The Gilles Villeneuve Circuit was named in honor of Gilles Villeneuve, a Canadian driver and father to Jacques Villeneuve. The circuit was constructed on a man-made island named Ile Notre-Dame, which is located in the St Lawrence River, in Montreal. In addition to hosting the Formula One Canadian Grand Prix, the circuit hosts an event in the NASCAR Busch Series. It was also home to the Champ Car World Series Grand Prix of Montreal that was hosted here between the years 2002 to 2006.
With its location in the St Lawrence River, for most of the year, Ile Notre Dame is a quiet island that is lush and green and the fastest moving objects on its surface, are animals, cycle enthusiasts and the joggers. But for a few days each year, within this idyllic setting, the island comes alive with racing action and all its accompanying noise and frantic activity.
The Gilles Villeneuve Circuit is part street circuit, and is extremely fast, with a common problem for drivers being to misjudge the barriers that are located very close to the track. The most famous part of this track, is a wall that is located just outside the end of the last chicane, which said “Welcome to Quebec” and was later nicknamed the Quebec Wall. Three Formula 1 champions had their races brought to an abrupt end when colliding with this infamous wall, namely Jacques Villeneuve, Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher. The wall no longer carries the name Quebec Wall, but was renamed the Wall of Champions.
In 2005, the curbs in the last chicane were made higher, and drivers complained that they were more difficult to see and that the curbs made the chicane even more difficult for drivers to navigate. The changes were extremely controversial, as they had reduced the area for general admission ticket holders, to see the race. This forces spectators to purchase grandstand tickets, to enable them to see.
Normand Legault was awarded exclusive rights, by the city of Montreal, to host two race weekends on the track. Legault is the promoter for the Formula One Canadian Grand Prix. The contract for the rights, runs from the year 2007 to the year 2011, after which there is an option to extend it from 2012 to the year 2016. The Champ Car Races have been replaced with the NASCAR Busch Series and the Grand American Road Racing Associations’ Rolex Series.
The very first Canadian Grand Prix, was held in Canada in the year 1967. The Formula One race took place at the Mosport Park circuit that is located in Bowmanville (Ontario). The Canadian Grand Prix used to be alternated, with Mont Tremblant (Quebec) being the alternative circuit. Unfortunately, due to concerns with regard to safety, the Grand Prix moved to Mosport permanently, in 1971. Currently, the Grand Prix takes place at the Gilles Villeneuve Circuit in Ile Notre-Dame (Montreal), which became the home of the Canadian Grand Prix in 1978. This exciting race attracts thousands of spectators, with many more catching the action on their television screens. In 2005, it was reported that Fomula One racing is the third most watched sport in the world. The race is a length of 70 laps, and a total of 305.27 kilometers.
The very first Canadian Grand Prix winner, at the new location in Montreal, was Gilles Villeneuve. He was native to Quebec, but died tragically on a qualifying lap, during the Belgian Grand Prix, in 1982. Villeneuve was honored a few weeks later, with the Montreal race course being named the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. With the start of the 1982 Canadian Grand Prix already clouded by the memory of Gilles Villeneuve, it proved to be the scene of another very tragic event. Didier Pironi, the teammate of Gilles Villeneuve, had stalled his car on the grid. The stationary Pironi, was clipped by Raul Boesel and his car was then hit from behind by Riccardo Paletti. Paletti’s car had briefly caught alight, and Pironi and Sid Watkins, the F1 doctor, frantically struggled to free Paletti from his car. It took a half hour to get Paletti out of the wreck, who was then flown to a hospital. Unfortunately, Paletti did not survive, due to the severity of his injuries.
Another significant accident took place at the Canadian Grand Prix in 1997, stopping the race a few laps in. Olivier Panis broke his legs during this incident that caused him to sit on the sidelines for nine race meetings. Many have said that this was the turning point in Olivier Panis’s career, and a heartbreaking time for the winner of the 1996 Monaco Grand Prix.
The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve was once again in the limelight in 1996, when former world champions Michael Schumacher, Jacques Villeneuve and Damon Hill all crashed into a wall that read: ‘Bienvenue au Quebec’ or in English it reads ‘Welcome to Quebec’. The wall was to become known as the ‘Wall of Champions’. Ricardo Zonta, the then reigning champ, also collided with the wall.
The Canadian Grand Prix did not make it onto the F1 schedule for 2004. A maximum of seventeen races was implemented, new venues came to the forefront, and the new tobacco legislation saw the cancellation of sponsors. For a while it appeared that the Formula One would not be returning to Canada in the forseeable future. However, on November 27, 2009 it was announced that a five-year contract had been signed between all the relevant authorities, ensuring that the race would take place in Canada from 2010-2014 – much to the delight of local Formula One racing fans.
When the cars lined up on the starting grid at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal this past weekend, it was clear that the drivers were in for a wet race. Despite almost swimming to the finish line, the majority of drivers seemed to have enjoyed the change in conditions at the first truly wet conditions that NASCAR has ever experienced at a major points race.
With both the drivers and race officials having had little – if any – experience dealing with extremely wet conditions, a lot of accidents were to be expected. But none of them were terribly serious and in all it seems that the drivers had a lot of fun trying gain control of their slipping and sliding vehicles as they attempted to speed around the track. It seems the two biggest problems were the fact that the drivers invariably had low visibility and large puddles of water on the track meant more than one car hydroplaned. At 140 or 150 miles an hour, a hydroplaning car can be a scary and dangerous thing. Still it seems that for the most part, the drivers managed to take it all in their stride. And where the roads were just wet and not covered in water, the grooved Goodyear rain tires that finally got a chance to perform proved their worth by ensuring that the cars stuck to the road under the guidance of their hard-working drivers.
Unfortunately the lack of visibility caused quite a few collisions. Often drivers were unable to see a caution ahead and so they went straight into the back of stationary cars. This was what happened to both Jacques Villeneuve and Joey Logano – though they were only doing about 40 mph so the collisions were not too serious. Most of the teams installed a windshield wiper during one of the extended caution periods but there were a few teams who seemed to think they could manage without them. One example is Carl Edwards, whose rather amusing solution to the problem was to stick his arm out during cautions to squeegee his window clean. In the end the race was reduced from 74 laps to 48 laps. The race was won by Ron Fellows, followed by Patrick Carpentier and Marcos Ambrose respectively.