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JUNE 10, 1996

Where are we going this week?

THE arrival in Formula 1 in 1977 of French-Canadian Gilles Villeneuve precipitated a hurried search in Quebec for a circuit to host the Canadian Grand Prix. The race had previously been held at Mosport Park, in English-speaking Ontario.

It was hurriedly decided that a circuit should be built on the roads of the man-made island which separate the St Lawrence River from the St Lawrence Seaway - the Ile de Notre Dame. This had been built in 1967 for Expo 67 and were dotted with weird and wonderful pavilions, designed by futurist architects.

In October 1978 F1arrived and Jean-Pierre Jarier in a Lotus took pole and led until his car broke down. This left Villeneuve in the lead and he duly won what would be his first F1 victory. Canada went berserk with joy.

There were changes to the track for 1979 but Villeneuve was again mighty, finishing a second behind Alan Jones's Williams. A year later Jones won again, clinching the World Championship despite finishing second on the road to the penalized Ligier of Didier Pironi.

A year later Ligier won the race, Jacques Laffite using effective Michelin rain tires and a progressive Matra engine to overcome miserable conditions. It would be the last Ligier win until Olivier Panis's Monaco win this year.

Villeneuve was again spectacular, battling hard all day in a difficult car to finish third, his front wings mangled after a series of incidents.

By the time of the 1982 race Villeneuve was dead, killed in a qualifying crash at Zolder. The City Fathers of Montreal decided that the site of one of his great victories should be named in his honor. The race was moved forward to June in the hope of better weather but the crowds were down. Nelson Piquet would win in a Brabham-BMW but the race would see the death of young Italian Riccardo Paletti.

Since then the race has happened every year - except 1987 when a dispute between Labatts and the rival Molson Brewery caused it to be canceled. Ferrari won in 1983 with Rene Arnoux and in 1985 with Michele Alboreto. Piquet won in 1984 (for Brabham) and fluked a win in 1991 for Benetton, a race that should have gone to Nigel Mansell if the Englishman had not knocked off a switch while waving to the crowd on his last lap.

Mansell had won in 1986 but he could not compete in the late 1980s with Ayrton Senna who won in 1988 and 1990. The 1989 race was wet and Thierry Boutsen didn't put a foot wrong, winning the first Williams-Renault victory. There would be another with Alain Prost in 1993, while the 1992 race went to Gerhard Berger's McLaren-Honda.

The 1994 race was won by Michael Schumacher and the German would have won last year as well but for a small electrical problem which delayed him and allowed Jean Alesi to win his first F1 victory.

This year will be a sellout event because the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve will feature Gilles's son Jacques. The crowd will no doubt be hoping that Jacques will give Williams-Renault a third Canadian GP victory...