Flashback: F1 raft race at the 1994 Canadian Grand Prix

If the Canadian GP wasn’t exciting enough in 1994, Maurice Hamilton witnessed the F1 teams’ other ‘race’ of the weekend – using boats fashioned from garage flotsam and jetsam

Boat race Canadian GP 1994

It’s a fair bet that those responsible for producing the rowing lake on Montreal’s Île Notre-Dame in time for the 1976 Summer Olympics never envisaged a scene such as this.

The Sauber-Mercedes ‘vessel’ – for want of a better word – is a far cry from the sleek double scull used 48 years ago by the gold-medal team from Norway. The Olympic winners rowed the length of the lake in six and half minutes. The piece of F1 nautical creativity shown here took about half an hour to struggle through a return journey from one side to the other in 1994.

With such a magnificent maritime playground on hand when F1 arrived in Montreal for the first time in 1978, it didn’t take long for someone to suggest an informal race. The only rule stipulated that teams had to use sundry materials found lying around in the paddock to build a craft capable of carrying at least two people. The objective was to reach the other side, collect an item – which varied from year to year between another team member, a ribbon or a spare wheel and tyre – and head back to port, usually accompanied by helpful rivals flinging eggs and fruit from the shore.

Design and construction took many forms, ranging from oil drums lashed together, to the hard-top cover from the back of a hired pick-up. One team went so far as converting a Portaloo. This, in fact, proved surprisingly seaworthy until, in the reverse of a familiar problem, the U-bend became unblocked and the craft started taking on water with alarming speed.

While being perfect territory for F1 ingenuity, the raft race soon came under the heading of rule-bending to the point of fracture. It was no surprise when one or two teams ‘found’ items in their garage that, in all honesty, had no use other than being perfectly formed for speed across water rather than on the race track. It reached a ridiculous and final extreme when Ferrari turned up with a two-man canoe complete with an outboard motor.

To their credit, Liberty Media/F1 revived the raft race in 2017 by providing the same materials for everyone, allowing a brief period for design and build, and stipulating a minimum number of ‘sailors’. Maritime madness in Montreal was resumed.

With skateboarding, breakdancing and surfing now on the Olympic timetable, raft racing may yet find a place. In which case, F1 would be well-prepared and the FIA president’s self-indulgent habit of handing out medals on the F1 podium might actually have a valid purpose.

1994 Canadian Grand Prix

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