Formula 1’s lost nations: Canada

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The 2008 Canadian Grand Prix was the last for the time being

Last world champion: Jacques Villeneuve, Williams, 1997
Last Grand Prix winner: Jacques Villeneuve, Nurburgring, 1997
Last Grand Prix starter: Jacques Villeneuve, BMW, Hockenheimring, 2006
Last Grand Prix: Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal, 2008

Canada is a new addition to the ‘lost nations’: Its Grand Prix has just been cancelled, and it had a former world champion until 2006. But will it ever be back?

Canada’s F1 history

Does any country have as fine a history of Formula 1 circuits as Canada? Undulating Mosport, picturesque Mont Tremblant, punishing Montreal – each challenging and unusual, and all now sadly missing from F1.

Formula 1’s visits to Canada began in 1967. Most of the early races were held at Mosport, near Lake Ontario, but its crests and sweeps were last seen in 1977 after which growing safety concerns forced it off the calendar. It earned a place in F1 history for being the first venue where a safety car was used during a Grand Prix – it proved a total shambles, and it two decades passed before the practice became commonplace.

Mosport’s replacement was a twisty circuit on a man-made island near Montreal. The first F1 visitors in 1978 derided its ‘Mickey Mouse’ layout. But as the configuration was tweaked (and other venues became increasingly bland) the Montreal circuit gained a reputation for punishing cars and drivers alike.

That first race was won by Gilles Villeneuve who assumed instant hero status in his home country. But even after Villeneuve’s untimely death in 1982 (whereupon the circuit was named after him) and despite no other Canadian drivers taking his place in the sport, the popularity of F1 in Canada endured. The race remained on the calendar every year, except in 1987, due to a row over sponsorship.

Ten years later Canada finally produced a world champion. Jacques Villeneuve, son of Gilles, arrived in F1 with the CART championship and an Indy 500 win under his belt, and came close to winning the world championship in his first season. He won the title in 1997, but he never emulated his father in winning his home Grand Prix. A switch to the ill-fated BAR project in 1999 was the ruining of Villeneuve’s career, which he failed to revive in later appearances for Renault and BMW.

He was unceremoniously dumped by BMW halfway through 2006 in favour of Robert Kubica. Bernie Ecclestone did much the same to the Canadian Grand Prix promoters at the end of 2008, claiming they hadn’t been paying their bills. That may have been the case, but F1 has deprived itself of another popular venue and passionate crowd at a time when most tracks are struggling to fill the grandstands at Grands Prix.

Canada’s F1 future

Robert Wickens is a man to watch in Formula Two this year. Wickens has driven for the Canadian A1 Grand Prix team and blown hot and cold on occasions: winning in fine style at Durban one day; causing a crash by driving against the flow of traffic the next.

But he has the all-important backing of Red Bull, and a strong showing in WSR this year could put him on the path to F1.

Canadian F1 driver biographies

Formula 1’s lost nations

Rob Wickens in the F3 Euro Series round at the Hockenheimring in 2008

Images (C), Red Bull / GEPA

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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24 comments on “Formula 1’s lost nations: Canada”

  1. Bring back canada! I loved montreal, the races were always so eventful and unpredictable. No montreal in 2010 will be awful. Plus Montreal on the playstation has always been good. :)

  2. It was really strange how this race went away so fast. I still don’t understand how it happened. However, I know who to blame. The fact that there is no race in Canada is proof that Bernie has no heart and little regard for other souls.

    I’m for one is sad. I have been planning for the last several years to go. Going as far as to buy my plane, hotel, and race tickets before a work emergency forced me to miss the race. Seeing that would of been Kubica’s win and the Hamilton-Kimi accident would of happened right across from me, I am kicking myself now.

    Canada needs to come back and soon.

  3. Robert Wickens will be driving in F2 for the Red Bull backed team in 2009 alongside Mikhail Aleshin.

    1. So he is – fixed it. Nice avatar BTW!

  4. I will miss Canadian GP so much this season, races on circuit Gilles Villeneuve were allways eventfull and interesting…

  5. Ironic Kubica, the man who replaced Jacques Villeneuve and forced him to retire from F1, won his first Grand Prix at Montreal… :P

    Sad Montreal is no longer on the calendar… Races were always really good.

  6. I think it’s a shame that Jacques never won another race after his championship year was over. He is someone who should have been fighting Schumacher through the early 2000’s for wins and titles. He’s been one of my favourite drivers in recent years, and it was so sad not to see him win multiple titles. he was more than capable of doing so.

    Montreal will be missed too, it’s one of those races you always look forward to every year.

  7. Yeap, Jacques was good and I cheered for him in 1997. But it still needs to be proved whether he was that good after all. May be it was the car that deserved a lot of praise? After all FW19 was a great car by all accounts and when its successor lacked both power and downforce and God knows what else, Jacques could hardly better Heinz Harald Frentzen. Also, I couldn’t believe my eyes when Massa beat JV at Sauber in 2005…

  8. Good ridents

  9. Letting Montreal go is one of the biggest mistakes Ecclestone has ever made during his tenure, easily as big as turning his back on America.
    The crowd really were passionate, especially when Villeneuve was at the peak of his powers. The most damning aspect of modern F1 is the lack of passion from the stands. The old, tradional venues like Silverstone, Interlagos, Monza, Spa, always outbeat the likes of Bahrain and Sepang on sheer passion alone.
    Watching the 2008 Brazilian Grands Prix, with the huge crowd roaring on Felipe Massa as they had Aryton Senna twenty years earlier reminded me of what this sport should really be about. The fans!
    Giving up Montreal is yet another step on giving up
    the sports heritage and traditions. If Ecclestone were incharge of FIFA, the World Cup would be played in stadiums full of just corporate brass, just to give the allusion that all was well.

  10. Just a minor correction Keith. F1 first came to Canada in 1967 (our Centennial Year). I was there at Mosport to see the rain drown the Lucas electrics on Jim Clark’s Lotus 49, and allow a Brabham (Hulme?) to win.

    1. Fixed, thanks Garyc.

  11. The loss of Montreal, very sadly, says everything you need to know about how Bernie runs the sport these days. The Canadian GP had everything needed for a successful GP weekend- tremendous crowds in a fun location, great backdrop, and a good circuit- all located in a nation and region that appreciates motor racing. Then, he prices the event right off the schedule….

    I remember seeing the figures that the Canadian Government people were offering to try and keep it, and then seeing Bernie’s outrageous demands that were beyond realistic. After that, he gave some sort of quote that sais he would offer the Canadians the same deals he was giving to Bahrain or China- Crazy, to say the least.

    In the future, I hope Montreal returns along with a revived USGP. As for Wickens, he looks to be on the Buemi-esque path to F1 in the near future.

  12. Lets hope they can get it back on the calendar. Canada has a lot to be proud of. On the driver front that comes all from the same family, in terms of circuits all three tracks used for the GP have been classics. I hope Montreal comes back, it was one of the best stops on the calendar. If not I hope it comes back soon enough and if it is a new track I hope it is not an embarrassment alongside the great Canadian tracks gone by.

  13. Fingers crossed the Canadian GP will be back on our screens soon…

  14. great series keith.

    i like many others are sad that canada will no longer have a GP, it’s a great loss to the sport.
    however……we all (me included) hailed the great success of the singapore night race but it is sad that this i think may have been a great big nail in both the canadian and french GP’s coffin. F1 has got to expensive and to fund the circus tradition i am afraid has been forgotton.

    before i upset anyone i am not being negative about F1 and it’s costs etc. i have and will always watch and support F1, i am just making a point.

    1. Gaz, you make a very good point about Singapore creating a new standard for glitz/glamour/spectacle that is near-impossible for traditional circuits to live up to. I enjoyed watching the show as much as anyone, but now Bernie will start demanding this type of display from any new entrant to the calendar. That’s why whenever you hear discussion about a new USGP, the first thoughts are always Vegas, Vegas, and more Vegas….

      I very much hope that Montreal returns to F1 as soon as possible. However, my only fear is that there are so many people out there who will settle for “at least one race in North America” and will forget about- and even discourage- a USGP if Montreal is re-introduced. Bring back CGV for sure, but we NEED at least one race under the Stars and Strpies.

    2. Thanks Gaz – more tomorrow…

  15. Canada had everything that should be wanted from a Grand Prix – it was of the few races last year that did actually sell out (Only four did didnt they?), and the crowd isnt just at full capacity, it spends most of the weekend at full voice as well, so the atmosphere is brilliant! Montreal also almost always produces a really eventful and exciting race, the location is brilliant, and given the nature of where the circuit is, the access was excellent. Plus Montreal during race weekend is party central with a great vibe throughout the entire city for the whole preceeding week. Ok so the facilities arent the greatest, but i have been to worse, and for what you get there racewise you dont mind the facilities lacking slightly.

    A great great loss to the calendar, and if Canada cant keep its race – what hope have any of the other older tracks got once they come under threat. Canada was one of my favourites on the calendar and was almost as guaranteed to have a good race as Spa, if not more so. Hope it comes back soon!

    1. Indeed Clare, it was hard to beat Montreal in terms of offering everything a good GP should. However, since the checks weren’t shpowing up at 6 Prince’s Gate in the proper amounts, Bernie pulls the plus. Honestly, I really believe that a GP could be run in some far-flung nation with zero spectators, but if they paid the proper amount there would be no questions asked.

      As for the facilities, I know how much Bernie hates the pit building at Montreal, and how he speaks up abouyt structures like that being visible to millions of viewers around the woirld. But honestly, when’s the last time any of us stood around in awe of the pit building the last time we were watching a GP on the TV?

  16. I am still gutted that Montreal was so unceremoniously dumped from the calendar. It was one of the highlights of the season for me, along with Monaco, Spa & Melbourne. It was also the next GP I was planning on attending. Guess I’ll have to go to Laguna Seca & watch MotoGP instead.

    1. Bernie must be the only person in the world who cares what a pit building looks like.

  17. Bernie simply doesn’t know how to do business in North America as he has demonstrated so often. I live in hope that CVC will realise this and fire him.

    Apart from its importance to the sponsors and the fact the fans like it it seems insane that a circuit that could have been designed to highlight KERS has been removed from the calendar the same year that KERS has been introduced. No joined up thinking in F1.

    Jacques Villeneuve should have been hassling Schumacher rather than wasting his talent at BAR. Some people will believe it was the car that made him successful at Williams but the guy was that good. His motivation was severely diluted by banging his head against the wall at BAR for so long and by the time he had a competitive team mate he was not the force he had been. I think he was trying to fulfil his father’s destiny as Gilles had inteneded setting up his own team but never had the chance. Whether he would have done so or not we will never know but I have my doubts. He was on his way to McLaren for 1983 and you have to think that had he settled in there he would have racked up wins and titles and forgotten about Team Villeneuve. Had he gone there you have to wonder what would have happened to Prost when he got fired by Renault at the end of 1983 but I digress.

    I hope F1 returns to Montreal in the very near future.

  18. I’m Canadian and I love Formula 1, so it goes without saying that 2009 just isn’t going to be the same for me. Every year I counted down the days until I could finally see and hear the lovely scream of F1 engines from the stands again, like a kid waiting for Christmas.

    I sincerely hope we can get the GP back, not just for my own selfish interests but for the good of F1. It’s a guaranteed sell out, with or without a Canadian driver. In 2008 the crowds in my stand cheered with half a dozen polish gents who stood and sang their national anthem as Kubica stood on top of the podium, and the year prior everyone celebrated Hamilton’s first career win. There are lots of F1 fanatics in Canada more than happy to cheer on anyone who can deliver a great show!

    Formula 1 needs to maintain its roots while expanding into new territory, not cut historic events from the calendar in an attempt to acquire new sponsors in growing economies. IMHO the follow countries should always host a grand prix, the only question should be which track hosts the race: Britain, Australia, Spain, Germany, Hungary, Belgium, Italy, France, Japan, Brazil, Canada, and USA. This will maintain the foundation of Formula 1, and I don’t know about you but I sure don’t mind if they want to add another 10 events on top of those! Less testing, more racing. Wouldn’t that be grand?

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