Top Ten: Victims of the Wall of Champions

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Sergio Perez, Sauber, Montreal, 2012Chicanes. If there’s one thing most F1 fans can agree on it’s a dislike of these slow, unflattering corners.

Great Grand Prix circuits have been ruined by clumsy chicanes interrupting their flowing layouts. Bafflingly, some circuits have even been designed to incorporate the nasty little things from the start – look at Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi.

But there’s at least one chicane which has been elevated above the tedious. The final corner at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, scene of this weekend’s race, is a fine example.

It’s always spectacular to see the best drivers hopping over the kerbs and shaving the concrete wall that lines the road in pursuit of a few tenths of a second.

But get it less than millimtre-perfect and an unforgiving wall is waiting to punish them. There is surely no other stretch of road on the calendar which has caught out as many top line F1 drivers over the years.

There have been enough for it to earn the nickname “Wall of Champions”. Here are some of the more memorable victims it has claimed.

1988: Derek Warwick

One of the earliest examples of a driver coming to grief at the Wall of Champions. The 1988 race was the first after the pits was moved to its current location. The chicane was quicker then, the kerbs higher, and when Derek Warwick got the corner wrong he was launched into the air and crashed heavily.

Remarkably, he was declared fit to race the following day, and finished a commendable seventh.

1997 and 1999: Jacques Villeneuve

Like Rubens Barrichello at Interlagos, Jacques Villeneuve was notoriously unsuccessful on home ground. Following a runner-up finish in his first Canadian Grand Prix in 1996 he never scored points again in his own backyard.

During his title-winning season of 1997, Villeneuve spun his car on the entry to the chicane and slid into the wall on lap two while running second. The contact was slight, but it was enough to end his race.

Two years later the jinx struck again, as Villeneuve slammed into the wall and out of the race, his sixth of eleven consecutive retirements in a woeful campaign for BAR.

1999: Michael Schumacher

In his Ferrari days, Michael Schumacher could usually be relied on to bring the car home in one piece. But even at his peak the seven-times champion was capable of the occasional lapse of concentration.

Midway through the 1999 Canadian Grand Prix, Schumacher slid wide coming out of the chicane and slammed into the wall, throwing away the race lead to his title rival Mika Hakkinen.

The McLaren driver went to win the race and the championship: Schumacher’s title hopes ended when he broke his leg in another crash at Silverstone the following month.

1999: Damon Hill

It was the 1999 race which cemented the reputation of the corner and earned it the nickname Wall of Champions. Ricardo Zonta also hit the barrier during the race, but Damon Hill’s crash meant the champions of 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1997 had all come to grief at the same corner.

Hill oversteered out of the chicane and clipped the wall with his right-rear, putting him out.

Perhaps this crash was still on his mind when he announced he would retire from F1 at the end of the season a few days later. A miserable showing at Magny Cours initially persuaded him to make the British Grand Prix his final race, before he backtracked again and decided to see his contract out to the end of the year.

2001: Rubens Barrichello

Barrichello joined the Wall of Champions’ illustrious roll call after losing control of his Ferrari midway through qualifying. However the regulations at the time allowed him to switch to a spare car, which he used to salvage a creditable fifth on the grid.

Later in the session Nick Heidfeld took off over the kerbs and trashed his Sauber against the wall. Both Barrichello and Heidfeld went on to crash out on race day too.

2005: Jenson Button

In Jenson Button’s case, his ascent to the rank of champion came after his brush with the wall.

Following an impressive breakthrough campaign in 2004, the 2005 campaign was a huge disappointment for him and his BAR team. Going into the eighth race of the season in Canada, they had yet to muster a single point, and had been disqualified or banned from three of the previous rounds due to a technical infringement.

It seemed their fortunes had been transformed when Button took a surprise pole in Montreal. But he lost the lead at the start and threw away a podium by breaking his suspension at the final corner.

2006: Juan Pablo Montoya

A brush with the Wall of Champions may have hastened Juan Pablo Montoya’s exit from Formula One. In what turned out to be penultimate Grand Prix, he clipped the wall with his McLaren, and though there was no visible damage, he was forced to stop moments later

At the following race at Indianapolis, Montoya triggered a first lap pile up by crashing into the back of his team mate Kimi Raikkonen. Within days he had departed F1 for a career in NASCAR.

2010: Kamui Kobayashi

Kamui Kobayashi’s first visit to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve was not a successful one. The Sauber driver qualified an uninspired 18th on the grid, and launched his car over the kerbs and into the Wall of Champions on the first lap of the race the following day.

The Japanese star had had a miserable start to his first full season, scoring just one point in the first eight events. But following his Canada shunt Kobayashi got his act together and took points in four of the following five races.

2011: Sebastian Vettel

The most recent champion to hit the wall is Sebastian Vettel. He racked up 15 pole positions and 11 victories on his way to a second world championship victory in 2011.

His campaign that year may not have been error-free but, unfortunately for his rivals, most of his mistakes occurred during practice. In addition to Friday shunts at Istanbul, Suzuka and Yas Marina, Vettel came to grief at Montreal’s Wall of Champions for the first time in his career.

But on this weekend he also made a mistake when it mattered: running wide at turn six on the final lap of the race handed victory to Button.

2012: Pastor Maldonado

If any F1 driver can be expected to drive into a wall, it’s Pastor Maldonado, so it came as little surprise when the Williams driver did exactly that at Montreal’s final chicane in 2012. The qualifying shunt left the Williams drive 17th on the grid, which became 22nd after a gearbox change.

The shunt came in the middle of a disastrous run of form following his Spanish Grand Prix victory earlier that season. Maldonado was involved in on-track incidents in seven consecutive races between Monaco and Spa, and did not add to his points total until the Japanese Grand Prix several months later.

More victims of the Wall of Champions

Several more of the drivers to have visited the Wall of Champions – including Jarno Trulli, Gerhard Berger, Christijan Albers, David Coulthard and Ralf Schumacher – can be seen here.

But will all 22 drivers keep out of its clutches this weekend?

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57 comments on “Top Ten: Victims of the Wall of Champions”

  1. Actually the best bit is the Marshall in Vettel’s video at 0:42. The Wall of Champions claims another victim!

    1. I can honestly say I have never noticed that before, nice spot!

    2. Chris Gresty
      3rd June 2013, 13:04

      haha what a spot that is!

      1. @keithcollantine

        ahahah, probably too many Molson & or Labatt Blue Beers with Poutine.


      2. Remember that…I laughed and I don’t know why. It was dangerous but think it was under control really.

        I like the way he just has no clue what to do and then tries again!

    3. Fantastic. Not too surprisingly, it doesn’t sound like Vettel noticed either.

      1. Seriously, why are the Canadian marshals always drunk? ;-)

  2. Grosjean. It is inevitable.

    1. No ! .. He might as well crash before this corner !

    2. Some might argue that he isn’t a champion, hence why he hasn’t hit the wall yet ;)

  3. Picasso 1.9D FTW
    3rd June 2013, 13:37

    If any F1 driver can be expected to drive into a wall, it’s Pastor Maldonado

    So unfair! ;-)

    1. Yet so true.

    2. OmarR-Pepper
      3rd June 2013, 18:16

      +1 Nice one Keith !!!

    3. Agreed. It’s very unfair with Grosjean!

  4. Wurz hit it once in either 97/98. Lost a wheel?

    1. Yeah and Sato did a 180 at the exit, although he never hit it.

  5. I remember in an interview Kamui said that was the most embarrassing moment in his career. Also, I miss the C29. That car looked badass.

    1. I think the best moment for me as a spectator was 2011 (or 2012?) where Kumai was in a 4 wheel drift toward the wall and gathered it up nicley!

      His heart must have been in his thorat facing another visit into the wall!

      1. JimmyTheIllustratedBlindSolidSilverBeachStackapopolis III
        3rd June 2013, 18:48

        He’s was probably busy thinking about the smell of women!

  6. If Lewis goes “win/crash/win/crash/win/” then it is a “crash” year.

    Will Lewis be the next Champion to say Bienvenue au Quebec?

    1. William Brierty
      3rd June 2013, 16:22

      …no, he’ll crash into Rosberg, Raikkonen or Button. My money’s on Rosberg, he’s just a bit too fast for Hamilton, and he wouldn’t want to crash into Kimi, he’d get punched in the face.

  7. I don’t remember Berger or Albers crashing there. It was Wurz driving a Benetton that year in place of Berger as @q85 mentioned. Monteiro was the Midland driver.

    Funny thing is that Mika Salo, when commentating 2005 race said. “Button had no entitlement to hit that wall”, well he won the title few years later. Of course not everyone who has crashed has won the title.

    I expect at least one crash there this year too, but it’s more likely to happen in practice session than in qualifying or race.

  8. William Brierty
    3rd June 2013, 16:19

    If there’s one thing most F1 fans can agree on it’s a dislike of these slow, unflattering corners.

    Oh yes, I often find myself ranting and bursting a blood vessel about how corners like the Ascari chicane, the Fagnes chicane, the Schumacher-S and the 6-7, 8-9 complex in India are ruining F1. Its just so boooring watching an F1 change direction at high speed in their effortless, compliant fashion, isn’t it F1 fans? I’m yawning just thinking about it…

    1. @william-brierty By definition a chicane is a slow pair of corners (my dictionary defines it as a “sharp double bend”), not a fast sequence as the ones you’ve described are. The presence of the word “slow” in the part you’ve quoted is as a further hint.

      1. William Brierty
        3rd June 2013, 17:09

        Does the presence of the word “slow” some how put a speed limit upon the Ascari and Fagnes chicanes, corners that feature a “sharp double bend”? What do you notice about the apex speed through the final “sharp double bend” in Canada? Is it slow? Is it “unflattering”? Is a chicane always a clunky ride over high curbs at a pedestrian speed? Can it not be a somewhat exciting change direction like that seen at the Ascari, Fagnes and Canadian C H I C A N E S?

        1. @william-brierty

          Ascari and Fagnes chicanes, corners that feature a "sharp double bend”

          Those are not sharp corners.

          1. William Brierty
            4th June 2013, 8:07

            @keithcollantine So they are not chicanes? Despite the fact that they are “double bends” and have been referred to as C H I C A N E S throughout history, does your speed criteria some how rob Ascari and Fagnes of their…er…chicanehood? I’m sorry, Keith, but you are rather rewriting the dictionary here.

          2. @william-brierty No I am not, as I think I have explained enough times now. I even quoted you the dictionary definition of “chicane”.

          3. David not Coulthard
            5th June 2013, 7:50

            @william-brierty @keithcollantine
            Let’s just say that they’re 2 sequences of different corners that take a small amount of space and are sharp, or at least close enough to it, or takes a small enough amount of space and therefore takes a particularly small amount of time after exiting the first corner of the sequence before coming to the 2nd, with both corners taking a small amout of time to be taken. If the latter is true, then the Ascari easily fits in (and Fagnes close enough to doing so, I believe), but not the Schumacher S, or some of the sequences at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve (no, not the chicane referred to in the article above).

        2. Personally I’ve always liked to think of chicanes in terms of their shape (the sharp double bend) as opposed to their speed (though of course shape determines speed). I’d class corners such as the ‘wall of champions’ chicane and imola’s variante alta as chicanes, albeit the second one used to be done relatively flat out before being widened, man I loved driving those ‘chicanes’ on the old F1 games…

          1. William Brierty
            4th June 2013, 8:11

            …exactly, not all chicanes are like turns 4-5 at Abu Dhabi…

      2. @keithcollantine There is one true chicane that’s pretty amazing to watch a modern F1 car negotiate though… Piscine.

        1. The Singapore Sling is a controversial chicane – I quite like it though and it’s quite a spectacle with the speed and the huge bumps!

          1. Despite the fact that it was not a fantastic circuit, although I quite like it, the fast chicane at Magny-Cours (I think it is called the Nurburgring chicane?) was pretty good. I recently watched one of my old season reviews and the vision of the cars switching direction pretty fast there was spectacular. The worst chicane however is the second last corner at Barcelona. That turned an awesome series of bends, still used by MotoGP, into rubbish. Now we have drs etc etc it might be worth F1 going back to the old layout?

          2. William Brierty
            4th June 2013, 8:19

            The Barcelona track, as it was originally in 1991, was a great track. Remember the super fast turns 9, 10 and 11? That wicked penultimate corner? That was a proper GP track, especially with fast C H I C A N E of turns 10-11. Can I be so bold to hypothesize that the general mood regarding chicanes is rather lacking in the way of “dislike”?

  9. Timothy Katz
    3rd June 2013, 16:36

    Newey’s reaction to Vettel’s bump (Hands to head, shake of head, rueful pursing of lips) looks very ironic after *he* slapped the Lamborghini into the wall at Silverstone!

    1. Max Jacobson
      3rd June 2013, 18:30

      @timothykatz I suppose Vettel’s job is driving and Newey’s designing!

  10. ferrox glideh
    3rd June 2013, 16:39

    Here in Canada we lovingly refer to the Wall of Champions as the “Jacques Absorber”.

    1. Timothy Katz
      3rd June 2013, 16:43

      Lol! Brilliant.

    2. I thought that referred to Villeneuve himself, rather than the wall?

  11. @Greg-Morland
    Really enjoyed the article. Great way to get ready for the race while enjoying some great drivers’ less inspiring moments.

  12. Kamui Kobayashi had no business hitting that wall!

    1. OmarR-Pepper
      3rd June 2013, 22:14

      @f1lauri probably he thought “First I hit it, then I become champion”

      1. He did a wonderful drift there last year though ! Or was it 2011 ?

  13. @greg-morland

    It was the 1999 race which cemented the reputation of the corner…

    Nicely done. Pun intended?

  14. Grosjean on lap 1, he is a GP2 champion after all…

  15. I really love these top 10 articles, thanks @greg-morland for this one!

  16. Really nice article. And well seen.
    Also, i guess for this one my moneys is on Grosjean and Bianchi(Formula 3 Euro series champion)

  17. Aish Heydrich
    4th June 2013, 10:35

    @greg-morland Great article, thoroughly enjoyed it. I remember Montoya’s accident.

  18. One of the best still has to be that mini that went into The Wall and did a barrel roll on its way. Spectacular!

    1. Ned Flanders
      4th June 2013, 18:56

      Wow, great find!

  19. What about Alonso 2005?

    Isn’t he worthy to be mentioned?

    Mikael H

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