Montreal Grand Prix weekend since 1978 has been a perennial favorite for me. I scored my first world championship point there (P6 in Ensign) in 1978, the day that Gilles Villeneuve anchored his legend status by winning in dramatic style for Ferrari.
This year’s event was mighty. The place was full and alive right Friday morning (despite the student protesters who elected to protest in the nude outside our restaurant on Friday night – wait till they see themselves in photos in 20 years time).
Speaking of Ferrari I had a nice chat with Massa engineer Rob Smedley. I’m “his former driver” as he calls me, as he was my engineer when I drove the Jordan F1 car in Silverstone for a Speed-TV show in 2004. He is still trying to lift Massa from his post Hungary accident slump – he spun right in front of us exiting turn one in the race-ouch.
As you can imaging, trying to have a discussion with Bernie Ecclestone at a GP weekend can be trying to say the least. I had a specific request/question but there is usually a never-ending line to see the boss. I ended camping in his hospitability area with Chris Pook (of Long Beach GP fame) and before he met with Chris I was able to grab him for a moment. Bernie is a machine that is in overdrive all through a race weekend.
Circuit of the Americas (COTA) people were much in evidence in the paddock. With the addition of Mario Andretti as an ambassador they are finally getting some credibility and the paddock is slowly becoming believers. I have never known a circuit to be as blighted with in-house fighting at COTA. Mario is a perfect support ambassador for them – roll on November when Austin, Texas will come alive with Formula One.
One of the biggest advantages of Isle Notre Dame, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, is that the fans are so close to the cars on track. The grandstands are literally outside the fence in most cases and you can hear the PA – yes – believe it or not, hearing the PA engages people at a higher level and most circuits don’t understand that. New circuit designs keep moving the grandstands further and further away from the action. This disengages the fans more and more. Montreal turns one/two with packed grandstands in the sunshine and big screen TV’s with a strong PA system is a high octane location.
The slo-mo cameras in use for F1 these days are just incredible. There was a qualifying shot of Button roasting his front tire from a brake lock and in slo-mo replay, it was a sight to behold. The packed grandstands also thought so at the hairpin.
There were two F1600 races in support of the GP and we (DDA) had a driver, Garett Grist entered in a Bryan Herta Mygale. He did a great job coming from 8th on the grid (driveshaft broke in quals) to finish third setting fastest lap, which put him on the pole for Sundays race. He led like a champion until gearbox issues slowed him. Garett produced a special helmet for the weekend that he auctions off to support the Sick Kids Hospital Charity and we were able to get Alonso and Massa to sign it – nice touch from the Ferrari boys. Right after Massa signed it a mini hurricane went through the paddock blowing down some of the hospitability units and scattering everyone for cover from the downpour.
Interesting that Ferrari told me that Alonso was on a pole speed lap but made a mistake – I still don’t think he would have beaten Hamilton in the race.
On the 30th anniversary of his Dad’s death in Zolder, Belgium, son Jacque Villeneuve was very much in evidence. I remember the day 30 years ago very clearly as I was sitting in the pits in the Williams when the news began to filter through the paddock. Gilles wife, Joanne was also in the paddock.
An outstanding weekend with a great crowd – roll on Austin, Texas.