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WATCH: 11 infamous crashes at Canada’s ‘Wall of Champions’

06 Jun 2016

It stands on the outside of the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve’s final corner; an uncompromising slab of concrete with a seemingly magnetic pull. Montreal’s notorious Wall of Champions isn’t discerning - in fact it got its name from laying waste to the very best. From race winners to rookies, we remember some of the most infamous crashes at this iconic spot…

Alex Wurz, 1997

‘Bienvenue au Quebec’ (Welcome to Quebec) read a cheerful billboard on the Wall of Champions for many years, but it wasn’t to be a happy welcome to F1 for rookie Alex Wurz who, having been parachuted into a Benetton race seat when Gerhard Berger was ruled out through illness, punctuated his maiden F1 qualifying session with this hefty shunt into the barrier. “On my last lap, at the chicane, I did not notice some grass left on the track by the car which was preceding me and had left the track very slippery,” explained Wurz. “I drove on it, lost the control of the car and hit the wall. I feel fine but I am very disappointed with my performance.”


Jacques Villeneuve, 1997

Home favourite Jacques Villeneuve had finished a close second to Williams team mate Damon Hill in his first Grand Prix on home soil in 1996, but his attempts to go one better the following year were ruined when, running a close second to Michael Schumacher at the end of lap two, he lost the rear end of his FW19 through the final chicane. “I went into the corner a little bit fast and lost it – I made a beginner’s mistake, so it’s very annoying,” said the crestfallen Canadian. “This is going to be a hard one to swallow. There is no point to stop eating or lose sleep over it but it's going to be difficult to accept.”


Ralf Schumacher, 1999

The Wall of Champions was at its most merciless in 1999 when a whole host of cars were destroyed against its uncompromising concrete. Ralf Schumacher helped get the ball rolling when he lost control of his Williams and spun backwards into the barriers at high speed during qualifying - but he wouldn’t be the last to fall prey...


Damon Hill, 1999

When Ricardo Zonta crashed into the Wall of Champions on lap three of the ’99 race, little did he know that he’d be followed into retirement at the very same spot by no fewer than three world champions. “I made a mistake,” admitted Jordan’s Damon Hill, the first of the champs to fall. “The track was slippery but it was my mistake to have crashed. I wish I could blame the wall, but I can't!”


Michael Schumacher, 1999

15 laps after Hill’s wrecked Jordan had been cleared away, former nemesis Michael Schumacher handed Ferrari a big repair bill when he dipped his tyres off the racing line and slid helplessly into the wall. “This was clearly my mistake,” said a glum Schumacher afterwards. “I apologise to the team, who again did a great job this weekend. It was a shame because the car was working perfectly. I usually make one mistake a year. I hope that this incident was the last for the season.” Unfortunately for the German maestro, an even bigger shunt would follow in Great Britain, though on that occasion he was entirely blameless.


Jacques Villeneuve, 1999

Villeneuve’s ’97 encounter with the Wall of Champions had been more emotionally damaging than carbon fibre shredding, but the same couldn’t be said of his second trip into the barriers, which occurred two years after his first and just five laps after Schumacher’s similar shunt. “It was my mistake - I was simply going a little bit too fast,” admitted the BAR driver, who’d been running eighth. “There was a lot dirt down on the track at that point, it was easy to make a mistake and I lost control...”


Rubens Barrichello, 2001 

Pushing hard to improve his grid slot in qualifying, Rubens Barrichello wrecked his Ferrari after a small error of judgement at the final chicane was punished in brutal fashion. “I finished up in the wall having jumped over the kerb - I think I went a bit over the limit,” the Brazilian later rued. “This was not one of my better days…”  


Nick Heidfeld, 2001

Barrichello was not the only driver to pay the full price for hitting the kerbs too hard in qualifying in ‘01 - later in the session Nick Heidfeld was lucky to escape unscathed after planting his Sauber into the same barrier, and with even more force. “Unfortunately you have to push hard over the kerb in the last corner [to get a good lap time], and your landing position depends on luck. I got launched too high to be able to do anything about correcting the car, and I went into the wall.”


Jenson Button, 2005

Six years before his famous last-lap victory in Montreal, Jenson Button tested the strength of his BAR against Canada’s most famous barrier when he crashed out of third place. “It has been a disappointing end to what has been a very encouraging weekend,” said the deflated Briton afterwards. “I got onto the marbles in the hairpin, went a bit wide because the rear locked up and got the tyres dirty. When I got to the chicane, I had big understeer and hit the wall off the second kerb. It was completely my mistake and very frustrating because we were looking good.”


Sebastian Vettel, 2011

Reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel began the 2011 season in imperious fashion, winning five of the first six races, but he came down to earth with a bump at the seventh round in Canada when his usually nailed Red Bull got tail-happy at the final chicane during Friday practice and sent him spewing into the wall. Afterwards the German tried to play down the “low-speed” incident, but the damage was clear for all to see...


Bruno Senna, 2012

Some drivers go into the Wall of Champions head first, some tail first, but in 2012 Bruno Senna managed to do significant damage to both ends of his Williams after a double hit into the barrier during second practice. “I have limited experience of this circuit so today was about getting my eye in and seeing how far I can push the car,” explained Senna. “Obviously I pushed too hard…”