Circuit Gilles Villeneuve: The Ultimate Track Guide

Circuit Gilles Villeneuve: The Ultimate Track Guide

The streets of the Ile Notre Dame island have seen plenty of chaos and surprises over the years. As one of the most well liked and well-attended Grands Prix of the season, the Canadian round of the championship always seems to deliver.

TRACK LENGTH 2.710 miles
MOST POLES Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton (6)
MOST WINS Michael Schumacher (7)



The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is situated on the man-made island of Notre Dame, just a stone’s throw from Montreal. The island, on the St Lawrence River, was constructed to celebrate Canada’s centennial, and for Expo 67, widely regarded as the most successful World’s Fair of the twentieth century. The site continued to host exhibitions after, but declining attendance figures saw the area begin to struggle. In 1975, the area was transformed, ready to host the rowing and canoeing events for the 1976 Olympics, which were being held in Montreal.

Formula One was no newcomer to Canada when the cars first took to the Montreal track in 1978. The Canadian Grand Prix had been held at Mosport Park since 1967, with the Mont-Tremblant circuit in Quebec also hosting the event in 1968 and 1970. Fears had been growing over the safety of the Mosport Park track for a number of years and a crash for Ian Ashley in 1977, in which he suffered leg injuries, proved to be the final straw for F1’s running at the circuit. Instead, the sport found a new home at the Circuit Île Notre-Dame. The track was designed by Roger Peart and was built quickly in order to host the penultimate round of the 1978 season. Gilles Villeneuve won the first Grand Prix at the track and, following his fatal accident in 1982, the track was renamed in his honour.

The race has been held every year since 1978, with just two exceptions. In 1987, the race was cancelled due to a sponsorship dispute between beer manufacturers Molson and Labatt’s. For 2009, the race was featured on the provisional calendar, but was dropped by the time the final calendar emerged. The 2009 season was the first time there had been no Grands Prix in North America since 1958.

The track has evolved over the years. In the second running of the Grand Prix here, changes were made to make the track faster. As the track was forced into disuse for a year in 1987, organisers took advantage of the break to move the pits from near the hairpin to where they are today. More changes were made in 2002. The iconic hairpin was moved closer to the previous corners, and the pit exit was also moved. Minor changes, including amendments to the curbs at the final chicane, have been made since then.

The track has seen large accidents and tragedy over the years. In 1980, Jean-Pierre Jabouille suffered a career-ending crash as a result of broken suspension on his car. In 1982, just a month after local hero Villeneuve’s death, Riccardo Paletti died as a result of a start line crash. Olivier Panis crashed heavily in 1997, bringing an early end to the race. The French driver didn’t return to the cockpit until the latter stages of the season. Robert Kubica suffered an enormous accident at the hairpin ten years later. Luckily, he was relatively unscathed, and returned to take the only win of his career at this track twelve months later. In 2013, Mark Robinson, a marshal, was killed after the race. He was run over by a recovery vehicle while removing Esteban Gutierrez’s Sauber from the track and later died as a result of injuries. This was the first track-side death in Formula One in over a decade.

The track is very much like a street circuit, with ever-present walls which can easily catch a driver out. The Ile Notre-Dame circuit is home to the infamous Wall of Champions. It was given the name after the 1999 season which saw World Champions Damon Hill, Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve collide with the wall, situated at the tricky final chicane on the circuit. Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel are among the names to have fallen victim to the wall in recent years.

The circuit’s often cramped pit area is due to undergo major renovations in the coming years, with the building getting a sleek new look. The circuit signed a contract in 2017 to host the Canadian Grand Prix until 2029.


There’s a lot of wildlife around the circuit. Groundhogs are regularly seen on track in Montreal. Officials of the city trap as many of the animals as they can in the weeks preceding the Grand Prix, and transport them to Saint Helen’s Island, which is nearby. Some escape the nets though, and in 2007 both Anthony Davidson and Ralf Schumacher had their running interrupted by stray groundhogs. Gophers are present here too, as Alessandro Nannini found out in 1990.


  • Rain is often a feature of the weekend here, as are safety cars. A culmination of the two meant that the epic 2011 Grand Prix was the longest ever F1 race, at over 4 hours long.
  • On his way to the 2011 victory, Button recorded an average speed of just 74.844km/hour, the slowest ever F1 victory speed.
  • The globe-like building often spotted in the background of TV images from the track is the Montreal Biosphere, which is one of the only remaining buildings from Expo 67.
  • 60% of the lap is spent at full throttle.
  • In 2005, the Canadian Grand Prix was the third most-watched sporting event in the world.
  • The track is harsh on brakes. Of the seven braking zones on the track, the entry to the final chicane is the hardest, and perhaps one of the hardest to master on the whole F1 calendar.
  • The track has hosted the sixth-most Grands Prix in F1 history.


The Canadian Grand Prix proves why it’s one of the most loved tracks year after year. You know that 99% of the time, you’re going to get a good race in Montreal. It’s unpredictable and is a circuit which allows overtaking.


Poles Driver
6 Michael Schumacher
6 Lewis Hamilton
3 Nelson Piquet
3 Ayrton Senna
3 Alain Prost
3 Sebastian Vettel
2 Ralf Schumacher
1 Jean-Pierre Jarier
1 Alan Jones
1 Didier Pironi
1 René Arnoux
1 Elio de Angelis
1 Nigel Mansell
1 Riccardo Patrese
1 Damon Hill
1 David Coulthard
1 Juan Pablo Montoya
1 Jenson Button
1 Fernando Alonso
1 Nico Rosberg


Year Winner Team
1978 Gilles Villeneuve Ferrari
1979 Alan Jones Williams-Ford
1980 Alan Jones Williams-Ford
1981 Jacques Laffite Ligier-Matra
1982 Nelson Piquet Brabham-BMW
1983 René Arnoux Ferrari
1984 Nelson Piquet Brabham-BMW
1985 Michele Alboreto Ferrari
1986 Nigel Mansell Williams-Honda
1988 Ayrton Senna McLaren-Honda
1989 Thierry Boutsen Williams-Renault
1990 Ayrton Senna McLaren-Honda
1991 Nelson Piquet Benetton-Ford
1992 Gerhard Berger McLaren-Honda
1993 Alain Prost Williams-Renault
1994 Michael Schumacher Benetton-Ford
1995 Jean Alesi Ferrari
1996 Damon Hill Williams-Renault
1997 Michael Schumacher Ferrari
1998 Michael Schumacher Ferrari
1999 Mika Häkkinen McLaren-Mercedes
2000 Michael Schumacher Ferrari
2001 Ralf Schumacher Williams-BMW
2002 Michael Schumacher Ferrari
2003 Michael Schumacher Ferrari
2004 Michael Schumacher Ferrari
2005 Kimi Räikkönen McLaren-Mercedes
2006 Fernando Alonso Renault
2007 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes
2008 Robert Kubica BMW Sauber
2010 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes
2011 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes
2012 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes
2013 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault
2014 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault
2015 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2016 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2017 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes