This Sunday sees the fiftieth running of the Canadian Grand Prix. The race first appeared on the calendar in 1967, when Jack Brabham won in a car bearing his own name. The event has been held at three circuits: Mosport Park, 8 times, Mont Tremblant twice and Montreal 39 times, making it one of the classics of the World Championship.
Scuderia Ferrari has won twelve times in Canada, the first time securing a one-two finish in 1970 at Mont Tremblant. Jacky Ickx was first past the flag in the 312 B followed by team-mate Clay Regazzoni.
Eight years later, the race switched to Montreal on a track made up of the perimeter roads of the artificially constructed Ile Notre-Dame, using the excavations of the structures used for Expo 67.
It is a low downforce track, which is very hard on brakes. That first race in 1978 will always be remembered for the victory that went to Canadian Gilles Villeneuve in the Ferrari 312 T3. The fallout from this win was amazing, being the first for a Canadian, especially as Gilles himself was a Quebecois. In 1982, Villeneuve was killed at Zolder and the Montreal track was named after him. A year later, Scuderia Ferrari won again thanks to a great performance from Rene Arnoux. In 1985 another win came courtesy of Michele Alboreto.
In 1995, at the wheel of Ferrari number 27, Jean Alesi, whose 31st birthday it was, got the best present possible. Michael Schumacher had to pit from the lead in his Benetton to have his steering wheel changed and the systems reset and, for once, Alesi managed to shake off the bad luck that had dogged him for too long and was first past the chequered flag. There's a large Italian population in Montreal and a track invasion duly followed and not wishing to run anyone over, Jean abandoned his 412 T2 and hitched a lift, wearing the French flag, on Schumacher's car.
Six of Scuderia Ferrari's Canadian wins have come courtesy of the aforementioned German. The first came in 1997, the second, the following year was somewhat controversial as the Ferrari man came out of pit lane and pushed Heinz-Harald Frentzen and his Williams off the track. Michael was given a stop and go penalty but still managed to take the win.
The walls are a feature of this track and one in particular, on the outside of the final corner leading onto the start-finish line, has claimed several world champions, which has led to it being known as the "Wall of Champions". Jacques Villeneueve, Damon Hill, Rubens Barrichello and more recently, Jenson Button, Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel, the latter on Friday in 2011, have all left their 'signature' on the wall. Michael Schumacher couldn't avoid it either, ending his 1999 race there while in the lead. However, he is the undisputed master of this track with a total of seven wins including those in 2000, 2002 and 2004.
Actually, that 2004 victory was the last for a long time for Scuderia Ferrari. It had to wait until last year when Sebastian Vettel won in Montreal, beating Bottas and Verstappen. In fact, the chequered flag was waved one lap too early by Canadian fashion model Winnie Harlow, following a communication mix up between the race directors and the marshal in the gantry.
Sebastian Vettel: "Canada is a race we drivers really look forward to. We race on an island right in Montreal, a fantastic place full of fans that ensure a unique atmosphere. Usually, the track starts off really slippery and it takes quite a while to rubber in and provide a decent level of grip.
"The track is also known for being stop-and-go, with long straights and heavy braking points, split up by a few slow corners and some chicanes where you need to use the kerbs a lot. The final part of the lap is usually the key: you have to brake perfectly at the big hairpin so that you get the best exit to have a lot of speed on the long straight that leads to the pit lane or the final chicane. This is where you can try and overtake.
"Last year, I started from pole and won the race, 40 years after Gilles Villeneuve won here. I will do my utmost to get a good result."
Charles Leclerc: "The Canadian Grand Prix should be an opportunity to try and bring home a good result. We must do everything well to prepare the car right down to the last detail so that we can get the most out of it.
"Last week, I was in the simulator in Maranello to work on settings and on improving the car and myself for this round. I find this track very interesting, because it includes various types of corner and a long straight where it should be possible to overtake. Last year, I managed to finish in the points and so this year, the aim is to do better.
"I really like the city of Montreal itself and its people and the fact they speak French makes me feel a bit more at home. I really hope we can have a successful weekend."
Mattia Binotto Team Principal: "Thinking of Canada, there are so many memories of past seasons that come to mind. This track has usually produced some exciting and unexpected racing. The long straight and the big braking zone before the chicane that leads onto the start-finish line is the place to overtake and to see some good fights.
"We know we're not competitive enough right now and, for the time being we haven't got any more changes coming on the car that will have a significant effect on the problems we have encountered since the start of the season. However, the Canadian track characteristics present another different challenge, given that top speed, braking efficiency and traction are the main considerations. We arrive here ready to do our best and to put the mistakes of the last few races behind us."