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, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve always seems to deliver.

TRACK LENGTH2.710 miles
MOST POLESMichael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton (6)
MOST WINSMichael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton (7)

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 20th 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.

The 2019 Canadian Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
Image: © Andrew Balfour

Formula 1 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 Mont-Tremblant 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 Canadian Grand Prix has been at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve almost 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.

Circuit Gilles Villeneuve track map

Circuit Gilles Villeneuve 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 to Circuit Gilles Villeneuve 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.

Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in 2019
Image: © Andrew Balfour

Circuit Gilles Villeneuve 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 1 in over a decade.

Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is very much like a street circuit, with ever-present walls which can easily catch a driver out. Circuit Gilles Villeneuve 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.

Circuit Gilles Villeneuve starting grid
Image: © Andrew Balfour

Circuit Gilles Villeneuve’s often cramped pit area has undergone major renovations in recent years, with the pit buildings getting a sleek new look. Circuit Gilles Villeneuve signed a contract in 2017 to host the Canadian Grand Prix until 2029. The Canadian Grand Prix was postponed in April 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Despite hopes to run the race later in the year, the event was ultimately cancelled in July 2020. The 2021 race was also called off. Formula 1 finally returned to Montreal in 2022. As a result of the cancelled 2020 and 2021 races, the Canadian Grand Prix’s contract with Formula 1 now runs to 2031.


There’s a lot of wildlife around Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. 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 Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is the Montreal Biosphere, which is one of the only remaining buildings from Expo 67.
  • 60% of a lap at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is spent at full throttle.
  • In 2005, the Canadian Grand Prix was the third most-watched sporting event in the world.
  • Circuit Gilles Villeneuve 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.
  • Circuit Gilles Villeneuve has hosted the fifth-most Grands Prix in F1 history.


A wet weekend in Montreal – but a dry race – saw Max Verstappen claim Red Bull’s 100th Formula 1 victory.

There were only five minutes of running in Free Practice 1 at the 2023 Canadian Grand Prix due to CCTV issues, which led to second practice being extended by 30 minutes. The latter session came to an early end due to heavy rain and there was further rain on Saturday morning.

The rain persisted into qualifying, with the circuit beginning to dry during Q2 – changing weather conditions which saw Williams’ Alex Albon setting the fastest lap time. While Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc missed out on spots in Q3 due to the conditions, further rain fell during Q3. On a track which was becoming wetter by the second, Max Verstappen was first to set a lap time in the final session and remained on the top spot to secure pole position.

Oscar Piastri crashed out in Q3 which brought out the red flags just seconds after Nico Hulkenberg put in an impressive effort in the Haas to set the second fastest lap time – though he dropped down three places on the final grid for a red flag infringement. Also penalised were Carlos Sainz, Lance Stroll and Yuki Tsunoda, who were all found guilty of impeding other drivers.

The skies were clear for Sunday’s race where, for the second year in a row, Fernando Alonso started alongside Max Verstappen on the front row. Verstappen kept his lead at the start, while Lewis Hamilton overtook Alonso for second place. At the end of the first lap, the battling Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz were lucky to not be taken out by Kevin Magnussen who could not slow his Haas in time for the final chicane.

While Logan Sargeant was an early retirement from the race, Oscar Piastri made up a place with a fine overtake on Nico Hulkenberg for sixth place. On Lap 12, George Russell made contact with the wall and although he was able to keep going, the Safety Car was called due to debris on track. Russell would later retire from the race with brake wear.

The Safety Car period led to the frontrunners pitting, with Alonso and Hamilton emerging from their pit boxes side by side. Hamilton stayed ahead – but the duo later went wheel to wheel on Lap 21, with Alonso getting ahead of the Mercedes at the end of the lap.

Kevin Magnussen and Nyck de Vries were another duo going side by side, with their dicing ending with both going off track at Turn 3. Lando Norris’ favoured overtaking spot of the afternoon was the hairpin, where he overtook Valtteri Bottas for ninth place in the closing stages. He then attempted a last corner overtake on Esteban Ocon but was unsuccessful. Norris’ efforts were ultimately fruitless, with him dropping to 13th in the final order after receiving a 5-second time penalty for unsportsmanlike behaviour.

Despite a hairy moment where he rode a kerb and nearly ended his race in the barrier, Verstappen clung on to claim victory at the 2023 Canadian Grand Prix by ten seconds from Alonso and Hamilton. Verstappen’s victory marked Red Bull’s 100th Grand Prix win in Formula 1.


Following a chaotic wet qualifying session, Verstappen took pole position and won the race in the dry on Sunday – despite coming under immense pressure from Sainz in the closing stages. 

Following two dry practice sessions on Friday, the heavens opened on Saturday meaning both Free Practice 3 and qualifying were run in wet conditions. The conditions proved to be tricky for some, with Alex Albon and Sergio Perez making contact with the barriers in Q2, the latter incident bringing out the red flags. It was Perez’s team-mate Max Verstappen who secured pole position. Fernando Alonso set the fastest time in final practice and impressed again in qualifying, lining up on the front row of the grid. 

Verstappen was unchallenged at the start of the race, while Alonso came under pressure from third-starting Carlos Sainz. Perez’s bad weekend continued as his engine cut out just eight laps into the race, bringing out a Virtual Safety Car. His team-mate took advantage of the caution period to make a pit stop, as did Lewis Hamilton. 

Mick Schumacher came to a halt on Lap 21 at the same spot as Perez had done 13 laps earlier. Hamilton’s fresher tyres aided him to scythe through the field to third place, while Verstappen made a second stop and came out alongside the Mercedes. Hamilton briefly ran second, but was soon overtaken by the Red Bull.

Yuki Tsunoda embarrassingly crashed just after exiting the pit lane on cold tyres, prompting a Safety Car period. The timing of the Safety Car worked in Sainz’s favour, who was yet to pit for fresh tyres. He emerged from the pit lane behind Verstappen but had fresher tyres to attack in the closing stages. 

The green flag flew on Lap 55 of 70, as Sainz set about chasing Verstappen. On the other side of the Ferrari garage, Charles Leclerc started from the back of the field following a power unit penalty but a string of overtakes throughout the race saw him eventually finish in the top five. Ahead of him, Sainz was unable to overtake Verstappen, finishing under a second behind the Red Bull. Hamilton completed the podium places.


Controversy reigned in Canada in 2019 as Sebastian Vettel crossed the line first but the win was awarded to Lewis Hamilton following a time penalty for the Ferrari driver.

A crash at the end of Q2 for Kevin Magnussen compromised the Haas team’s afternoon, as Romain Grosjean was unable to complete his final lap. The red flag also led to Max Verstappen being eliminated in Q2. Sebastian Vettel took his first pole position of the season by lapping two tenths faster than Lewis Hamilton.

Vettel stayed ahead in a relatively drama-free opening lap, aside from for Alex Albon, who lost his front wing following contact with an Alfa Romeo. Lando Norris became the first retirement with a rear brake issue, leading to a suspension failure.

The Renault drivers had a strong race, with Daniel Ricciardo defending hard from Valtteri Bottas for fifth place.

Vettel came under increasing pressure from Hamilton as the midpoint of the race passed. On Lap 48, he ran wide and re-joined the track right in front of the Mercedes. His contentious re-entry on to the track led to him receiving a five second penalty. Meanwhile, further back, Guenther Steiner was unimpressed with Magnussen labelling his day as “the worst experience I’ve ever had in any race car ever”.

Vettel crossed the line first, but the win was given to Hamilton. Charles Leclerc finished on the final step of the podium. Vettel failed to return his car to parc-ferme, instead swapping the number boards and placing the number one in the empty space where his car should have been. Ferrari appealed the penalty, but the result stood following the team’s lack of new evidence.


It was a relatively dull affair in Montreal in 2018 as Sebastian Vettel took his third victory of the season.

Perhaps the most spectacular part of the qualifying hour came as it had just begun, when Romain Grosjean’s engine failed before he even had chance to get to the end of the pit-lane. Sebastian Vettel took pole, with Valtteri Bottas starting alongside him on the front row.

The order stayed the same at the start, while Lance Stroll and Brendon Hartley collided on the first lap with the latter flying through the air. The race restarted after a Safety Car period, with the order still refusing to change – until Sergio Perez was forced out wide at the first turn by Carlos Sainz.

A scrap between Fernando Alonso and Charles Leclerc ended prematurely as the McLaren driver pulled into the pits with car troubles. Daniel Ricciardo passed Lewis Hamilton for fourth as a result of his pit stop, while Vettel remained unchallenged at the front.

Vettel’s day was made easier by the chequered flag being accidentally waved a lap early. Bottas finished third, while Max Verstappen came home ahead of his team-mate in third.


YearPolesitterTeam On PoleWinnerWinning Team
1978Jean-Pierre JarierLotusGilles VilleneuveFerrari
1979Alan JonesWilliamsAlan JonesWilliams
1980Nelson PiquetBrabhamAlan JonesWilliams
1981Nelson PiquetBrabhamJacques LaffiteLigier
1982Didier PironiFerrariNelson PiquetBrabham
1983René ArnouxFerrariRené ArnouxFerrari
1984Nelson PiquetBrabhamNelson PiquetBrabham
1985Elio de AngelisLotusMichele AlboretoFerrari
1986Nigel MansellWilliamsNigel MansellWilliams
1988Ayrton SennaMcLarenAyrton SennaMcLaren
1989Alain ProstMcLarenThierry BoutsenWilliams
1990Ayrton SennaMcLarenAyrton SennaMcLaren
1991Riccardo PatreseWilliamsNelson PiquetBenetton
1992Ayrton SennaMcLarenGerhard BergerMcLaren
1993Alain ProstWilliamsAlain ProstWilliams
1994Michael SchumacherBenettonMichael SchumacherBenetton
1995Michael SchumacherBenettonJean AlesiFerrari
1996Damon HillWilliamsDamon HillWilliams
1997Michael SchumacherFerrariMichael SchumacherFerrari
1998David CoulthardMcLarenMichael SchumacherFerrari
1999Michael SchumacherFerrariMika HäkkinenMcLaren
2000Michael SchumacherFerrariMichael SchumacherFerrari
2001Michael SchumacherFerrariRalf SchumacherWilliams
2002Juan Pablo MontoyaWilliamsMichael SchumacherFerrari
2003Ralf SchumacherWilliamsMichael SchumacherFerrari
2004Ralf SchumacherWilliamsMichael SchumacherFerrari
2005Jenson ButtonBARKimi RäikkönenMcLaren
2006Fernando AlonsoRenaultFernando AlonsoRenault
2007Lewis HamiltonMcLarenLewis HamiltonMcLaren
2008Lewis HamiltonMcLarenRobert KubicaBMW Sauber
2010Lewis HamiltonMcLarenLewis HamiltonMcLaren
2011Sebastian VettelRed BullJenson ButtonMcLaren
2012Sebastian VettelRed BullLewis HamiltonMcLaren
2013Sebastian VettelRed BullSebastian VettelRed Bull
2014Nico RosbergMercedesDaniel RicciardoRed Bull
2015Lewis HamiltonMercedesLewis HamiltonMercedes
2016Lewis HamiltonMercedesLewis HamiltonMercedes
2017Lewis HamiltonMercedesLewis HamiltonMercedes
2018Sebastian VettelFerrariSebastian VettelFerrari
2019Sebastian VettelFerrariLewis HamiltonMercedes
2022Max VerstappenRed BullMax VerstappenRed Bull
2023Max VerstappenRed BullMax VerstappenRed Bull
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