If we were to play the association game and you said to me “Canadian Grand Prix”, my instant reply would be “Wall of Champions.”I’m of course talking about the final chicane of the Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve which plays host this weekend’s Grand Prix in Montreal.
But what makes the “Wall of Champions” so legendary and why is it called that at all?
It all started back in 1999 during the Canadian Grand Prix, a race which saw no less than four crashes at the final chicane on the high speed circuit.
The final chicane in Montreal is a pretty unique corner when looking at all the Formula 1 circuits around the world. Most, and especially the newly designed Herman Tilke venues, have enormous tarmac run off areas softer tech pro barriers. In Montreal however, drivers arrive at at the final chicane at 300kph, dab the brakes, drop a couple of gears before guiding the car through a narrow right/left combination. On the exit is: a small curb, a narrow strip of dirty asphalt and the WALL.
Back in 1999, home favourite Jacques Villeneuve, title contender Michael Schumacher and British hero Damon Hill were all victims of the tricky right /left kink. Despite all three drivers having claimed World Championships over previous years and a heck of a lot of driving experience along the way, all seemed powerless to avoid the obvious attraction between the concrete wall and the carbon fibre that made up their machines.
All three drivers were out the race on the spot and the new name for the “Bienvenue au Quebec” wall was born: the “Wall of Champions”. And just for good measure, Ricardo Zonta, a Formula 3000 champion, also took a chunk out of the concrete that day, further confirming the new title.
Since then, numerous other drivers have fallen foul of the chicane. This compilation video beautifully demonstrates just how many F1 cars have been destroyed by overzealous drivers, eager to make up that extra tenth of a second.
Interestingly Jacques Villeneuve has had two heavy crashes into the Wall of Champions, once in his Williams days, and once again for BAR during the 1999 race when the term was coined.
Mr Lucky himself, Sebastian Vettel, has also had a pretty hefty accident there, albeit in a free practice 1 session whilst finding the limit, back in 2011. I’ll always remember this crash, not for Vettel smashing up his Red Bull car, but the marshal running towards his car and face planting the floor in the process. Check it out (40 seconds in):
In 1999, the Wall of Champions was a concrete wall meaning drivers had to be braced for a pretty severe impact if they got it wrong. Today the safety police have put a belted tyre wall in front of it to cushion the impact. It may have taken the sting out of what was a pretty hairy chicane, but it actually decreases the size of exit curbing and asphalt area thus giving drivers a new challenge.
The Canadian Grand Prix is a fan favourite no matter who you ask. The Wall of Champions is just one of the reasons, but there are plenty more that make this Grand Prix one of the best.
Who will take glory this year? We don’t have long to find out!