Skip to main content


Canadian Grand Prix: A history of Canada's lone F1 stop

Lewis Hamilton Lewis Hamilton - Getty Images

The Canadian Grand Prix returns this weekend with Formula 1's only Canadian stop on the season schedule.

Montreal's Ile Notre-Dame has been home to the race since 1978 and has seen the sport's most iconic drivers and teams leave their mark on Circuit Gilles Villeneuve over the years.

Watch every moment of this week's action leading up to the checkered flag Sunday afternoon LIVE on TSN, TSN+, and the TSN App. For a full schedule of this week's events, click here.

As the clock ticks closer to an exciting weekend of racing, here is a comprehensive history of the Canadian Grand Prix.


Early Days

Jack Brabham

In 1967, Canada turned 100 years old.

Thousands of celebratory performances and events were held across the country, including the immensely successful Expo 67 World’s Fair in Montreal. Internationally, the motorsports organization Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) sanctioned a Formula One World Championship race to take place on Canadian soil for the first time ever.

The race was held at Mosport Park, a 3.956-km track located about an hour from Toronto in Bowmanville, Ont., and won by Australian Jack Brabham. When it was renewed for the following season, it moved to Le Circuit Mont-Tremblant in Quebec with a plan to alternate between Tremblant and Mosport each year. That lasted until 1971 when the race shifted back to Bowmanville and stayed there until 1977, though the 1975 race was cancelled due to a financial disagreement between the track and the Formula One Constructors’ Association.

Two things ultimately drove the race away from Mosport. The track, shaped like an inverted ‘3’ with a long stretch curving up the west side, was hilly and questions emerged about its safety as an F1 circuit. During the first practice for the 1977 race, driver Ian Ashley flipped and crashed into a TV tower. A lengthy rescue ensued with Ashley suffering serious injuries.

But that wasn’t all. As Norris McDonald wrote in the Toronto Star years ago, Labatt was Canada’s main F1 sponsor at the time and wondered about the long-term viability of a major international race held in a small town an hour away from the cluster of hotels, access roads and transportation options a big city like Toronto had to offer. As it turned out, 1977 would be the final year of F1 racing at Mosport.


Move to Montreal

Circuit Gilles Villeneuve 1978

The Canadian GP would find its permanent home one year later, but it came this close to moving to Toronto, not Montreal.

A push began in the late 1960s to move the race to Toronto’s Exhibition Place and by 1978 the wheels were firmly in motion. The city’s Lakeshore Boulevard would be part of the track with Exhibition Stadium – the home of the expansion MLB team Toronto Blue Jays – seating tens of thousands for a potential pit lane view. Labatt convinced F1 Constructors’ Association leadership that more money could be made in Toronto and the matter went to a city council ballot, where it was rejected by two votes.

Up stepped Montreal with a proposal to build on Ile Notre-Dame, an island in the St. Lawrence River just east of the city’s downtown core that helped host Expo 67 just over a decade earlier. Designed by British engineer Roger Peart, the (sort of) oval-shaped track had a huge stretch on the east side run parallel to the Olympic Basin, created years earlier for the rowing and canoeing events of the 1976 Summer Olympics.

On Oct. 8, 1978, the 22-driver field took off in front of more than 70,000 spectators. And the result couldn’t have been more perfect.


Hometown Hero

Gilles Villeneuve wins in Montreal

Gilles Villeneuve, a native of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., once said he had three dreams. The first was to get into racing. Check. The second was to drive in F1, a feat he accomplished when McLaren brought him on in 1977. Third? To drive for Ferrari.

Following a short stint with McLaren, that’s exactly what he did. Tabbed as Ferrari’s newest driver for the tail end of the 1977 season and all of 1978, Villeneuve had mixed results heading into the Canadian GP, set to debut just 45 minutes northwest of his hometown.

He qualified third for the race and passed Jody Scheckter for second on lap 25 but was still well behind France’s Jean-Pierre Jarier for the top spot. On lap 50, with things seemingly in hand for the Frenchman, mechanical failure forced the No. 55 Lotus out of the race, leaving Villeneuve in the lead. A handful of laps later, he crossed the finish line for his first ever F1 victory and became the only Canadian to win the GP on home soil, an accomplishment that still stands to this day.

“There was no more appropriate, dramatic place for him to get his first win in front of all his fellow Quebecers. I would think that after the race he had to feel like he had arrived,” Wolf-Cosworth driver Bobby Rahal told the Montreal Gazette in 2018.

Tragically, Villeneuve died in an accident during the final qualifying session for the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix. In honour, Curcuit Ile Notre-Dame was renamed Circuit Gilles Villeneuve with the words “Sault Gilles” placed at the finish line – the same finish line he made history at four years earlier. 


Past Canadian Grand Prix F1 Winners

Year Driver Constructor Track
1967  Jack Brabham Brabham-Repco Mosport Park
1968 Denny Hulme McLaren-Ford Mont-Tremblant
1969 Jacky Ickx Brabham-Ford Mosport Park
1970  Jacky Ickx Ferrari Mont Tremblant
1971 Jackie Stewart Tyrrell-Ford Mosport Park
1972 Jackie Stewart Tyrrell-Ford Mosport Park
1973 Peter Revson McLaren-Ford Mosport Park
1974 Emerson Fittipaldi McLaren-Ford Mosport Park
1976 James Hunt McLaren-Ford Mosport Park
1977 Jody Scheckter Wolf-Ford Mosport Park
1978 Gilles Villeneuve Ferrari Circuit Ile Notre-Dame
1979 Alan Jones Williams-Ford Circuit Ile Notre-Dame
1980 Alan Jones Williams-Ford Circuit Ile Notre-Dame
1981 Jacques Laffite Ligier-Matra Circuit Ile Notre-Dame
1982 Nelson Piquet Brabham-BMW Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
1983 Rene Arnoux Ferrari Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
1984 Nelson Piquet Brabham-BMW Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
1985 Michele Alboreto Ferrari Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
1986 Nigel Mansell Williams-Honda Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
1988 Ayrton Senna McLaren-Honda Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
 1989 Thierry Boutsen Williams-Renault Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
1990 Ayrton Senna McLaren-Honda Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
1991 Nelson Piquet Benetton-Ford Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
1992 Gerhard Berger McLaren-Honda Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
1993 Alain Prost Williams-Renault Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
1994 Michael Schumacher Benetton-Ford Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
1995 Jean Alesi Ferrari Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
1996 Damon Hill Williams-Renault Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
1997 Michael Schumacher Ferrari Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
1998 Michael Schumacher Ferrari Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
1999 Mika Häkkinen McLaren-Mercedes Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
2000 Michael Schumacher Ferrari Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
2001 Ralf Schumacher Williams-BMW Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
2002 Michael Schumacher Ferrari Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
2003 Michael Schumacher Ferrari Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
2004 Michael Schumacher Ferrari Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
2005 Kimi Raikkonen McLaren-Mercedes Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
2006 Fernando Alonso Renault Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
2007 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
2008 Robert Kubica BMW Sauber Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
2010 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
2011 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
2012 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
2013 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
2014 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
2015 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
2016 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
2017 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
2018 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
2019 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
2022 Max Verstappen Red Bull Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
2023 Max Verstappen Red Bull Circuit Gilles Villeneuve


A pair of legends make their mark

Lewis Hamilton

Save for Villeneuve, no two names align more with the Canadian Grand Prix than Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton.

The top two drivers of all time in terms of career victories – Hamilton with 103 and Schumacher with 91 – each has seven wins north of the border and have been absolutely dominant during their respective eras.

Driving for Benetton-Ford at the time, Schumacher began the 1994 season on fire with a win in his first four races. He made it five of six by winning Montreal, kicking off a stretch that saw him win seven times in 11 years from 1994 to 2004, the majority of which came in the Ferrari colours he’s most recognized for.

In 2007 in Montreal, Hamilton, then a 22-year-old rookie alongside defending F1 champion Fernando Alonso at McLaren, snatched up his first pole position. He kept the momentum going all weekend, recording his first ever F1 win. Considering there was no Canadian GP in 2009, Hamilton’s run of seven wins in 12 race years from 2007 to 2019 was essentially as impressive as Schumacher’s. Hamilton has won 58 per cent of his starts north of the border, his highest percentage of any track on the F1 circuit.

The sport’s all-time wins leader said in 2017 that the track means a lot to him.

“It’s always been a special place for me. It’s crazy to think after 10 years that I enjoy racing every lap just as I did 10 years ago,” he said after his sixth victory in 2017.


A lengthy red flag

Jogger crosses finish line at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve

Like so much else the last few years, the Canadian Grand Prix did not happen in 2020 and 2021.

While F1 eventually started their 2020 season in July and held a 17-race calendar, Canadian travel restrictions as well as gathering limits associated with COVID-19 made the race logistically impossible. The same was true the year after.

“I understand the news, and I accept it, but you understand that I still have mixed feelings,” race promoter Francois Dumontier said of the decision to cancel for the second straight year.

“I am disappointed with the cancelation for my team, for the many volunteers and all the stakeholders who make it so successful.”

Canadian Lance Stroll, a native of Montreal, was also disenchanted with the news.

“It’s the race that I always look forward to the most and I just feel for the fans, my heart goes out to everyone back in Montreal that look forward to the race every year and it’s one of the most exciting weekends in the city, and it’s just really sad that for a second year it’s not happening,” he said.

“But times are tough. It’s maybe not the right time to go there and the world’s still a funny place, so all I can say is that I really hope that we can be back there next year and to everyone back in Canada, just keep your chin up and fingers crossed, let’s look forward to being back next season.”

Thankfully, in the summer of 2022, racing returned north of the border. 


F1 returns to Canada with dominance from Verstappen

"It's lights out and away we go" said Sky Sports F1 commentator David Croft on his signature call as cars jumped off the line for the first time in three years at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. 

After claiming pole in a soggy qualifying session a day earlier, Verstappen got a quick start and easily beat Alpine's Fernando Alonso to the first turn, clearing the way for him to win his sixth race of the season. But Verstappen had Carlos Sainz on his gearbox the entire way down the stretch of the race as the Red Bull star barely held off the charging Ferrari for a narrow victory.

"The last 15, 16 laps we were flat out, pushing to the limit. I knew, of course, that I couldn't make a mistake. But it was good racing," Verstappen said after the win.

"When I gave it all, I was risking everything," said Sainz. "I can tell you I was pushing. I left everything out there."

ContentId(1.1815111): Verstappen celebrates after winning first Canadian Grand Prix

Stroll, who started 17th and made his way all the way up to 10th, called it "incredible" to be able to race at home following the pandemic-related hiatus.

By the time the 2023 Canadian GP rolled around, Verstappen had been on top of the sport for some time. 

Well on his way to his third straight F1 driver title, Verstappen came into Montreal with victories in three straight races and four of the previous five.

Last summer's edition was a lot easier than the year before as the Dutchman led from start to finish, capturing his 41st career victory to put him in a tie with the legendary Ayrton Senna. Verstappen would go on to win six additional races in a row, setting an F1 record with 10 consecutive victories. 

A record 345,000 total spectators attended the event that weekend.