On a freezing day of October 1978, Canadian Gilles Villeneuve scored his maiden Formula 1 Grand Prix victory in front of his home crowd in Montréal.
The Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix found a new home in 1978, on a brand new race track built on the Ile Notre-Dame on the Saint Lawrence River in front of Montréal. With Ontario’s Mosport Park unable to meet the safety requirements of the FIA, a new track designed by Roger Peart was quickly built in just a few months on the site of Expo 67 and the rowing basin of the 1976 Olympic Games.
Constructed on a hand-made island, which included small bodies of water, the circuit basically constituted of fast straightaways split by slow chicanes.
After the 1968 and 1970 editions were held at the picturesque Mont Tremblant rollercoaster in the Laurentians, the F1 cars made a return to the province of Québec. All eyes were on the young Canadian driving the No. 12 Ferrari 312 T3, Gilles Villeneuve.
A Canadian in Formula 1
In his first season in F1, Villeneuve has had several crashes and accidents, but often qualified near the front of the pack, led races and had just finished on the podium in Austria, which was a good omen.
It rained and it was cold during practice and the cars that skidded off the track slid onto the unfinished run-offs areas and were towed to the garages entirely covered with mud. The east end of the paddock was ironically called the “car wash”.
Gilles Villeneuve qualified third on the grid behind pole position holder, Frenchman Jean-Pierre Jarier in the black and gold No. 55 Lotus 79-Ford and Jody Scheckter in the No. 20 Wolf WR6-Ford.
But Villeneuve gambled big before the start of the race by going against the recommendations of the Michelin technicians, opting to run the race on tires of a soft compound. Villeneuve estimated that the October 8, freezing weather probably would not hurt these tires.
Jarier puts on a show until a mechanical failure
At the start, Jarier jumped into the lead and quickly pulled away from the rest of the field. Meanwhile, Villeneuve moved up to third place on Lap 19 by passing Alan Jones in the Williams FW06-Ford, and six laps later, he made it to second position when he passed Scheckter.
Jarier was leading by some 40 seconds when he pitted unexpectedly at the conclusion of Lap 50. The magnesium inboard rear brake callipers of the Lotus had overheated on this stop-and-go circuit and boiling fluid had sprayed onto the rear end of the car. The Frenchman retired in the pit lane, giving the command of the race to Villeneuve.
For the remaining laps, the crowd of 72,000 fans cheered their beloved hero. The snowflakes that started to fall on Montréal did nothing to temper the joy of the fans.
On Lap 70, in a perfect scenario, Villeneuve crossed the line in first place, winning his maiden Formula 1 race. Jody Scheckter came home second followed by Villeneuve’s teammate at Ferrari, Carlos Reutemann, followed by Riccardo Patrese (Arrows), Patrick Depailler (Tyrrell) and Derek Daly (Ensign).
Villeneuve stood on the podium, dressed warm in the hunting jacket of his manager, Gaston Parent. He received a bronze Maple Leaf trophy from the hands of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and celebrated by spraying beer from the huge bottle provided by the race’s sponsor, Labatt’s.
Photos: Motorsport Network