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Canada 1995 - Alesi does it at last 20 Dec 2004

Race winner Jean Alesi (FRA) Ferrari, celebrates his first ever Grand Prix victory on the podium. Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Canadian Grand Prix, Montreal, Canada. 11 June 1995. World © Sutton

The 1995 Canadian Grand Prix saw one of the most popular victories ever witnessed at Montreal's Gilles Villeneuve Circuit when Jean Alesi took his first and only Formula One win.

The hard-charging Ferrari driver had come so close so many times before that it was impossible not to share his elation. So much so, in fact, that fans swarmed on to the track before the race was even over.

Alesi had started from fifth on the grid. Ahead of him were Michael Schumacher’s Benetton on pole, the Williams pair of Damon Hill and David Coulthard, and Ferrari team mate Gerhard Berger. Before the start few would have been brave enough to bet on the French-Sicilian, given that Hill or Schumacher had taken every round of the season to date.

True to form it was Schumacher who led away off the lights, with Hill doing his best to stay in touch, while Coulthard spun off into the gravel on the second lap. Having found his way past Berger, Alesi then managed to pass Hill to move up to third before the pit stops.

With Hill retiring on lap 50 with gearbox trouble and Berger destined to crash out on lap 61, Alesi was left in a comfortable second place, but half a minute adrift of race leader Schumacher. However, having dominated the entire meeting, the German’s luck suddenly ran out. With barely a dozen laps remaining his Benetton lost third gear. A pit stop for a new steering wheel solved the problem, but left Schumacher battling Olivier Panis for fourth place – a battle Panis won.

Schumacher’s misfortune handed Alesi the best 31st birthday present he could have wished for. To an ecstatic reception he took the chequered flag (a lap early due to the aforementioned track invasion) 31 seconds clear of the Jordans of Rubens Barrichello and Eddie Irvine.

Sadly, it was not an experience Alesi would ever have again. At the end of the season he effectively swapped drives with Schumacher. The rest, as they say, is history. While the German has gone on to three drivers’ titles with Ferrari, Alesi moved to Benetton, then Sauber, Prost and briefly Jordan, before quitting the sport at the end of the 2001 season.

But despite never winning a Grand Prix again, Alesi retired from Formula One as one of the sport’s best-loved figures and no one that was there that day in Montreal will ever forget his one moment of ultimate glory.

And his popularity has not waned since his departure from the sport. He has since carved out a successful career in the German DTM series and received a rapturous reception in Paris earlier this month when he helped take France to victory in the Nations Cup along with world rally champion Sebastien Loeb.