The 1977 edition of the Canadian Formula 1 Grand Prix will be remembered for several reasons, good and bad.
First of all, Mosport Park’s fast and bumpy road course was no longer in its best condition, and most drivers complained that it was dangerous and no longer suited for Formula 1 racing. Bernie Ecclestone told the organizers that they had to find a new home for the race. Secondly, it was to be Gilles Villeneuve’s first Grand Prix for Ferrari. And thirdly, it’s a Canadian car, the Wolf WR1 that won the race.
Too many dangers
Before the race weekend, competitors who inspected the circuit lamented that the guardrails were poorly fixed at several places. When practice got underway, they proved to be right as British driver Ian Ashley went over a bump, flipped his Hesketh, vaulted the barrier and crashed into a television tower, badly injuring his legs. Later, Jochen Mass totally destroyed his McLaren in another accident.
Local hero, Gilles Villeneuve – who contested the British Grand Prix back in July in a McLaren – had just signed a contract with Ferrari and found himself replacing the departing Niki Lauda. The Canadian found the Ferrari 312T2 tricky to drive. After several wild spins, he qualified a lowly 17th.
South African Jody Scheckter qualified his Wolf in ninth place, a full two seconds slower than pole position holder, Mario Andretti in his Lotus 78. The Wolf car and team were owned by wealthy Montreal-based businessman, an Austrian immigrant named Walter Wolf who made fortune as a supplier of oil-drilling equipment.
Andretti first until the final laps
Mario Andretti jumped in the lead at the start in his Lotus, followed by James Hunt in his McLaren and his teammate, Jochen Mass, driving the spare car. The two leaders, Andretti and Hunt, quickly pulled way from the rest of the field. Meanwhile, Villeneuve was getting to grips with the Ferrari. On Lap 35, he was up in 11th place. Jochen Mass was third, running head of Scheckter, Patrick Depailler in his six-wheel Tyrrell and Riccardo Patrese in his Shadow.
The order barely changed at all until Lap 62, when the flying Andretti and Hunt came to lap the McLaren of Mass (yes, Mass, who was third, but one lap down!). Hunt used his teammate’s car to outfox Andretti and take the lead.
One lap later, all three cars ran together. The two McLaren drivers had a misunderstanding in one corner and the two cars touched, sending Hunt’s machine into the concrete wall. The Briton, unhurt, but furious at his teammate, waved his fist at Mass before punching a marshal who was trying to guide him away from trackside.
Andretti had lapped the entire field but with just three laps to go, his Cosworth DFV engine expired, spilling oil, which caused several following cars to spin and retire. Villeneuve was in ninth place when he also spun. When vigorously trying to get back into the tarmac, a drive shaft broke on his Ferrari.
Emerging from the chaos was the Wolf-Cosworth of Scheckter. There were mighty cheers all around the race track as the Canadian team of Walter Wolf won its home race.
Patrick Depailler arrived home in second place, but he lost consciousness after pulling his car off at the first corner following the finish. The poor Frenchman had inhaled gasoline fumes from his broken fuel pressure meter over the last third of the race. He had driven the final laps in complete dizziness. Jochen Mass was classified third, finishing ahead of Alan Jones in a Shadow, Patrick Tambay for Ensign and Vittorio Brambilla in a Surtees.