Originally known as the Ile Notre Dame Circuit, set on an island in the Saint Lawrence River, it was quickly re-named after the man who won the inaugural race in 1978 – Gilles Villeneuve, one of the bravest (translation: gifted but mental) racers who ever lived.
Check out the futuristic architecture around the island, like that big glass ball thing (technical name: geodesic dome). The place used to be home to the 1967 World Fair.
Set upon public roads in a park, the circuit starts the weekend very ‘green’ with about as much grip as a fisherman trying to wrestle an eel into a bag. That means muchos accidents in free practice. The star of the stack show is the outside of the final corner, known as the wall of champions because it’s stamped its authority on the likes of Michael Schumacher, Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve (who sadly never managed to win at his dad’s track).
The characteristics of this track are high speed straights and low speed corners. This may suit McLaren and Mercedes better than the Renault-engined Lotus and Red Bull cars, which have an appetite for flowing corners. Due to the stop-start nature of the layout, gearboxes are put under enormous strain. They experience around 2,000 changes during the 70 lap race. Safety cars are common place here because there’s little run off – even less than Melbourne. That means the result could be a lottery. Last year Jenson Button won the race, yet at one point he was tooling around at the back.
Local start time: 15h00
Number of laps: 70
Circuit length: 4.361km
Race distance: 305.270km
Lap record: Rubens Barrichello (Ferrari, 2004), 1m13.622
WHAT THE DRIVERS SAY:
Kimi Räikkönen : “I have always liked the Canadian Grand Prix. I won there in 2005 so Montreal has good memories. The city is one of the best places to visit on the calendar. I really enjoy the stop-start nature of the circuit layout and the challenge of the track. To do well in Canada the car needs to be good under braking because it’s very tough on brakes at this circuit. You also make use of the kerbs and our car has been pretty good in this area. It’s also a circuit with different track surfaces and sometimes the surface itself can change over the course of the race weekend. This is interesting as it means different grip levels, so another challenge there. It’s a street course, but there are still places to overtake so you don’t have to change all of your focus to qualifying like you do in Monaco. It is a race that sees a lot of safety cars; there has probably not been a Canadian Grand Prix without having a safety car. Most likely it will happen again. A safety car makes it difficult for the strategy as you can’t predict when it might come. If the safety car is employed, then you have got to hope that it happens at the right time.”
Romain Grosjean: “It will be my first time in Canada so it’s another new experience for me this year. I’m looking forward to it because it’s a track which many drivers have told me they like. It’s also a track which can bite you, and we’ve seen that over the years with the champions’ wall. Even though I’m not a Formula One champion, I’ll be giving that part of the track some respect! Normally I enjoy street circuits – I was right on the pace in Monaco. I enjoy the sensation of being close to the walls. Finally, the weather in Montreal can be quite changeable, as we saw last year. I’m sure it’ll be a challenging and exciting grand prix.”
That story about the man who was crushed beneath a vending machine while trying to shake a Coke can out of it wasn’t an urban myth. His name was Kevin, and he was from Quebec. Gilles Villeneuve and Jim Carrey were/are Canadian too, and their photos are in the dictionary under crazy. It’s important to understand this before embarking on a jet boat tour up the wildest stretches of the Lachine Rapids. For god’s sake wear a life jacket.
It’s said there are all sorts of ghosts, ghouls and spectres haunting the narrow lanes of Old Montreal. Take one of the ghost tours and listen to the creepy stories about child murderers, witches, and kleptos. You can also take a jet boat tour up the St Lawrence and take in a show at the Cirque de Soleil.
Montréal is where this circus arts phenomenon first started. Founder Guy Laliberté is a huge F1 fan. A while back he blew $35m on a 12-day trip to space. With money like that, it’s a surprise he’s not racing for Marussia this year.
After a boutique hotel? The Hotel de l’Institute is actually set on the top floors of the Institut de Tourisme et d’Hôtellerie, where people come from all over the world to study Canadian hospitality. The hotel employs a lot of its own students. Therefore, if you ring reception to say you need an ironing board, bear in mind that they’re in the middle of a dissertation and can’t you just put a towel over the desk and do it?
Montreal’s numero ‘une’ steakhouse, La Queue de Cheval, is hugely popular with drivers and team principals and serves the paddock’s favourite plonk – Jarno Trulli wine. Inside it looks like a gentlemen’s club (no, not the sort Montreal is famous for) with polished dark wood and private dining rooms. Kimi recommends the ribeye.
Au Pied du Cochon - P.D.C, as the local gastros call it - will probably give you a heart attack. But at least you’ll die happy. Their namesake dish, a pig’s foot, is the size of a man’s forearm and is poached, stuffed and roasted in a wood oven. A layer of foie gras is layered over it like a saddle before it comes to your table. Foie gras is in no short supply here. You can have it on a burger, on a pizza, on pancakes or simply with chips. Or go for ‘Duck in a Can’ which does, indeed, come with a can opener.
Indie music is a major force in Canada, and you can judge breakthrough acts at La Sala Rossa, an atmospheric, chandelier-lit gig venue, which used to be a left-wing political centre and once hosted Eleanor Roosevelt. While most of the acts here are unsigned, it has drawn some ‘known’ indie bands such as The Datsuns, British Sea Power, Hot Chip and Arcade Fire – the latter band being Montréal-based, and a frequent sight at this venue. La Sala Rossa cooks up a good paella too, as well as great music.
Jacques Villeneuve: World Champion, singer-songwriter, hair-dye enthusiast, and owner of Montréal’s hottest real estate, Newtown - his (kind of) eponymous resto-bar-club. The basement dance-floor has a colourful disco screen at the back that looks like Canada’s biggest battenburg. If you used to engineer JV’s car you might be offered a free round of drinks. Unless you worked at BAR-Honda. In which case, keep a low profile.