Canada: Formula 1’s racing gem

An integral part of the Formula 1 calendar, the Canadian Grand Prix has offered quite the surprise over the years and has an illustrious history to match.
Wednesday, June 4, 2014

June 4, 2014 (F1plus/Katie Grimmett).- Formula 1’s European tour is briefly put on hold as twenty-two of the fastest drivers in the world arrive in Montreal, Canada. Every year, the excitement of Monaco travels across the Atlantic and this year will be no exception.

Based on F1’s classic history and memorable Grands Prix, this enthusiasm is more than justified. I am sure we all remember Jenson Button’s last minute win in 2011 against all the odds? Or perhaps Nigel Mansell’s near miss in 1991? The Canadian Grand Prix has been hosted at three separate locations since its inception: Mosport Park, Circuit Mont-Trembelant and, more recently, Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve and has become a hotly-anticipated part of the F1 calendar.

The most recent stomping ground does not offer the undulation of others, with just 13 corners to its name. It may not, therefore, suit the improving Red Bull RB10 which specialises in high speed corners.

Historically, McLaren and Ferrari have used their straight line speed to its full advantage to share the record for the most constructors wins, a total of 13 each. Indeed, Mercedes’ star Lewis Hamilton is twice a winner on this very circuit winning in 2010 and 2012 for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes.

Maintaining a good line on the circuit is vital for ensuring a strong grid position – turns 3 and 4 are notoriously difficult and will push the drivers onto the kerb and near the wall for some edge-of-your-seat driving in Canada.

The drivers will also look to avoid the ‘Wall of Champions’, this is one of few times when drivers do not want to join the same list as Damon Hill, Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve in the history books. Interestingly, all three of these drivers endured the same fate at the famous turning in 1999.

Canada may not be represented on the grid by a native driver but the Grand Prix does enough to secure its enduring presence on the Formula 1 calendar. This is thanks in part to the first winner in Montreal, Canada’s home favourite Gilles Villeneuve, in 1978.

Rather fittingly, the circuit was renamed ‘Circuit Gilles Villeneuve’ following his premature death at the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix and has since become a staple for Formula 1 fans. The legacy of the driver, and the circuit named in his honour, remains strong to this day as after all, Formula 1 moves on but rarely forgets. Returning to the heart of Canadian racing history ensures that one fallen driver remains a part of present day racing in the most poignant way possible.

For a memorable Grand Prix, one can look back to one of the most respected drivers in F1 history, Lotus’ Jim Clark and his tustle with Denny Hulme in 1967.

Most of the contemporary audience may not have seen footage of the symbolic Lotus 49 charge round the twists and turns of Mosport Park but it is still an integral part of Formula 1 history. Whilst an engine failure on lap 68 cost the legendary Scottish racer the win, his overtaking ability and presence on the track is difficult to ignore. Fighting his way to the front of the grid, in a way very few can, an enigmatic Clark became of the first drivers to become associated with the annual race.

Later, Jean Alesi would produce a memorable win in 1995, his only victory on the Canadian tarmac. Alesi’s luck in Canada was starting to draw attention as the Frenchman continued to fight for the race win which had so often eluded him.

Every year, all eyes would be on Alesi as he lined up his most recent challenger and attempted to end Michael Schumacher’s unwavering dominance. To provide a modern day example, it is similar to Mark Webber taking his place on the grid at his home race in Australia as the fans took turns debating what may cause his race retirement this time.

Alas, Alesi’s time would come, six years after he made his debut for Tyrell. The cheers, and apparent surprise, from the crowd was deafening as a gracious-in-defeat Schumacher initiated one of the best loved moments of Formula 1 history, gifting his rival a lift back to the pits for an unforgettable celebration.

However, one cannot talk about the Canadian Grand Prix and not mention one of Schumacher’s own incredible wins in Montreal. Nor can we ignore his brother Ralf who helped the F1 record-holder secure a remarkable result in 2001. Ralf may have got the better of his older brother but it was a closely fought contest at the Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve on that notable day of racing. It was to be the first weekend a pair of brothers scored a 1-2 in any Formula 1 event, further enhancing the Schumacher legacy and the Canadian Grand Prix’s outstanding presence on the circuit.

Looking ahead to 2014, Formula 1 fans should be treated to a classic race in Montreal. Canada usually produces a surprise result and gives the midfield teams an opportunity to gain big points ahead of their rivals – Jean Eric Vergne’s fifth place finish in 2013 is an example of this.

The Toro Rosso pairing are strong and Daniil Kvyat could possibly match the performance of his team mate this time around. For the Italian outfit, a handful of additional points could amount to millions in funding for their 2015 model as, in Formula 1, success breeds success. Speaking of young drivers, Alexander Rossi will represent the future generation of Formula 1 drivers as he returns to FP1 duties for Caterham.

Canada’s contract with the FIA comes to an end this year so race organisers will hope to put on a show as they look to increase the circuit’s legacy and secure its future for 2015 and beyond. Such is the way with Formula 1, there are no guarantees but if history tells us anything, the 2014 Canadian Grand Prix could be a highlight of the year.

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