image 2012 Canadian Grand Prix Preview image

“Bienvenue au Canada!”

After a short stint in Europe, the Formula 1 circus now heads ‘across the pond’ for a single flyaway event at the traditional home of the Canadian Grand Prix: the iconic Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal.

This will be one of two visits the championship will make to North America, but everyone is focusing on whether this weekend will see a seventh different race-winner in as many events in 2012. Will it happen? Let’s take a look at the Canadian Grand Prix Preview…


The Circuit


Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve

Date: 08-10 June 2012
Venue: Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve, Isle Notre Dame, Montreal, Canada
Lap Length: 4.361km
Race Lap Record: 1:13.622, Rubens Barrichello (Ferrari F2004) – 2004
Event Schedule: Free Practice Session 1 Fri 10:00-11:30
Free Practice Session 2 Fri 14:00-15:30
Free Practice Session 3 Sat 10:00-11:00
Qualifying Sat 13:00-14:00
Race (70 laps, 305.720km) Sun 14:00-16:00
Past Ten Winners: Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes MP4-26) 2011
Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes MP4-25) 2010
Robert Kubica (BMW Sauber F1.08) 2008
Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes MP4-22) 2007
Fernando Alonso (Renault R26) 2006
Kimi Räikkönen (McLaren Mercedes MP4-20) 2005
  Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F2004) 2004
  Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F2003-GA) 2003
  Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F2002) 2002
  Ralf Schumacher (Williams BMW FW22) 2001

Built on a man-made island in the middle of the St Lawrence River, the circuit was named after Canada’s favourite F1 son, Gilles Villeneuve, who won on this very circuit in 1978 and whose legend still burns bright 30 years after his untimely death.

While there is currently no Canadian on this year’s grid for the parochial fans to cheer on – Robert Wickens came closest last year as Virgin Racing’s reserve driver – fans will still flock to watch a fascinating race.

Famed for being a car breaker, drivers will need to keep off the marbles and away from the walls that closely line the edge of the circuit. The track is murder on brakes, and there are usually a few retirees and bent chassis’ along the way…

The track combines some high-speed sections with some slow, blind corners, and it’s an incredible test of man and machine.

From the start of the lap, there is a hard-left kink that immediately feeds into a right-hand hairpin, followed by a sequence of chicanes and short straights before the track picks up speed. There are several long straights, cumbersome chicanes and big stopping points. The are several overtaking opportunities and the final chicane with its ‘Wall of Champions’ has caught many out…

Take a look at our Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve Track Guide:


Rewind to 2011 and other Memorable Moments

Inasmuch as the opening six races of the 2012 Formula 1 season have provided fans with an unbelievable set of circumstances – six different winners in the first six races – so too did last year’s Canadian Grand Prix.

Last year’s event – at over four hours’ duration – will go down as the longest in the modern era. Proceedings were stopped when a torrential downpour hit the circuit, but not before a few thrills and spills up and down the field.

Hamilton was out with suspension damage after clashing with team-mate ButtonLewis Hamilton seemed to be in the thick of it: tangling with Mark Webber at Turn 1 on the first green flag lap, before later coming together with team-mate Jenson Button on the start/finish straight.

Hamilton was out with suspension damage, but Button would drop to last place after a front wing change, before he set about on a rapid charge through the field when racing resumed and the track steadily began to dry.

On the final lap he had leader Vettel in his sights, and under pressure from the rapidly closing Englishman, Vettel had a spin and Button took the lead for a surprising and popular win.

So what have been some of the highlights from the many races at Montreal? Here’s our shortlist of the best – interestingly, two (including last year’s) feature in our ‘Top 10 Last Lap Wins’ countdown we published last year:

  • 1981: A downpour lashes the circuit, and the brilliant Gilles Villeneuve wrestled his Ferrari to an improbable third place after running half the race distance without his nose cone.
  • 1989: A bizarre race hit by heavy rain. The race lead swapped countless times and at the end of two hours of mayhem that featured three mid-race disqualifications, Thierry Boutsen took his first-ever Grand Prix win for Williams, the team’s first of many with engine partner Renault.
  • 1991: Six races into the season, and Williams’ Nigel Mansell had two podium finishes while McLaren’s Ayrton Senna had enjoyed four wins. The Williams’ were the better cars in Canada and cruised into the distance to look set for a comfortable 1-2 finish. But then Riccardo Patrese’s gearbox packed it in, and Mansell comically stalled his car on the final lap when celebrating prematurely with the crowds. An incredulous Nelson Piquet took an unexpected win in his Benetton, which was the last win for Pirelli before it returned to F1 this year.
  • image1998: Michael Schumacher takes a brilliant win despite incurring a stop-go penalty for running Heinz-Harald Frentzen off the road after a pit stop. Jacques Villeneuve threw away a possible win with a wild lunge to take the lead, allowing Schumacher to use a better strategy to deny Giancarlo Fisichella of an unlikely win. Fisichella’s team-mate Alexander Wurz finished fourth after starting from the pit lane, having barrel-rolled his Benetton at the first start (pictured).
  • 2007: A chaotic race that saw plenty of scrapes followed up by an almighty accident for Robert Kubica, from which he incredibly emerged with little more than bruising. Lewis Hamilton went on to score his maiden F1 victory.
  • 2008: Showing his resilience just a year after his big smash, Kubica takes his maiden – and to-date, only – F1 win, leading an imperious BMW Sauber 1-2 ahead of team-mate Nick Heidfeld. Lewis Hamilton threw away his chances of a race win after colliding with Kimi Raikkonen in the pit lane.


Canada Talking Points

So what are three critical talking points of the race weekend before we let our expert analysts have their say?

  • The potential for thrills and spills: A fast, low-grip track with little run-off to speak of, the Montreal circuit has always provided plenty of action, thrills and spills. There have been some monster shunts over the years: Olivier Panis smashed his legs in 1997, Alexander Wurz barrel-rolled at the start of the 1998 race, and Robert Kubica had his enormous accident in the 2007 race. The first two corners are always fraught at the start of the race, and rarely isn’t there a Canadian Grand Prix that doesn’t feature a few safety car appearances. How the teams manage their strategy during these interruptions will be key to a successful weekend.
  • Will Montreal close the competition up? Last year’s race was the second of the season to show that Red Bull wasn’t going to have it all its own way, and the wet weather allowed McLaren to claim its famous last-lap win with Jenson Button at the wheel. That being said, Sebastian Vettel had the upper hand right up until his last lap fumble… The high-speed, ‘point and squirt’ nature of the circuit tends to have a more equalising effect up and down the grid.
  • The return to a single DRS zone: We tip our hats to the FIA for being willing to experiment with the new DRS technology, but last year’s ‘double DRS’ concept was an abject failure here: overtaking was far too easy. A switch to a single DRS zone was the correct decision.

So what do the readers and contributors think will happen this weekend?

Geoff Burke, Journalist

“Until the awful Valencia street circuit joined the F1 calendar, this was the only Formula 1 venue where you could race by a freight ship – such is the Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve’s location in the middle of Montreal’s busy shipping channel.

“It’s a funny circuit and one of the few ‘old guard’ tracks left on the calendar, even if it’s only been around for just over thirty years. It’s a car breaker, and we tend to see surprise results here. Reverting to a single DRS zone was the only sensible option after last year’s overtaking-fest, but this circuit has never had a reputation for being processional, so I still question why DRS is even necessary here.

“This is also one of only two established circuits on this year’s calendar (Hockenheim being the other) where Red Bull Racing hasn’t won. Will they do so this weekend? My money’s on a seventh different winner!”

Matthew Lennon
Matt Lennon, IndyCar Correspondent

“Monaco, it is fair to say, is largely held each year for the show and for true race-fans, isn’t really a great testament to F1 cars that have clearly outgrown the confines they are forced to race in. Now that it has been said and done for another year, the circus can return to a real race circuit and the unbelievable show that the 2012 F1 season has been so far can resume.

“With six different winners from six events so far, one must wonder when this game of musical chairs will come to an end and we will see a repeat winner? Or can Hamilton, Schumacher, Raikkonen, Grosjean or Massa step up and continue the unpredictability? If ever there was a circuit capable of surprising, it is Canada and its infamous “wall of champions”, which has claimed more than a few who dared to cross it.

“Canada also has a number of good overtaking opportunities, one of which is at the end of a very long straight, which is also a DRS zone and should make for endless overtaking chances throughout the 60-odd laps on Sunday afternoon. It should be a cracking race.”

Joseph Sheu, Technical Contributor

“This weekend we head off to the Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve in Canada, and being a high speed circuit, we should see some contrast to Monaco. McLaren has had good experiences in Canada in the last few years, including an epic win last year from JB. Mercedes is another team that could do well with a strong engine and traditionally strong low drag configurations on their cars. Lotus finally head to a track that they also think suit them well.

“Last year’s race was memorably red flagged due to rain, before continuing two hours later, what it meant was it delivered an astounding race, with tons of overtaking. Whilst I’d like a dry race, I hope we get a similar amount of spectacle. We are well into the season, and yet to even have a double winner, or a clear points leader. It can only get better from here.”

Ben Waterworth, Feature Writer & ‘The Qualifying Lap’ radio show host on Edge 99.3FM 

“By far my personal favourite race of the year (despite the early start for viewers in Australia), the Canadian Grand Prix is always an exciting race that is talked about for many days afterwards. The popularity of this race is apparent, with the 2005 race being the third most watched sporting even in the world behind only the Superbowl and UEFA Champions League final. And the king of Canada when it comes to F1 and the driver who usually brings home the bacon?

“A certain seven-time World Champion who for the first time in his comeback finds himself in a winning car. Michael Schumacher is coming off a (moral) pole position in Monaco, and despite the fact more bad luck hit him in the race, he has a taste of the front for the first time since 2006. I expect him to be at the pointy end again this weekend, and (hopefully) bring home that elusive podium he has been desperate for.”


The Form Guide

This weekend will be all about whether we can see a seventh different winner since the start of the season, and with the likes of Michael Schumacher in ever-improving form, the two Lotuses threatening the front of the pack and Lewis Hamilton still to get some luck this year, there’s no reason to suggest why we shouldn’t see this amazing record continue.

There’s been this really interesting debate from the sport’s insiders and fans as to whether this year’s unpredictability is damaging the sport’s credibility. Isn’t it amazing how quickly everyone forgets how repetitive last year was with Sebastian Vettel cruising to yet another win? Or how Nigel Mansell (1992) and Michael Schumacher (2001, 2002 and 2004) romped to their respective championship crowns? This year has been all about a range of factors mixing to create some sensational races: unpredictable weather, less-durable Pirelli tyres, and changes in technical regulations. It’s wonderful.

McLaren enjoys a fearsome record at the Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve, winning four of the last six races held hereSo trying make a clear prediction about what could happen this weekend is proving impossible. As we said in our event preview on this week’s episode on The Qualifying Lap radio show – which you can download as a podcast here – weather conditions will be big factor here. If the conditions are warmer than expected, then expect Lotus to be a factor here; if they’re cooler, this will play into Mercedes’ hands.

Red Bull and McLaren will be strong either way, and you’d be foolish to discount Lewis Hamilton’s record here: he’s had three pole positions here in his four visits to Montreal, and his maiden F1 win came first time out here in 2007. If only the team could get their pit stops sorted…


Don’t forget to enter your F1 Predictions!

The seventh round of the 2012 F1 Predictions Competition is now open, and you can enter your predictions for the race right here to be in the running for some great prizes throughout the season and at the end of the year!

The cut-off to submit your predictions is no later than five minutes before qualifying starts, so make sure you’re in it to win it!

As we have already seen in the first six rounds of tipping, some of our contestants elected to claim their ‘double up’ early on to give them a head start over the rest of the field. Are you confident enough in your predictions to use yours this weekend?

To enter your predictions, click here.


As always, will be bringing you the best of the on- and off-track action this weekend, so make sure we’re your first port of call for your Monaco Grand Prix fix!

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.