Does Montreal belong in today’s F1 calendar?

The main talking point in the run-up to this year’s Canadian Grand Prix was the disintegrating track. Throughout qualifying the circuit was breaking up, leaving marbles and other debris off the racing line.

This isn’t the first time the Montreal surface has caused problems — but this year it came earlier. The organisers blamed this year’s problems on the evolution of the cars. But that is a poor excuse. Every year the track breaks up more and more, so the organisers should be prepared for this eventuality every year. If they can’t lay tarmac that can cope with what an F1 car will give it, they shouldn’t be holding an F1 Grand Prix.

Another point, as noted by Keith at F1Fanatic last week, is that F1 is beginning to look too fast for the tight confines of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Of course, Canada isn’t the only race to be held on a street circuit — Monaco being the obvious example.

However, the Circuit de Monaco is the slowest on the calendar so the likelihood of a Robert Kubica-style horror-smash is pretty low. Meanwhile, the Albert Park circuit has plenty of space for run-off areas, gravel traps and the like.

Canada has the close, punishing walls of Monaco with the dizzying speeds of Monza. So when a car leaves the track, it can spell disaster, just as it did with Robert Kubica last year.

Another problem with the Montreal circuit is the tight space requirements. The whole circuit is built on a man-made island. As such, there is little scope for altering the circuit or increasing the run-off areas. The best the organisers could do to mitigate against another Kubica-style crash in the run-up to the hairpin was to move the wall forward in an attempt to change the angle of impact. Is that enough for today’s safety-conscious F1 standards?

In part, it is these characteristics that make the Canadian Grand Prix such an exciting event year-in, year-out. There is so much history at the circuit as well. Not many circuits stay on the calendar for 30 years running. Today the Canadian Grand Prix is significant as the only F1 event in North America, and one of just two in the Americas as a whole.

But no-one likes to see a driver involved in a big accident. It could have been so much worse for Robert Kubica who escaped uninjured, but whose feet were sticking out of the monocoque by the time the wreck came to a stand-still.

If the circuit cannot improve its standards in terms of safety and tarmac break-up, it has to be concluded that F1 has now outgrown the narrow confines of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. If the Canadian Grand Prix had to be dropped, it would be the ideal time to bring back the United States Grand Prix — an event that is conspicuous by its absence from the F1 calendar.


  1. I have to say Duncan, I’m rather surprised to hear you bring this topic up. Frankly, I’m sick and tired of great tracks being dumped, or ruined in the name of safety. If anything, I’d have to say that the Kubica crash proved all the more that we can have racing on these types of circuits, due to the improved safety of the cars themselves. God help us if we start losing any more of F1’s history.

  2. Hi Josh, thanks for leaving a comment.

    I love the Montreal circuit because without fail it produces an exciting race. On the other hand, Robert Kubica’s accident last year was easily the worst few minutes I have ever spent watching Formula 1.

    Of course, the fact that Kubica survived almost uninjured is testament to the safety of Formula 1. But there is clearly a trade-off and it’s about getting the right balance. A similar incident at a circuit like Bahrain with a huge run-off area would probably have looked quite harmless.

    With safety being so high up on the agenda, potentially Formula 1 can choose to go down two paths. One is to curb technological innovations further and further until it becomes a spec series. The other is to ensure that the safety standards of circuits are constantly improving. Given the choice between samey spec cars trundling around interesting circuits or fast innovative cars racing at safe circuits, I would opt for the racing.

  3. I think Kubica’s accident was a bit of a freak occurance to be honest. Montreal always has a lot of incidents sure, but mostly they are your standard garden variety crashes.

    That crash could have happened at almost any circuit on the current calendar. I think the GP2 crash at Magny Cours last year was much more dangerous, but no one wants to dump Magny Cours on safety grounds – plenty of other reasons though 🙁

    The track breaking up is another issue entirely, but lets be honest. It provided us with one of the best overtaking moves we have seen in ages – from Mr-I-Can-Only-Win-From-Pole no less, so it wasn’t an entirely bad thing.

  4. The thing about last year’s crash at Magny-Cours, though, is that if that accident had occurred where Robert Kubica’s did in the run-up to turn 10, the flying car would have ended up in the path of cars coming in the opposite direction exiting turn 10. The GP2 crash was more dangerous, but the place where it happened made it safer than it would have been if it had occurred at Montreal.

  5. I believe Circuit Gilles Villeneuve should have a place on the calendar. It is a challenge for the drivers and produces at minimum a moderately good race to watch.

    As for accidents, well no one likes to see a driver fly through the air and somersault around uncontrollably. But motor sport is dangerous – I believe it says so on the back of every GP ticket sold. Accidents will happen due to the very nature of the sport being to drive as fast as possible. I know that isn’t really your point, but even on the safest of circuits a freak accident can occur. Kovalainen could have been seriously injured in Spain, and that track has been around for years (1991?), is trusted by the teams (they test there all the time) and has loads of run-off areas. Even Nakajima had a relatively sizeable shunt pre-season at turn one.

    To get back to the point though, I don’t think F1 has outgrown the circuit; there weren’t any major crashes last weekend. Well, not major in terms of large impact speeds anyway. Quite the opposite, in fact. 😉 The circuit just needs the right people to be in charge of it. Clever people who can work with the teams, drivers, FIA and even the TWG to ensure that the right areas are updated appropriately in terms of safety. Undoubtedly it is harder to do at CGV, but I don’t think it is impossible.

    The organisers absolutely have to sort the tarmac out though – to have it breaking up at all is unacceptable and they should be prepared each year for the eventuality, as you say in the post.

    I will also add that street circuits are going to get faster. Valencia and Singapore are said to have pretty fast sections on them, and of course, the ability to adjust and modify these tracks provides problems, as it does in Canada and Monaco.