The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve based on Montreal’s Notre Dame Island is a stunning track. The track has the right balance of slow- to high-speed areas that creates some spectacular racing.
There is one infamous part of the track which legends such as the great Michael Schumacher have hit—they call it the ‘Wall of Champions’. After the 1999 Canadian Grand Prix the wall on the exit of Turn 14 was christened most notably with three world champions. Drivers had hit the wall prior, but 1999 was when it was especially unforgiving.
Many drivers—or shall we say victims—had fallen prey to The Wall especially this year, but it all began with Damon Hill, he was the first notable casualty, after winning the World Championship in 1996. Now driving with Jordan he was amongst a midfield battle, and he clipped the rear of his car against The Wall—you could say he was an appetiser for it.
15 laps later Michael Schumacher mid-chicane lost control after going off the racing line, and slid helplessly into The Wall’s grasp; at the time the German was leading the Grand Prix. The difference here was that Hill managed to get away, but Schumacher & Ferrari could not, with severe damage caused. The main course? The Wall was not done there, it wanted more!
Canada’s own Jaques Villeneuve was the third champion into The Wall, only 5 laps after Schumacher, pretty much nose on, it was getting more and more of the cars at every attempt! The Wall after that had had enough, was full and had its fair share of rubber across it. Villeneuve was the dessert of The Wall’s three-car meal in 1999. From then on it was named the Wall of Champions.
The Wall laid low for a few years, claiming the odd driver here and there—on a diet, you could say, but when it saw an opportunity it was more than happy to take full advantage.
The rise, then fall, of Jenson Button at the 2005 Canadian Grand Prix, for example. He took pole position in qualifying, and then threw it away in the race when Schumacher was chasing him for third. He attacked the chicane but as a result broke his rear suspension: The Wall was ready for a taste of BAR, though much like Hill he managed to escape The Wall’s grasp.
The most recent major casualty was in 2011, where we had the most incredible race that Button won. Funnily enough it was the complete opposite with Button rising to the top from the bottom.
The Wall did not devour anyone during the race, as it was still buzzing from the first practice session. Sebastien Vettel lost his rear on a very green track, and over the kerbs he headed straight towards The Wall. So early on in the weekend, Vettel could not escape, and it ended his session with The Wall covered with fresh carbon fibre and rubber, whilst leaving the Red Bull team a major headache to get his car ready for FP2.
Other notable mentions:
– Ricardo Zonta, a champion in the FIA GT series, was actually the first to hit The Wall in the 1999 Grand Prix.
– Juan Pablo Montoya—the 1999 CART and two-time Indy 500 champion—in what turned out to be his penultimate Grand Prix, did brush The Wall in 2006 resulting in retirement. Could this have been the catalyst for what ensued in the following US Grand Prix, resulting in an early Formula 1 departure?
Will there be another one this year though? It’s been a few years since The Wall last had a tasty meal. Could an F1 champion such as Hamilton or future champion Max Verstappen join the ever-growing list of victims claimed by the Wall of Champions? The cars seem to suffer more in dirty air this year, and Canada always has been a tough track on brakes. The recipe is there for The Wall to claim another driver.
Chris Lord, F1 Correspondent