part, Platine is the only grandstand to have a little shade (thanks to that roof). You’ll be somehow protected for the sun’s scorching heat. On top of that, you can keep yourself away from the metal bleachers.

  • General Admission

If you’re an avid motorsports fan, General admission will probably leave you disappointed. There aren’t a lot of good views and only a few early birds get to have a fair advantage. With tons of viewers hampering, even a decent photograph is doubtful.

You may still choose to go for the general admission if you’re only watching to have a first-hand experience of the actual race and not expecting to get so much out of it.

Price: USD 137 (3 days)