Home Canadian GP Throwback Thursday: 1978 Canadian Grand Prix

Throwback Thursday: 1978 Canadian Grand Prix


Ahead of this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix, F1 Hub remembers the first time the Grand Prix circus headed to Montreal.

Serving as the finale to the 1978 calendar, the Canadian Grand Prix was a conclusion to Mario Andretti’s sole championship winning season.

It would be a race of firsts; including the first broadcast of a Grand Prix event by BBC, and later the first ever race won by a Canadian.

Built on an artificial island in Montreal intended for Expo 67, the 4.5km circuit hugged the island’s coastline with a rowing lake in the centre.

Up until that point, Andretti’s Lotus 79 had proved another class with specialised ‘ground effect’ aerodynamics, aiding him to six victories.

However, he famously declared the Canadian track (named Circuit Ile Notre-Dame at the time) to be in favour of home country hopeful Gilles Villeneuve.

Jean-Pierre Jarier started the race from pole, ahead of Jody Scheckter and Ferrari’s Villeneuve.

Jarier had been hired by Lotus from the previous race in Watkins Glen, replacing the deceased Swede Ronnie Peterson.

Highlighting the dangers of 1970’s Formula One, Peterson was involved in a horrific Monza accident that saw him hospitalised in a coma, before passing away the next morning.

By default this made Andretti champion, albeit under tragic circumstances.


With the Lotus team aiming to honour Peterson’s memory, Jarier sped away from his compatriots in Canada, forming a sizeable and impressive lead.

Australian Alan Jones would jump both Scheckter and Villeneuve into second, in the sole Williams FW06.

However, characteristics of the circuit would then come to bear, as Emerson Fittipaldi slid out of the Grand Prix, before Niki Lauda retired with brake failure on lap 6.

Shortly after, World Champion Andretti would find himself in contact with John Watson; both continued until Watson retired following another accident three laps later.

Meanwhile Villeneuve was playing the patient game, tailing Scheckter past a slowing Alan Jones on lap 19, before overtaking the South African on lap 25.

Not unlike recent Grand Prix’s at the circuit, the fast straights and angled corners were beginning to take their toll on the machines.

Jones was slowly slipping down the order with mechanical problems on lap 33, as Rene Arnoux retired 5 laps later with oil pressure issues.

However the greatest shock of the afternoon would come on lap 50, as dominant leader Jarier was helpless to an oil pressure issue, handing the lead to Villeneuve.

Unable to prevent Jacques Laffite unlapping himself, Jarier was brought into pits without brakes and a sizeable hole in the car.

James Hunt would also join the list of retirees, finishing his Mclaren tenure on a low after crashing his M26, joining Ligier for the following season.

But instead Villeneuve would be the Canadian hero; a smart driver reaping the benefits of a fortuitous race.

He was by no means in the fastest car, as the flat-12 Ferrari 312T3 had exhibited a radical front wing but was still unable to trump the aerodynamically superior Lotus.

It would take a special race for the Ferrari man to stand on the top step, starting a journey that saw him win a further five races throughout his career.

The genius of the man would end tragically four years later, though the echelons of history remember him as the greatest driver never to have won a championship.

The legacy would be fulfilled in son Jacques Villeneuve’s 1997 championship, though the Canadian was never able to win his home race.

This would mean Gilles retains the hallowed title of the only ever Canadian to win his home Grand Prix, incredibly on first attempt.