Why getting up (or staying up) in Oz for Montreal is simply magic.
THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU
The Canadian Grand Prix is the ultimate test of a Formula One fan’s commitment in Australia. The early stages of winter, a 4am Monday start if you’re on the east coast … this is a race for the purists, the obsessed, and the insomniacs. Casual fans need not apply.
When Mark Webber was on the grid, Montreal was (along with Melbourne) a genuine bogey track; it took the Red Bull racer nine years from his debut to finally make a Canadian podium in 2011, and his third place that day was his sole moment in the sun at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in 11 attempts.
For Webber’s successor and compatriot Daniel Ricciardo, Montreal has been similarly bleak except for one momentous occasion – the 2014 race where the West Australian took the lead of a Grand Prix for the first time in the shadows of the chequered flag, and duly brought it home for his maiden F1 victory. As Ricciardo’s (admittedly fuzzy) recollection goes, flights were postponed and adult beverages drunk; back in Australia, as morning broke, those fans who had pulled an all-nighter were feeling weary, but euphoric. And, encouraged by a former Aussie F1 great (more on that later), reaching for something stronger than usual to accompany their breakfast.
“Canada’s easily one of my top five races,” Ricciardo beams, and we’re not disagreeing with him. Here’s five reasons why we love F1’s annual visit to Montreal.
1. The most ridiculous race ever
Four hours and four minutes. Again, four hours and four minutes. Think of the craziest F1 race imaginable, multiply it by 100 and you have the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix. Even if it did end up with Red Bull having red faces after losing a race that was well won long before the flag finally fell.
The short(ish) version. It was wet and the race started behind the safety car. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) and Webber collided at the first corner. Hamilton then hit teammate Jenson Button on lap seven and retired. Button was to later get a penalty for speeding in pit lane and clashed with Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, and dropped to last. The wet got wetter and caused a two-hour delay, with the circuit resembling the nearby St Lawrence Seaway. When the race resumed, an accident for Nick Heidfeld (Sauber) on lap 56 caused the sixth (sixth!) safety car of the race. Pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) led for the majority of the race and had a one-second lead going into the final lap before running wide at turn six, allowing Button, who had stormed through the field after making six (six!) pit stops, to move into the lead. He duly converted for one of the more improbable victories in F1 history; to this day, that final lap is the only lap he’s ever led in Montreal. McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh was astonished. “I think it was one of the best wins in the history of F1, let alone his,” he said of Button’s brilliance. It’s hard to argue.
2. Stars take their first bow here
Jean Alesi was one of the more popular drivers on the grid in his 201-race F1 tenure, but his one and only success came in Montreal in 1995. He’s far from the last man to break through here – Hamilton won his maiden GP (in his sixth start) for McLaren in his rookie year of 2007, while Robert Kubica’s only F1 win came in Canada in 2008 as part of a 1-2 for BMW-Sauber with Heidfeld. The Pole’s success came a year after one of the more terrifying accidents in recent F1 history in Canada, which saw him miss the race the following weekend at Indianapolis, opening the door for a fresh-faced German named Sebastian Vettel to step in as his temporary replacement. And then Ricciardo won his first GP in Canada in 2014, taking over at the front from Nico Rosberg on the third-last lap. Ricciardo’s compatriot Alan Jones, the 1980 F1 world champion who was hosting the Australian Network Ten coverage in the wee hours, suddenly got a bit thirsty. “I don’t care that it’s six o’clock in the morning, I’m going to have a beer,” Jones said; he surely wasn’t the only Australian to raise a glass to Ricciardo that morning.
3. The Wall of Champions
The Montreal layout looks seemingly innocuous on paper, but from behind the wheel, it’s full of trapdoors and trip wires that can catch drivers out at any time. Nowhere does that ring more true than Turns 13-14, the final chicane at the end of the lap that brings the cars back onto the start-finish straight. Ever since Damon Hill, Michael Schumacher and home hero Jacques Villeneuve all crashed into the wall at the exit of the final corner in 1999, the ‘Wall of Champions’ has claimed many a victim. Ralf Schumacher, Heidfeld, Rubens Barrichello, Button, Vettel and Bruno Senna are just some of the other drivers to end their days in Montreal after sparking a shower of carbon fibre by clouting the wall, which for years featured a “Bienvenue au Quebec” (“Welcome to Quebec”) insignia, a slogan that only added insult to the (car) injuries suffered by the drivers who smacked into it. With Pastor Maldonado off the 2016 grid, it’s harder to pick a favourite from the current driver crop as to who hits it first this weekend. But someone will, count on it.
4. Canadian weirdness
Perhaps it’s the viewing hours for those fans watching in Australia, but the strange moments in Canada always seem stranger than other Grands Prix. There’ll inevitably be a groundhog sighting at some stage over the weekend; Montreal city officials typically trap as many groundhogs as they can find around the Ile Notre-Dame circuit and transport the animals to nearby Ile Ste-Helene in the lead-up to the event, but one or two will always emerge to play chicken with F1 cars at inopportune times. Anthony Davidson’s race for Super Aguri in 2007 was ended when he hit what he thought was “a beaver”, while last year, Felipe Massa got a fright when one rodent took its time crossing in front of the Williams driver as he was busily keeping Romain Grosjean’s Lotus behind him.
It’s not just mammals that prompt strangeness either. The aforementioned six safety cars in 2011 was clearly too much for one marshal, while in 1991, Nigel Mansell dramatically stopped a few corners from home after leading comfortably, prompting a (possibly apocryphal) tale of a British tabloid journalist amending his headline from ‘You Silly Fuel’ when it was first thought the Williams driver had run out of petrol to ‘Oh Gear, Oh Gear’ when it emerged that Mansell’s gearbox had given up when he was waving to the crowd on his final lap. And then in 2008, after an early safety car caused by the stricken Force India of Adrian Sutil, race leader Hamilton failed to notice the pit-lane exit lights were still red as he prepared to rejoin the fray, ploughing straight into the back of a stationary Kimi Raikkonen and eliminating both cars on the spot. What weirdness might we see this weekend?
5. Gilles Villeneuve stories
Coming at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, the Canadian GP is an annual reminder of one of the most beloved and spectacular drivers the sport has ever seen – and a chance to again hear of the great feats that made Canada’s favourite son so revered. The signage on the start-finish line? Permanent, and perfect.