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 and he has a special place in the heart of all its fans. His talent, speed, courage, bordering on the reckless 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 1 World Championship almost uninterrupted for over thirty years and a total of 44 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. And history relates that he was the one to take the victory on its debut year, when he also took his maiden Formula 1 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.
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, it stayed at Mosport until 1977, 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 have been 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 Formula 1 win which came on 11th June, which just 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 teammate Michael Schumacher. However, that was the last time a Prancing Horse car has won here and since then it hasn’t been too lucky, with only one Maranello driver making it to the podium – Alonso third in 2010 and second in 2013 – even if the team has usually been pretty competitive. The Spaniard won here in 2006, but apart from the aforementioned third place in 2010 and second in 2013, 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 moved 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 showing. That day, a return to winning ways at Gilles’ circuit was in the cards.