30 years of the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal - part one 04 Jun 2008
Montreal staged its first Canadian Grand Prix back in October 1978 and this weekends race will mark the 30th anniversary of the race coming to the French-Canadian city. In honour of this special occasion, we delved into the archives to bring you a few highlights from the last three decades
- Prior to 1978 the home of Formula One racing in Canada had principally been Mosport Park (although Mont-Tremblant hosted two events). However, the Toronto track had gradually fallen out of favour and when it was eventually deemed outdated the sport switched its attentions to Montreal, where it has remained ever since.
- Motivated by the success of up-and-coming local hero Gilles Villeneuve, but somewhat short on time, Montreal decided to combine public streets with purpose-built sections for their new circuit. Taking the Ile Notre-Dame as their starting point, officials spent $2 million connecting all the island's roads to make a track that could satisfy Formula One racings exacting standards.
- They succeeded. With a mixture of long straights and tight chicanes, it quickly became one of the most popular tracks on the calendar - a claim it can still make today. Although a stones throw from the bustle of downtown Montreal, the circuits location on the man-made island in the St Lawrence seaway is relatively tranquil, with slippery conditions on the opening day (due to the tracks infrequent use) and rogue groundhogs among the regular hazards for drivers.
- The first race held in Montreal took place on October 8, 1978 and the 72,000 Canadian fans that packed into the grandstands were gifted with a dream result when French-Canadian star Villeneuve, in his first season with Ferrari, took a memorable maiden victory.
- Villeneuve almost won again in 1979, but after a close tussle it was Williams Alan Jones who claimed victory (a feat the Australian would repeat again in 1980). In 1981 it looked like Villeneuve would get another chance to score the top step of the podium, but a collision between his Ferrari and Arnoux's Renault during the rain-hit event meant he could only manage third. The race was eventually won by Jacques Laffite for Ligier.
- In 1982 Formula One racing was rocked by the Villeneuves death during practice for the Belgian Grand Prix and in his honour the Montreal track was renamed the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. However, that years race did not escape tragedy either, when Riccardo Paletti drove into the back of the stalled Ferrari of Didier Pironi and was killed. Nelson Piquet won for Brabham.
- The following year the name Villeneuve returned to the Montreal entry list with the younger brother of Gilles, Jacques, attempting - and unfortunately failing - to qualify in a Ram March. Rene Arnoux was more successful, winning for Ferrari. A season later Piquet and Brabham were again victorious, before Ferrari returned to winning form in 1985 with Michele Alboreto leading team mate Stefan Johansson home.