JUNE 5, 1995
What you may not know about Montreal
AT the end of 1977 it was announced that the Canadian Grand Prix would be leaving Mosport Park, near Toronto, Ontario to move to a new circuit - not then built - in Montreal. No-one took the announcement very seriously but, after some frenzied building work in the summer of 1978, the race took place on the Ile Notre Dame on October 8, 1978.
The Ile Notre Dame is a man-made island between the St Lawrence River and the artificial St Lawrence Seaway (built in 1959 to bypass rapids and enable large ships to sail from the Atlantic to the Great Lakes). The island was not built until 1967 when Montreal was looking for a site for the World Fair to celebrate Canada's centenary year. The new island - just five minutes from downtown Montreal - was the site of futuristic pavilions, designed by different nations, laid out in a parkland setting.
After Expo 67 the island became a public park. A vast rowing basin was added to the island in 1976 for the Montreal Olympics, but then the Ile Notre Dame reverted to being a public park.
It was in 1977, as the French Canadians watched the rapid rise to motor racing stardom of Gilles Villeneuve - a native of Berthierville, 40 miles down the St Lawrence river from Montreal - that some bright spark came up with the idea of laying out a racing circuit on the roads on the island. The work cost $2 million but was finished in time for the race. There were 73,000 people present to watch Jean-Pierre Jarier's Lotus lead 49 of the 70 laps before it broke down, leaving Villeneuve's Ferrari in the lead. It was his first F1 win and when Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau handed him the trophy, Villeneuve became a national hero.
Four years later Villeneuve was dead, killed at Zolder at the wheel of his Ferrari, and the Montreal authorities decided that his name should live on and named the circuit after him.
After Villeneuve's victory the circuit became a permanent fixture on the F1 calendar. In 1979 Alan Jones won the race, but the weekend was overshadowed by Niki Lauda's departure from F1; he simply walked out. A year later Jones won again, clinching the World Championship, despite finishing second on the road to the Ligier of Didier Pironi. On the same day Mike Thackwell became the youngest ever Grand Prix driver - at the age of 19 - although he did not get far, being eliminated in a first corner accident after which he had to hand over his Tyrrell to team mate Jarier. Later that afternoon
Jean-Pierre Jabouille crashed his Renault and badly injured his legs. His F1 career was effectively over as a driver.
The late-season date meant that the weather in Montreal was not always pleasant and in 1981 there was torrential rain, through which Jacques Laffite piloted his Ligier-Matra to his last Grand Prix victory. Once again Villeneuve was in the limelight, battling to finish third, his front wings smashed after a series of incidents.
For 1982 the race was moved forward to mid-June, but it would be an unhappy event as a month before the race Villeneuve was killed.
Didier Pironi sat on the pole his Ferrari, but at the start the red car stalled and was ploughed into from behind by the Osella of Riccardo Paletti. He later died in hospital.
The race continued until 1987 when a dispute between race sponsors Labatt and the rival Molson Brewery caused the event to be canceled.
In the years that followed the race developed a reputation for producing unusual winners: Thierry Boutsen won in the rain in 1989; while in 1991 Nigel Mansell knocked off the ignition on his Williams while waving to the crowd on his last lap and handed victory - the last of his career - to Nelson Piquet's Benetton.
Montreal is always keen to welcome F1, but many of the locals are waiting for the day when they have another Villeneuve to cheer...
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