(The report of the Canadian Grand Prix begins in the colour section, on page 1586)
It never ceases to surprise me where I meet readers of Motor Sport and the last place I expected was on the Underground train in Montreal, or the Metro as the French-Canadians like to call it. There are two islands in the St. Lawrence river, side by side, with the racing circuit on one and an Underground station on the other, it being but a short walk from the station to the Formula 1 paddock. As we were staying in a gigantic complex in the centre of the city, which had a subterranean passageway connecting the Hotel complex with the Place des Arts station, the easiest way of getting to the circuit each day was on the Metro. On the first day as I travelled tribe circuit I was conscious of two fellow’s sitting opposite who were viewing me with keen interest and slight puzzlement. When we left the train they said with slight surprise “It is D.S.J., isn’t it?” and of course. it was. I think they expected me to be driving to the circuit in a Boxer Ferrari or a 928 Porsche or something, but those days are/org past. I explained the simplicity of travelling to the circuit on the Metro, completely avoiding traffic queues, hassles over parking and the general unpleasantness of getting into a circuit by car these days. They appreciated the point completely, for they had driven up from New York in a Porsche 911 and stopped on the edge of Montreal to enquire the way to the circuit. The man they asked had said “Park your car over there, and go in on the Metro, it’s the only way”. This they had done and were well pleased with the advice.
The Montreal Metro (sounds like a new Eurobox!) was built about 15 years ago and makes the London Underground look very second-hand. There is virtually no advertising plastered on the walls, no “graffiti” whatsover, no litter soda very simple system of tickets; there aren’t any. You merely pay to go through the turnstile on a flat-rate basis and just walk out freely at the other end, consequently there are no queues, and even on race day there was no queueing as a vast number of exits were available. The trains are electric and run on rubber tyres, and altogether it is a very pleasant and relaxed way of traversing the city.
When we came out of the station on race day, to be greeted with pouring rain, there were people glvtng away blue and white sun-hats(!) advertising Talbot-Gitanes. Naturally nearly everyone took a free hat and wore it and I could not help thinking that Talbot were optimistic. By the end of the day I had to revise my opinion. A similar thing had happened in Austria, at the Osterreichring where I met a very old friend from my motorcycle racing days, one Dr. Helmut Krackowitzer, who was handling publicity for Talbot in Austria. I made some remark about not having to work too hard at the Grand Prix, and, of course, Laffite won that one so my friend was very busy. One thing you can always be sure about and that is that Jacques Laffite will always have a good old go. He may not have the inborn skill and speed to match Jones, Piquet, Villeneuve or Pironi, but his sheer enthusiasm makes up for anything he lacks in ability. He is invariably up with the leading bunch, hanging on to them when all things are equal, though never being quite in with them. But the moment something untoward occurs from which he can profit, he is in there, never missing an opportunity. His drive in the wet at Montreal was a Laffite classic, he profited all along the line from the misfortune of others and made the most of it. The way he closed in on Prost when the Renault braking was causing worry, was a joy to watch, and he went by into the lead with only one thing in mind, and that was to win the Canadian Grand Prix. When you know these drivers pretty well and have studied their characters you can somehow read their minds as you watch. From the second corner, when he ran round the outside of Reutemann, Alan Jones was another man who was out to win the race, regardless of conditions. That he spun out of the lead when the rain came down hard was just one of those things, but up to that point he was winning that race.
We have never been so near to not having a race as we were in Montreal and had it not been so wet and miserable the long waiting period could have been agonising. As it was it was all so wet and miserable that the delay was just another problem and there was the feeling that even if proceedings did start it wasn’t going to be much fun. The insurance problem concerned the drivers and the teams as regards personal cover and material cover and was all rather complicated. The problem had actually been simmering for a few days, with no real agreement, and blew up on Sunday morning, as related in the Grand Prix report. For a long time it seemed as if there was a deadlock, with no way out. There was no problem about being insured against third parties, i.e. the spectators, but it seems that nobody was insured against a catastrophe like the pits falling down on everyone and on the cars, or the paddock catching fire and burning everything to a cinder. When things are not going too well during practice you will hear Mario Andrew suggesting that Formula 1 should be run like USAC oval racing, where you turn up on Sunday morning, have five or ten laps practice, race after lunch and be on your way home by tea-time. Oddly enough he never gets any support for this idea from the other teams, and I am sure Carlo Chiti and Autodelta Alfa Romeo don’t really understand what he is on about. At some circuits there are many drivers who have done 140 laps before they actually start the 70 lap race. They will have been there the previous week tyre testing, or testing new cars, then they may have a run on the afternoon before official practice starts, there are two days of practice, and a final IS or 15 laps on the morning of the race. At a circuit like Montreal this cannot happen, for the roads are only closed for the two official practice days and race day. As things turned out with the rain on race day no-one had done any wet-weather testing and with the delay they only got 10 minutes of practice on wet-weather tyres, with anti-roll bars softened accordingly and 25 minutes later the race started. Rather like Andretti suggested.
Due to having to fit everything into the available space and the available facilities on the Ile Notre Dame the layout of paddock and pits is not ideal, but works well enough. The paddock is a huge area of permanent buildings in which the teams are housed with workshop facilities, while the pits are a row of storage boxes with cover only for spare parts and people. These are something like half a mile from the paddock, with a long, straight and fairly wide road joining them. All the teams are provided with small vans, small motorcycles, golfing runabouts, and normal cars, so there is no shortage of transport and there is continual traffic plying between the paddock and the pits, towing racing cars, carrying wheels and tyres or team personnel and everyone enters into the spirit of the occasion, sharing transport, giving each other a ton-or a lift. Since the fitting of strong roll-over crash bars became mandatory the mechanics have had an easier time, for the top of the roll-bar is an ideal place to tie a tow rope, and you can connect two or even three cars in a train with a rope between the roll-over bars. These tubular hoops have also made the question of recovering crashed cars a lot easier, for a breakdown crane merely reaches out and hooks a crashed car up by its roll-over bar behind the cockpit. During the three days in Montreal there were quite a lot of cars “coming in on the hook”.
The road between the paddock and the pits continues on in a straight line to the far end of the circuit, the circuit itself being long and thin, going out and back more or less on the periphery of the Ile Notre Dame. Alongside the service road is an inland water-way used for boat races, and plying up and down were a couple of speedboats to take Press people and photographers from one end of the circuit to the other. On the practice days, in the warm sunshine, it was a very pleasant form of travel, and after the Formula 1 practice I went for boat ride, at some 35-40 knots, down to the far end of the circuit. Them was a Formula Atlantic race in progress and my colleagues said I should watch Gilles Villeneuve’s young brother Jacques in action. I had not watched more than a half a dozen laps before Jacques Villeneuve coasted to a stop in front of me, with a dead engine, got out and walked away, so I did not get much chance to study his driving. The boat ride back to the paddock was really pleasant.
If you are not prepared for it there is one sight peculiar to the Montreal circuit that can make your eyebrow rise, and that is the passing of large ships along the Sr. Lawrence. From the back of the pits you merely see the previously mentioned road, the strip of water built for the 1976 Olympics, then a grass bank and on the top of the bank a dual carriageway with quite heavy traffic passing along it. What you do not see is the navigation waterway on the other side of the raised motor road. The waterway is a lot lower than the road but every now and then there is the remarkable backcloth of an enormous freighter passing silently along with only the top half visible, and some of them are very big.
The day before practice Monsieur Jean-Marie Balestre, with his friend Bernard Ecclestone, held a press-conference and during this chat he explained the controversial 6 centimetre ground-clearance rule very clearly. He quoted the rules, as written, to keep everyone happy, but not as originally written. “A Formula 1 car shall have a clearance of 6 centimetres under its entire length and this clearance will he checked on a flat pad of concrete or tarmac situated at the entrance to the pit road.” Nothing about the ground clearance at all other times, which is why everyone is cheating with their hydro-pneumatic suspension systems that raise the car up for the moment it is checked but lets it down for all other purposes. FISA made a rule last winter that could not be implemented, relying on the integrity of designers to conform. They all started off adhering to the rule until Bernard Ecclestone’s team cheated so then they all cheated. There was no way of enforcing the rule so the idiotic “face-saving” check was made at the pit entrance. The whole thing is no farcical that it has become tiresome. Since the Canadian Grand Prix Monsieur Balestre has been re-elected for another term as President of FISA and the Formula 1 engineers have met to try and sort out the ridiculous ground clearance farce. Hopefully we shall all know more next month.
For those of us who are Villeneuve fans, and there are quite a lot of us, his performance in keeping going in third place, while the front of his Ferrari was falling off, was so typical of him. He just does not know the meaning of “giving up’. However, the Aunt Sallies and the Donkeys were all bleating about “dangerous”, “stupid”, “rock-ape” etc., etc., and no doubt there are some readers writing to us in a similar vein. But he was third in the race and holding his position in spite of the total lack of front on the car. The real racers, like Jones, Piquet, Laffite and company admire Villeneuve for his indomitable spirit. Engineer Forghieri once said “you don’t find drivers like that on every street corner” and Uncle Enzo just loves the little French-Canadian. On his home ground you can imagine the reception he got from the crowd when he finished the race in his very tattered-looking Ferrari.
Actually, far more impressive was the performance of John Watson in the McLaren MP4, for he drove a remarkably steady and regular race looking totally unflurried, keeping his nose clean and avoiding trouble. The result? A very worthy second place, but we must admit that the MP4 is a very nice and civilised car, with a powerful and controllable Cosworth DFV engine, while the Ferrari is pretty horrible in the handling department at the best of times, and in the rain it was not possible to use full throttle all the time so the engine misfired and ran so roughly I thought it would never last the race, but it did.
I have seen lot of races in the rain and I have always admired the drivers who press on regardless of the conditions, but when I looked at the huge ball of spray on the opening lap as the 24th car plunged into it, I said in all sincerity. “Bloody heroes, every one”. — D.S.J.