Top 5 Canadian Grands Prix
Formula One is back for another week and it’s time to head across the Atlantic to Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix.
There have been a total of 52 World Championship races in Canada, with 41 of them being held at the current Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Three of them have been won by an Australian, with Alan Jones winning twice in 1979 and 1980, and Daniel Ricciardo memorably winning his very first race at the circuit back in 2014, one of these which you’ll read about shortly.
It’s always an exciting race with incredible atmosphere and also just so happens to be my favourite race of the season, meaning this was one tricky list to come up with the top 5 Canadian Grands Prix of all time.
But I like a challenge. And that’s what the list is today. So let’s get into the top five races to ever take place in the true north strong and free.
5. 1979 – Winner: Alan Jones (Williams)
As you’ve no doubt read in a few of these articles of late, I do enjoy a great race with great racing – something that sadly isn’t overly too common these days. In 1979 though, we had an epic battle between two drivers who at the time were considered the best of the best: Alan Jones and Gilles Villeneuve.
Aussie Jones was in great form in the closing races of the 1979 season and went into Montreal having won three of the past four races. Canadian hero Villeneuve, racing at the circuit that would later be named after him, had lost the World Championship to his teammate Jody Scheckter already that season but was still in great form and wanted to win at his home circuit.
Despite starting on pole, Jones fell back behind both the more powerfully engined Ferraris at the beginning and spent the majority of the race biding his time, looking for a gap to get through. A gap he eventually found on lap 51, storming past Villeneuve for the lead at the hairpin and banging wheels as he broke Canadian hearts.
From there he was never challenged, although Villenueve remained right on the rear wing of Jones in his Williams to finish a mere 1.080s behind the future World Champion.
4. 2008 – Winner: Robert Kubica (BMW)
A pretty crazy race that turned into redemption for Robert Kubica a year after one of the most frightening crashes ever seen in Formula One (you’ll read about that in a moment).
Kubica and his BMW teammate Nick Heidfeld were in strong form through the weekend but still had to overcome the superior Ferraris and McLarens, particularly those of eventual World Champion that year Lewis Hamilton and reigning World Champion Kimi Raikkonen.
He also had to overcome one of the more bizarre moments in recent memory, with the Montreal circuit quite literally breaking apart across the weekend leading to some extra dangerous conditions.
On race day, however, the talking point was the pitlane accident between Hamilton and Raikkonen. On lap 16 the Force India of Adrian Sutil had retired, causing a safety car. With the leading cars all pitting, Kubica and Raikkonen went to exit the pits but stopped alongside each other with a red light clearly on display.
Hamilton, however, did not see the red light and rammed into the back of Raikkonen’s Ferrari, causing both to retire from the race and giving Kubica the lead.
From there Kubica’s only challenger was his teammate Heidfeld, but the Polish driver held him to claim a memorable win in what would be the only one of his F1 career.
3. 1998 – Winner: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)
As an avid Michael Schumacher fan I generally always have to put one of his wins on my lists, but the 1998 race was the one that really made me fall in love with the sport on many levels.
The race is probably best remembered for the crazy start that saw a barrell rolling Alex Wurz in his Benetton involved in a crash with the Prost of Jarno Trulli and Sauber of Jean Alesi, before the restart saw more drama for both Alesi and Trulli.
It also had two significant Schumacher incidents as he waltzed his way to victory: one involving him forcing countryman Heinz-Harald Frentzen off the track as he exited the pitlane and into retirement, the other a ding dong slipstream battle between himself and former title rival Damon Hill in his Jordan. Both incidents raised questions around the racing style of Schumacher and didn’t leave many happy feelings in Frentzen or Hill’s garage.
At the end of the race, however, it was a dominant victory for Schumacher, who finished ahead of the impressive Giancarlo Fisichella for Benetton and his teammate Eddie Irvine in the second Ferrari.
2. 2007 – Winner: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren)
The first-ever win by Lewis Hamilton in only his sixth-ever race, the Brit took the win from his first-ever pole position the day before in a measured drive that was well ahead of his incredibly young 22-year-old racing mind.
But outside of that historic feat, this race had so much more, including that crash by Robert Kubica, easily one of the most horrific ever shown live on TV.
Travelling at 300km/h, the Polish driver made contact with the rear of Jarno Trulli’s Toyota to send him flying into the wall at the hairpin before flipping onto his side and slamming into the opposing wall. The impact was brutal, and so bad that his head was clearly flopping around as his feet dangled outside of his car. It was easily the most brutal crash I’ve ever witnessed live watching F1.
Thankfully Kubica was fine, although he did sit out the US Grand Prix a week later as a precaution that lead to a certain Sebastian Vettel making his F1 debut. Although, clearly that never really amounted to much. Anyway…
Outside of those moments there were two Ferraris coming together, a surprise podium for Williams and Alex Wurz and the incredible sight of Takuma Sato in a Super Aguri overtaking reigning two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso in a McLaren.
An incredibly memorable race that nobody who watched it live will soon forget.
1. 2011 – Winner: Jenson Button (McLaren)
Back in 2019 I ranked my top 10 races of the 2010s, and this one easily came out as the No.1 race of the decade. Once again it was the easy choice to be No.1 on this list.
As I said four years ago, It had absolutely everything. Four hours of stop-start racing mixed with rain, overtakes, crashes and the most outstanding of drives from Jenson Button, who won the race after being involved in two crashes and six pit stops.
The McLaren driver did get a lot of help from a Sebastian Vettel mistake on the final lap for sure, but it all somehow came down to keeping a level head and some brilliant strategy decisions along the way.
Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton definitely weren’t happy with Button in the race as they were both involved in the two crashes with the McLaren driver, but it was the overall excitement level and thrill of watching Button put on a show that makes it the best Canadian Grand Prix of all time.
There was also the excitement of seeing Michael Schumacher nearly hold on for his first Mercedes podium, but a fourth place for him also added to the excitement as well. An epic race well worth a watch if you haven’t seen it before.
Imagine getting up at 3am on the Australian east coast to sit around for four hours and wait and wait and wait. Somehow it was fine, though, with this being the result. If you haven’t seen it or haven’t watched it in a while, do yourself a favour and track it down. It’s worth every minute of it.
Do you agree with this list? Which Canadian Grand Prix is your favourite? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
This article was originally written for The Roar. You can read the published version here