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SCOMO Circuit Guides: Canada

The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal is iconic. It's fast, requires balls and produces great racing. A perfect tribute to the unheralded "greatest F1 driver of all time" whose name it bears.

Montréal. A melting-pot of Anglo-Canadian reserve and niceness with French-Canadian verve, love of the dramatic and fierce pride. A beautiful city that leaves an impression on all who live and travel there.

And home of one of the greatest, best-loved circuits on the F1 calendar.

Named for the greatest Canadian ever to strap his arse to the rocket ship with wheels that is a Formula 1 Car, Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve snakes sinuously around the glorious setting of the Ile Notre-Dame, a man-made island in the St Lawrence River. It's not always been the host of the Canadian GP, with the abomination of Toronto, Mosport Park, and also Mont-Tremblant also holding the race since the first GP was run in the country in 1968.

The Gilles-Villeneuve has held the race since 1972, though, and is usually the first time the F1 circuit makes its first visit to North America in a season. At 2.71 miles it is one of the shorter circuits on the F1 calendar, and it's also one o the fastest, with 13 turns and also one of the longest straights on the entire F1 calendar making up the high-speed blast from the hairpin to the final chicane.

It's a circuit the drivers love because...well, they get to drive their cars ridiculously quickly for most of the lap, the teams love it because it's a great place to run flat-out, super-speed packages, and the fans love it because absolutely anything can happen.

And when we say anything, we do mean anything. Ask Sergio Perez and Felipe Massa. This happened to them last year:

That's two cars colliding at 190 miles an hour and flying straight into the catch fences. It's also a fine example of why Montreal is superb, not because cars crash a lot, though.

Because they overtake.

There's golden spots for taking positions all around the circuit - the dive into the first corner is the most well known but there's also the hammer downhill into the hairpin, the flat-out back straight and, if you have the (metaphorical) balls of an elephant, the charge into the last chicane.

It's narrow, too. Take a look at Seb Vettel's pole-lap from 2012 to see just how fast and narrow this ribbon of tarmac is:

Now you've watched a lap of the circuit, let's go on a text lap.

The start-finish line (with its iconic "Salut, Gilles" painting) leads you into the shortest first-corner run (with the exception of Spa and Abu Dhabi) in F1. It's also one of the most chaotic recipes for disaster-a first corner that sees the cars go through a fast left and then into a tightening uphill right that has "metal-ripping carnage guaranteed" written all over it. The only way you're guaranteed not to hit anyone going through here at the start is if you get into the corner first - and even then you might have someone come over the grass and t-bone you. Otherwise, hang on and drive it like the rest of the field is trying to kill you.

Up the hill, under the bridge and into the first of three chicanes-this one goes right-left in third gear, then it's a squirt through a gently winding stretch to a 2nd gear left-right, then a longer squirt to a right-left - both stretches see you get up into 7th gear before the 2nd fastest part of the circuit-the gentle left curve all the way down under two bridges to the hairpin - one of two prime overtaking spots on the lap.

Come out of that and POWEEEEERRRRR along the straight. You don't need to steer much here-just weld your foot to the floor, flip the DRS gate open and let the car fly. If you listen closely to Seb Vettel's Renault engine in the clip above, or even any other car, you can hear what it sounds like when 6 cylinders (or 8, or 10, or 12) scream with pure unbridled joy at being allowed to use every last drop of their motive power.

Then comes one of the Great Corners. It's not known as much more than "the chicane", but it's a vicious, car-killing bastard of a last corner.

On the surface this chicane doesn't look much-a quick, third-gear right-left jiggle that doesn't really change the alignment of the car much. But aside from the high kerbs, notoriously slippy tarmac on the 2nd corner that can send the car sideways in an instant and narrow road, this corner has a very hard, unforgiving sting in the tail. Two of them, actually.

Firstly, get the kerbs wrong, and this can happen:

Luckily, in an F1 car the kerbs are lower, so you only have to worry about one evil sting in the tail. One that's whispered in hushed tones by motor racing fans. One that's now given its name to the corner behind it itself.

The Mur du Québec or Mur des Champions. The Wall of Champions. It's an unassuming white lump of concrete with "Bienvenue au Quebec" painted on it. It's not even painted particularly well, sometimes.

But that lump of concrete is dropped RIGHT on the outside of the exit of the chicane, roughly a foot from where the ideal racing line passes. To take the corner properly, drivers have to stick their right-hand wheels so close to it that every pass takes any dust off the top of the wall with the 120mph wind.

Get the corner even slightly wrong, and this happens:

There's at least three World Champions in there, all hitting the same unassuming stretch of wall because they got the last chicane at Montreal wrong.

If you get the last chicane at Montreal're gonna have a bad time. If Pastor Maldonado gets the last chicane wrong at Montreal...look out, cause bits of his car are probably going to land in Repentigny or Laval.

Assuming you don't drive into the wall, that's your lap. 1:13 is a very fast one indeed, 1:14/15 is a quickie. Do that 70 times and avoid the wall all 70 times, and you've got a race.

Montreal in the dry is a super circuit. Montreal in the wet makes for carnage.

Montreal at all makes for balls-out, exciting racing full of passion and incident. In that sense, it's a perfect memorial to the driver it honours, cause it's racing the way Gilles would've wanted it.

Salut, Gilles. Your memory lives proudly on.