In one word, tricky. The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is not by any means a flowing track: instead, it’s a point-and-squirt festival of acceleration and braking, where just the slightest mistake will fire you into the wall. The most famous wall of them all is of course the ‘Wall of Champions’ – complete with the beautifully ironic slogan ‘Bienvenue au Quebec’ – that’s waiting to greet anyone who clatters into it.
As well as the difficulty of the track, the weather is often extremely challenging. Canada still holds the record for the longest race in Formula 1 history (courtesy of six safety cars and a lengthy rain-related stoppage, back in 2011). When the legendary Gilles Villeneuve – whose spirit is everywhere at the unique island circuit – won his first race in 1978, it had even started to snow close to the end.
Put all these things together, and it’s easy to see why there’s such a high safety car probability. The track hasn’t been really used for two years, so it’s going to be extremely slippery now as well. It’s one of the hardest tracks of the year for the brakes, and there’s also been a reasonably high rate of mechanical attrition in the past. A little bit like Baku, which comes before Montreal on this year’s calendar, it’s often a question of just surviving to the finish and keeping your car intact.
Good fun – and that’s mainly because of its proximity to Montreal, which offers a lively fan festival as well as all sorts of other events: just see below. But the racing has a lot to recommend it too, as overtaking is very possible, and you’re almost guaranteed some spectacular action as well. This is one of the easiest tracks to get to on the entire calendar: you simply get a Metro to the Jean Drapeau station, and from there it’s a short walk to the circuit entrance
Being on an island, the track is quite flat, so you won’t see much with a general admission ticket: the grandstands offer a better view. Grandstands 11 and 12 offer a great perspective, and there’s always plenty of close racing in this area of the track. If you’re a Lance Stroll fan, there’s even a dedicated ‘Lance Stroll grandstand’ that you can sit in. All around the fan-friendly circuit, there’s plenty of entertainment: you can try your hand at pit stops, watch a full schedule of support races, or just while away the time eating poutine: chips, cheese, and gravy. Sounds odd, but it strangely works.
Ask a cross section of Formula 1 people which is their favourite race, and Montreal is likely to figure very high among the answers. Part of that is down to the track. But another key reason is the city of Montreal itself, with its uniquely French vibe and no shortage of bars and restaurants. Montreal combines the best of both American and Europe culture, with plenty to do and see. Old Montreal is at the heart of city life, and it’s often used by American film crews to depict scenes in France. There are several atmospheric bars and restaurants in the area, such as the Coldroom, which gives a typical speakeasy feel that’s redolent of the prohibition era. The Hotel Nelligan (which used to be a favourite of Bernie Ecclestone) also has a roof terrace bar that’s nearly always buzzing. When it comes to food, The Keg steakhouse is always a reliable option (with branches both in Old Montreal and the modern city) but perhaps the best-known place - with a price tag to match - is La Queue du Cheval (the horse’s tail). That’s temporarily closed for now, which will save you some budget for the race at least. There’s plenty to visit outside of Montreal as well. Quebec City is a three-hour drive away, which offers yet more old world charm, in a spectacular mountain setting. For die-hard Formula 1 fans, a pilgrimage to Berthierville (around an hour north of Montreal) is a must: the birthplace of Gilles Villeneuve. It’s a tiny town, with the dedicated Villeneuve museum right in the middle of it.
Many of the cars from his early career are there, but it’s the personal items that make the museum fascinating: Villeneuve’s first Ferrari contract, his driving licence for the road in Canada, his bright orange Ford pick up truck, his favourite skis, some helmets, and a few school certificates and books. Because to understand motorsport in Canada, first you have to understand Villeneuve.
According to the UN Road Safety Fund, the...