Canadian Grand Prix

Canadian Grand Prix

The Canadian Grand Prix has been a part of the FORMULA 1 World Championship since 1967. Over the years the Grand Prix has proved to be interesting and as unpredictable and has thrown up some surprising winners.

The Canadian Grand Prix event was initially scheduled in October each year. In 1982 F1 scheduled the race in June each year. Now the race is held in early June each year mostly after the Monaco Grand Prix.

The Circuit Giles Villeneuve, where the event is now held, is laid on a scenic man-made island, the Île Notre-Dame, on St Lawrence river in Montreal, Québec. It is a simple but challenging course which encourages speed and intelligent racing.

Circuit Gilles Villeneuve         

Circuit Information

Lap length:                          4.361 km

No of Laps:                          70

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Race  Distance:                    305.27 km

Direction:                             Clockwise

Fastest Lap                          1’:10.764 (Sebastian Vettel, 2018, Qualifying 3)

The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve known previously as the Circuit Île Notre-Dame was built on a man-made island of Notre Dame was built and finished in 1978. It was the venue of the famous Expo ‘67. The various roads of the island were combined and modified to build the track.

The circuit was designed in the winter of 1977 by Roger Peart, a British born engineer settled in Australia. The FIA granted approval for the design in May 1978 and construction began in July that year. On 8 October 1978, the first Grand Prix was held on Circuit Île Notre-Dame.

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To the delight of the local spectators, Gilles Villeneuve, a Quebecer, won the inaugural World Championship race on the circuit. Upon Giles Villeneuve’s death in an accident while racing in a Grand Prix event in 1982, the Circuit was promptly renamed the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

Circuit Gilles Villeneuve virtually hugs the banks of Île Notre-Dame. It is in a beautiful and relaxed setting sprinkled with foliage and public artwork. A stroll down the eastern side of the island allows the visitor to admire the Montreal skyline.

With tight twists and hairpin bends along the long speedier straights, the track is interesting and challenging. The circuit is the most stringent test on the braking system of the cars as well as their engines because of the several chicanes and straights.

The barriers close to the track and the various chicanes of the track make it imperative that the pilots concentrate throughout the race. Not requiring very high downforces the track however, calls for judicious and technical driving.

Just next to the start-finish line a fan has spontaneously painted “Salut Gilles” (Hello Gilles) in tribute to Gilles Villeneuve. The organisers dutifully repaint the sign each year. The cars get a short burst of speed before they encounter the Virage Senna.

The first left kink is followed by a right-hand hairpin turn. Virage Senna is difficult to negotiate and has seen a lot of cars damage their bodywork after a fast start. Another short burst of speed ensues before it is time to brake for the right-left chicane.

This chicane comprises Turns 3 and 4. The cars take the slow right and prepare for a burst of speed past the quicker left Turn 4. And hurtle past Turn 5 before slowing down to tackle the slower left-right chicane comprising Turns 6 and 7.

Jenson Button famously overtook Sebastian Vettel on the last lap here in 2011. Then comes the longest straight after the start-finish line. It passes below the bridge Pont de la Concorde, just before the right-left chicane.

This chicane which is made up of Turns 8 and 9, is taken at 200 to 140 km/h and leads shortly to the extremely tight hairpin bend at Turn 10, L’Epingle  The short straight allows the cars to overtake on the hairpin. Exiting this acute bend, the cars will position themselves for a burst of speed across the longest straight on the circuit.

The Casino Straight is 1064 meters long with a slight bend at turns 11 and 12. The cars attain maximum speeds in excess of 320 km/h along this straight. The drivers then break hard as they arrive at the infamous Mur de Quebec or the Quebec wall.

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In their bid to overtake along the straight and after pilots cut corners on the right-hand turn, the penultimate last turn before the start-finish line. This leads to overshooting on equally tight left Turn 14.

Many Champions have had tangles with the wall facing them as they approach turn 14.

Nico Roseberg, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jenson Button while competing in the race and Sebastian Vettel during practice have fallen victim to the wall. The Wall is now referred to as the Champions Wall.

Then is the short straight to the start-finish line. During the hiatus in 1987, the start-finish line and the pitlane were shifted from the hairpin to the north of the track before the Senna S. Now the pitlane begins at turn 13 and joins the track at the exit of turn 2.

Many changes have been made to the track to make it safer for F1 racing over the years. The Champions wall has been moved back from the track but still constitutes a threat. The Senna chicane has been modified.

Changes to Circuit Gilles Villeneuve over the years

Originally the Circuit Île Notre-Dame was compared to the undulating tracks of Mosport and Mont Tremblant. The conclusion was that the new track was not as interesting as the older two circuits. As FIA started tightening the safety of races, changes were implemented.

The start-finish line was at the exit of the northern hairpin and joined the track at the end of turn 2. In 1987, when the event was not held in Canada due to a sponsorship dispute, the paddocks and the start-finish line were shifted to just before Virage Senna (Senna S).

In 1987 the new first corner was also modified. A turn immediately after the new start was straightened and the track led straight to the Senna S with the slight curve leading to Turn 1.

Alan Jones and Nelson Piquet had collided at the old first turn in 1980. Those curves were taken out in the mid-90s.

In 1994, the chairman of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association suggested a chicane instead of the fast left turn leading to the back straight. The chicane was used in the ‘94 and ‘95 events and was eliminated in time for the 1996 Canadian Grand Prix.

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The latest Changes were made to the circuit in 2002. The pit lane led cars lining the track to the fast turn before the Senna Hairpin. In 1998, Michael Schumacher had collided with Heinz-Herald Fritzen at the junction.

The problem was resolved when the modification of the pitlane led to the exit of the Senna hairpin. The lack of space at the south end forced the organisers to shorten the track slightly and move the hairpin back a bit.

In its current configuration, the track is a favourite among both F1 drivers and the race fans. The FIA also considers that the track is much safer than many others. The constraint of space on the island has meant that the track has reduced only 800 meters from the original after all the changes.

Most of the reductions were done to eliminate dangerous turns and provide runoff areas. In 2017, the rubber tyre barriers were removed and Tecpro barriers installed improving safety on the circuit. That same year the angle of the Champions Wall was altered to provide some runoff.

When was the first Canadian Grand Prix held?

The Canadian event was first staged as a Canadian Sports Car Championship at Mosport Park in Bowmansville, Ontario in 1961. For the first five years, the Canadian Championship was won by either a World Championship driver or one who would go on to join a World Championship team.

In 1966 the event was run by the Canadian American Championship with Mark Donahue of the USA winning the race. F1 added the race to its World Championship in 1967. For the first ten years, the event alternated between Mosport Park and Circuit Mont-Tremblant, Quebec.

Jack Brabham emerged triumphant at the inaugural World Championship race with his teammate Denny Hulme of New Zealand coming second. In 1968 the event was delayed so that it could be held within a fortnight of the Champions ship at Watkins Glen, USA.

Denny Hulme took over as the Canadian Champion that year. This year Hulme’s countryman, Bruce McLaren finished second securing a 1-2 for McLaren.

Jacky Ickx of Belgium won the event consecutively in 1969 and 1970.

Both the Mosport Park and the Mont-Tremblant circuits had many elevation changes and were challenging. But safety concerns at Mont-Tremblant caused the F1 to choose Mosport as the permanent venue for the Grand Prix since 1971. Britain’s Jackie Stewart won the event in 1971 and 1972.

The race continued to be held at Mosport Park till 1977 in which year Giles Villeneuve made his debut for Ferrari. That year saw Ian Ashley of Great Britain meet with a terrible accident while topping a bumpy rise.

Ashley Hesketh, another German-born Briton also hit a television tower after crashing through the guard Rails. Hesketh was seriously injured and safety operations to rescue him were slow. Jochen Mass hit and flattened a guard rail.

Because of safety concerns, the FIA decided to shift the event to a newly constructed venue, the Circuit Île Notre-Dame the following year. The circuit was laid along the shores of a man-made island in the middle of the St Lawrence Seaway, Montreal, Quebec.

The Canadian Grand Prix has been held on the circuit ever since. Gilles Villeneuve was a native of Quebec and won the inaugural Canadian Grand Prix 1978 Grand Prix held at Circuit Île Notre-Dame Circuit much to the adulation of the spectators.

Unfortunately, Giles Villeneuve died in a car crash while racing in a practice session in the Belgian Grand Prix on 8 May 1982. The same year the Circuit Île Notre-Dame was renamed the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in honour of the local racing legend.

The event has been held there ever since with the exception of 1987 and 2009 when the race was not held. Unfortunately, the event was cancelled in 2020 due to the Covid19 pandemic. The FIA has confirmed that the race is included in the 2021 F1 calendar year.

Why go to Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix?

Montreal is one of the most favoured destinations for F1 fans. Not only is the Circuit Gilles Villenueve competitive but it also has a knack of throwing up surprise winners frequently. The circuit is built for speed but also tests the braking systems of the cars.

Montrealers embrace the Grand Prix fully and the crowds at the race are boisterous making the experience a pleasant one. The latest contract signed by the organisers of the Canadian Grand Prix with F1 ensures that the event will be held in Montreal till 2024.

With many straights, short and long, the circuit is built for speed and overtaking. With many chicanes, the cars are also severely tested for their braking efficiency. All this provides great opportunities for slipstreaming, side by side action and shunts.

The walls at the end of chicanes also make over accelerating and over taking risky. The best overtaking opportunity is at the Champions Wall chicane after the long Cassino straight. Even if a pilot fails to press home his advantage there, he gets another opportunity while braking at Turn 1.

Most of the chicanes and the bends including the hairpin have big breaking zones and give drivers opportunities for overtaking. It is the walls at the end of the chicanes that drivers have to look out for which could as well end their race.

Many teams upgrade their power units in search of greater speed. But as drivers look for speed so do they have to brake hard at the chicanes and the sharp bends. This tests their machines to the ultimate.

There is support for every team in Montreal. With a capacity to accommodate 100,000 spectators, F1 fans of every hue and nationality throng to the event. As is the norm with American fans, they are noisy and love to make themselves heard. The atmosphere at the circuit is as good if not better than any other F1 venue.

Montreal is Canada’s second largest city and is a fabulous place to be in especially during the Grand Prix. Downtown Montreal is just across the bridge from Île Notre Dame. Most F1 fans prefer to stay in the Old Town and downtown Montreal because it is easier to get to and from the circuit.

Bars dot the old town and remain open into the wee hours of the morning and there are plenty of eating places. Mont Royal overlooks the entire city and the stunning architecture of Notre Dame Basilica is impressive. Cobbled streets and the centuries old buildings make these quarters an experience to remember.

Who has the most Canadian Grand Prix wins?

Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton stand tied at the top place for winning the honours at the Canadian Grand Prix seven times each. Both of them have won the race three times in succession once.

Lewis Hamilton is still racing in the World Championship and is leading by 70 points in 2020. He is well on his way to equalling Michael Schumacher’s record 7 world championship titles. He will get a shot at surpassing Michael Schumacher’s record at the Canadian Grand Prix in 2021.

Nelson Piquet has won three Canadian Grand Prix titles while Ayrton Senna and Sebastian Vettel have won the title twice each. All the above champions have secured their victories at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

Jacky Icks, Sir Jackie Stewart and Alan Jones have also won the Canadian Grand Prix twice before it was shifted to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

How do you get to Circuit Gilles Villeneuve?

Pierre Elliott-Trudeau Airport is a busy hub for both domestic and international flights and is well connected to all the major hubs in the world. Located only 20 kilometres from Montreal, one can easily travel to the city via shuttle, taxis, Uber or the metro.

The shuttle will cost you CAD10 but a weekend pass is available at a shightly higher cost. The weekend pass will enable you to travel in and around Montreal as well as to and from the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Airport taxis will charge a fixed fare of CAD40 to downtown Montreal.

Getting to the Circuit and around Montreal
Metro is the most convenient form of transport to and from Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Trains run every few minutes on weekdays and 8-11 minutes on weekends. However, more trains are pressed into service during the race weekends.

Make sure that you start well in time for trains will take anywhere from 10-40 minutes depending on where you start from in Montreal. Also remember that you will have to walk 10-25 minutes to your seat based on the location of your stand from the station.

To avoid the booking queues when returning, book a return ticket which will cost you CAD4.25. If you are planning to visit the park on all three days, buy a weekend pass for CAD19 and travel unlimited on Montreal’s integrated bus and metro service.

Once you alight from the metro, you will need to cross a bridge to get to your stand across the channel. Just follow the crowds and you will reach Île Notre-Dame in a few minutes. Busses and ferries are also available to go across to Île Notre-Dame though fans often shun ferries.

Staying in Montreal
Hotel accommodation during the Grand Prix is costly as with any other F1 venue. It is best to book early to get a cheaper hotel close to a metro station. If you only plan to stay for the three days of the event, book a hotel for two nights at a hotel.

Downtown, near the Berri UQAM interchange metro station, would be an ideal choice for a stay during the race weekend. Other good places are the Old Town and the Plateau Mont Royal where you will find plenty of cafes, bars and restaurants.

In the areas mentioned above you will find accommodation to suit all budgets. The hotels here are much cheaper in Montreal proper as the city will be all decked up for the festive weekend. You will get dorms for as little as CAD 80 per night to a self-contained studio for CAD 150 a night in downtown.

How much are tickets for the Canadian Grand Prix?

Unfortunately the Canadian Grand Prix 2020 was cancelled due to the Covid19 pandemic and is not going to be rescheduled. Although the Canadian Grand Prix has been confirmed as a venue in the 2021 F1 calendar year, the tickets and the schedule is yet to be announced.

The Canadian Grand Prix is a popular venue in the F1 calendar. Unlike Europe, America does not have many F1 Grand Prix races annually. The prices of tickets are also reasonable which ensures that the venue is always full despite its 100,000 capacity.

This section will be updated as soon as the tickets for the 2021 Canadian Grand Prix are announced.

● Tickets for the Canadian Grand Prix are sold for all three days (Friday-Sunday). Single-day tickets are available for Grandstand 46 and General Admission areas but you will have to arrive early that morning to book your tickets.
● Seniors older than 65 years of age get a discount for the Family stand. Children below 15 years of age are also allowed free in this stand if accompanied by a ticket carrying adult
● Children below 11 are afforded a discount if accompanied by a ticket bearing adult.
● None of the grandstands other than the Platine Grandstand are covered. Check the weather forecast and be prepared for either rain or bright sunshine.
● The seats in all the stands are hard benches and have no backrest rests (except for Grandstand 1. So take along some cushions if you want to be comfortable.
● Most Grandstands other than Grandstand 46 have large TV screens in front of them which let you follow the live-action throughout.
● You can carry foodstuffs and non-alcoholic drinks into the grandstands but no glass bottles. Alcoholic drinks have been banned at the circuit since late in 2019 although you can buy them at the circuit outlets.

Where are the best places to watch the Canadian Grand Prix?

The grandstands at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve are all temporary structures and other than the Platine grandstand are mostly uncovered. The seats are also hard aluminium benches except for Grandstand 1. It rains almost every alternate day in July and the sun is hot otherwise.

Despite that, with the circuit providing overtaking opportunities at various places, many grandstands give a good view of the proceedings. There are also big television screens in front of every grandstand (except Grandstand 46) which let you watch all the action.

Grandstand 1
This is a low grandstand and although it is located on the Main Straight opposite the pits, one cannot get a good view of them because of the fencing. It is a good stand for those interested in race build-up, start and finish, pit stops and the podium celebrations.

Grandstand Platine and Grandstands 11 and 12
All of these stands are located around the Senna S on the south side of the circuit. If you are an experienced F1 fan and want a bit of action of the race these are some of the stands for you.

Grandstand Platine is inside the Senna S and is the most highly-priced grandstand on the circuit. It is also the only covered grandstand and has a good view of the Senna S. The view from the other two grandstands (11 and 12) depends on the seat that you get.

Both the grandstands have two categories of tickets and the cost difference is very less. If you want a good look of the main straight as well as of the cars till they disappear round turn 3 book a seat in one of these grandstands.

Choose a low seat as far as possible towards Grandstand 12 if you are booking a seat in grandstand 11. If you are checking into Grandstand 12, choose a seat as high as is possible and close to Grandstand 11.

Grandstands 15, 21, 24 and 34 at the hairpin end
All these stands are at the hairpin at the other end of the circuit and offer a lot of action during the race. These stands are also the closest to the metro station and help if you want to get away fast from the venue after the race.

Grandstand 15, although further from the track because of a large gravelled run-off area, gives the best view of the action on the bend. Seated in this grandstand you have a good view of the hairpin and can see both the entry and the exit to the hairpin.

Grandstand 21 is closest to the track of all the hairpin grandstands. But views from the lower seats are obstructed because of the catch fencing. Although the higher seats give clear views, they are far away from the circuit. But a seat in this grandstand is worth the money you are paying.

Grandstand 24, also called the Lance Stroll, is very close to the track watching over the exit of the hairpin. A spectator in this stand can see the cars gaining speed as they prepare to race along the back straight. Toilets and food stalls are located directly behind this grandstand.

Grandstand 34 tickets are priced the lowest among the stands around the hairpin. Located in the middle of the hairpin bend the tickets of this stand also sell out very fast. Although a bit distant from the hairpin, this stand offers good views of the action along the hairpin.

Rest of the grandstands at the circuit

Family Grandstand is located on Pont du Concord across the offices of Society du Parc Jean-Trudeau. The atmosphere in the stand is good and you can get a good view of the action on Turns 6 and 7.

Grandstand 46 is the cheapest grandstand on the circuit and is not worth the money you would have to spend on a seat. All you can see are the cars zipping by you. Instead, spend a few dollars more and get a seat in some other stand. And there is no TV screen in front of the stand either. And the screen at the hairpin is too far away to see properly.

General Admission Area
Although there are several general admission areas on the circuit it is difficult to get a nice viewing place as the locals stake out all the good points very early. Although the tickets for general admission are cheap, there are very few areas from which you can watch any real action.

The best spots in general admission areas are between some of the stands. The good General admission spaces are on either side of Grandstand 24 and a small space between and in front of stands 11 and 12. All of these spaces get crowded up by dawn.

Conclusion

The Canadian Grand Prix is one of the must-see F1 shows in the calendar year. If you are an ardent F1 fan, do make it a point to visit Montreal and enjoy an excellent race and a festive atmosphere.

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