Memories of Gilles Villeneuve abound ahead of the Canadian GP

1978 Canadian GP winner Gilles Villeneuve celebrates his maiden F1 victory on the podium as second placed Jody Scheckter looks on

1978 Canadian GP winner Gilles Villeneuve celebrates his maiden F1 victory on the podium as second placed Jody Scheckter looks on

No other name sums up the relationship between Ferrari and Canada better than that of Gilles Villeneuve. He never won a world championship nor did he rack up a host of wins; just six grand prix victories came his way and yet Gilles is part of the Prancing Horse’s history and its soul. He has a special place in the heart of all its fans.

His talent, speed and courage, which bordered on recklessness made him immortal in the public psyche, in Maranello and around the world, but especially in his Canadian homeland, which has hosted a round of the Formula One World Championship almost uninterrupted for over thirty years, and a total of 43 times to date.

Therefore, it’s entirely logical that the track that has hosted the Canadian Grand Prix since 1978, situated on the Ile Notre Dame, in Montreal’s Saint Lawrence Seaway, is named after Villeneuve. What’s more, history relates that he was the one to take the victory on its debut year, when he also took his maiden F1 win, at the wheel of a Ferrari 312 T3. One can only imagine how happy Gilles must have been to achieve that in front of his home crowd.

Gilles Villeneuve in the Ferrari 312T3 during the 1978 Canadian GP weekend

Gilles Villeneuve in the Ferrari 312T3 during the 1978 Canadian GP weekend

Prior to 1978, there had been ten Canadian Grands Prix, dating back to 1967. Over the first four years, the race alternated between Mosport, Ontario and Mont Tremblant, Quebec. It was on this latter track in 1970 that the Scuderia took its first Canadian win, courtesy of Jacky Ickx and Clay Regazzoni securing a nice one-two finish. From 1971  to 1977, it stayed at Mosport, the year in which, still on the theme of Gilles, he made his debut at the wheel of a Ferrari.

The Scuderia has won this event eleven times. Apart from the aforementioned victories courtesy of Ickx and Villeneuve, flying the Maranello flag from the top of the podium had been the priviledge of Rene Arnoux (1983,) Michele Alboreto (1985,) Jean Alesi (1995) and Michael Schumacher (1997, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2004.) Particularly significant, at least on an emotional level was Alesi’s triumph, the Frenchman’s only F1 win which came on 11th June, which just also to happened to be his thirty first birthday.

Apart from 1970, Ferrari posted a one-two finish a further three times: in 1985 when Stefan Johansson was runner-up to Alboreto and in 2000 and 2004, when Rubens Barrichello crossed the line behind team-mate Michael Schumacher.

Gilles Villeneuve one of F1's most popular figures of all time

Gilles Villeneuve one of F1’s most popular figures of all time

However, that was the last time a Prancing Horse car has won here and since then the team hasn’t been overly lucky, with only one Maranello driver making it to the podium – Alonso third in 2010 – even if the team has usually been pretty competitive.

The Spaniard won here in 2006, but apart from the aforementioned third place in 2010, he has failed to make it to the podium in his other eight starts. Massa’s record is even worse, never having made it to the top three from nine starts.

After Monaco and its Casino, the circus moves on to Montreal which also boasts a casino, actually inside the semi-permanent island circuit, but the wheel of fortune has usually turned the wrong way for Ferrari.

It’s to be expected that strange things can happen in a race usually subject to changing weather or the appearance of the Safety Car, but the most bizarre incident has to be the one that caught out Kimi Raikkonen in 2008, when he was hit by Lewis Hamilton, while waiting at the end of pit lane as the red light was on. That day, a return to winning ways at Gilles’ circuit was on the cards: let’s hope this weekend could be the good one!


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  • Ian Mac

    You really had to be there, to see Gilles drive, to understand what all the affection & adulation is all about. For those of us who were there, he will never be forgotten.