Jack Brabham was the winner of Canada’s first world championship Formula One race back in 1967, steering one of his own team cars to victory around the dramatic Mosport Park track near Toronto. Organizers then planned to alternate the Canadian Grand Prix between Mosport and the Mont Tremblant track in Quebec, which hosted its first race in 1968. Denny Hulme took victory, but the fact that only seven cars finished the race highlighted the unsuitable nature of the punishing track surface. The venue staged just one more Grand Prix in 1970, won by Jacky Ickx.
The Canadian Grand Prix then continued at Mosport Park until 1977, the only break being due to financial problems in 1975. Among the illustrious names to win at the track were Jackie Stewart (twice), Emerson Fittipaldi, James Hunt and Jody Scheckter. Mosports’s most famous race was undoubtedly the 1973 event, which saw a pace car on track for the first time during a Grand Prix. It followed a collision between the Tyrrell of Francois Cevert and the McLaren of Scheckter in treacherous, wet conditions. Scheckter’s team mate Peter Revson then came from almost a lap behind to take victory.
The race switched to its current home in Montreal for 1978 after Mosport was finally deemed too outdated for the requirements of Formula One racing. The new circuit, later renamed after Canada’s beloved Gilles Villeneuve, used both purpose-built sections and parts of the city’s public streets. Featuring several long straights, broken by tight chicanes and hairpins, it quickly gained a reputation as a car breaker, being particularly hard on brakes. Nevertheless it remains one of the most popular tracks on the Formula One calendar.
Canadian fans got their dream result at the first Montreal race, Villeneuve starting from third on the grid to take his very first Grand Prix victory in a Ferrari. Alan Jones then made it two wins in a row for Williams in 1979 and 1980, before Ligier’s Jacques Laffite took the flag in a rain-hit 1981 event. For 1982 the Montreal track became the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, following the famous Canadian’s death at Zolder earlier that year. Tragically the race saw another death after Riccardo Paletti went into the back of Didier Pironi’s stalled Ferrari at the start. Nelson Piquet eventually won for Brabham.
Piquet was victorious again in 1984 and 1991, on the second occasion at the expense of an over exuberant Nigel Mansell. The Williams driver was on course for a comfortable win until electronic gremlins in his “active” FW13 switched off the engine while waving to the crowd on the final lap. Mansell did manage to win in 1986, however. There was no Canadian race in 1987, but Ayrton Senna took the first of two Montreal victories in 1988. The Brazilian’s 1990 triumph came at the expense of team mate Gerhard Berger, who jumped the start and was handed a one-minute time penalty. Berger made amends with victory in 1982. Thierry Boutsen took his maiden Grand Prix win in Montreal in 1989, leading home team mate Riccardo Patrese for a Williams one-two after a rain-swept race. 1993 saw Alain Prost’s only Canadian triumph, also at the wheel of a Williams, while Jean Alesi scored the sole victory of his Formula One career at the circuit in 1995.
Michael Schumacher has won in Canada a record six times, his first success coming in 1994 while at Benetton. He had to wait until 1997 for his next victory, which came at the expense of McLaren’s David Coulthard, whose car refused to select first gear after a pitstop. That year’s race was shortened after Prost’s Olivier Panis broke his legs in an accident. Schumacher won again for Ferrari in 1998, after Alex Wurz’s dramatic start-line roll, and was on course for victory the following year, before crashing out to hand victory to McLaren’s Mika Hakkinen. He made no mistakes in 2000, however, taking his third Canadian win for Ferrari. The German was then victorious in dominating fashion, winning consecutive races from 2002-04.
Perhaps the most thrilling Grand Prix du Canada was in 2011. At Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in June 2011, the Canadian Grand Prix made history as the longest ever in F1, lasting more than four hours after the race was delayed due to torrential rains, and with a record five Safety Car deployments. High drama came at the very end. It was on the 70th and last lap that Jenson Button forced defending World Champion and race leader Sebastian Vettel into an error, overtaking the young German’s spinning Red Bull to score an epic victory. Button’s win is sure to go down as one of the classic comeback drives in F1 history because less than half way into the event, the 2009 titleist (starting a relatively poor 7th on the grid as McLaren struggled with low-downforce speed) had fallen back, way back. After a start-line melee, collisions with both Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, and a drive-through penalty for speeding behind the Safety Car, by lap 40 Button emerged from pit exit in 21st place out of 21, more than 100 seconds behind Vettel. He was dead last, indeed — except that the latest Safety Car (from his own incident) meant that in reality Button was only 16s behind Vettel’s RB7. And fitted this time with super-soft option tires, Button began to slaughter the opposition, gaining two seconds a lap on the leaders.
With 16 laps remaining he caught Mark Webber and Michael Schumacher who were fighting for 2nd and 3rd. Button roared past the pair of them and into 2nd place with five laps left. Vettel was now only 3s ahead. It was suddenly clear that one of the most surprising comebacks ever witnessed in F1 was in the cards, and there was a palpable air of disbelief to the voice of the McLaren radio mechanic as he told Button the driver was in a position to win the GP, despite having pitted six times. After taking the checkered flag in unbelievably dramatic style — pressuring Vettel into his first serious mistake, an almost slow-motion, ugly-looking half-spin, in a season Vettel utterly dominated — a wild-eyed Jenson called the performance, his 10th career win, “the best race of my life.”
Portions courtesy of Formula 1™ – The Official F1™ Website.