Classic Races: 1999 Canadian Grand Prix


Whenever the Canadian Grand Prix nears, talk amongst Formula 1 fans usually includes a mention of the Wall of Champions.

But what is the Wall of Champions? And how did it earn that title?

Look no further than the 1999 race, which was by anybody’s standards, a classic.


Going into the race, Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher lead McLaren’s Mika Hakkinen in the Drivers’ standings by six points. However, the latter was in better form after winning last time out in Spain.

In what was a very tight qualifying session, Schumacher pipped Hakkinen to pole by just 0.029 seconds. His Ferrari team-mate Eddie Irvine was third, and  the second McLaren of David Coulthard alongside him.

The weather was sunny and scorching hot for the Grand Prix. The heat had seemingly gotten to Jarno Trulli and Jean Alesi, with both spectacularly crashing out at the first corner.

At the front, Schumacher lead away with Hakkinen in close company, while Giancarlo Fisichella made an excellent start from seventh and was up to fourth.

The Wall of Champions

After a brief Safety Car period, the race was back underway, but Ricardo Zonta became the first victim of the Quebec Wall.

The Brazilian carried too much speed into the chicane. Consequently, Zonta lost the rear end of his BAR and broke his suspension on the unforgiving barrier.

The Safety Car neutralised the race for a second time. On the restart, Schumacher caught Hakkinen napping to open up a decent lead.

The leading two continued to pull away from their British team-mates but it was another Brit that was about to grab everybody’s attention.

1996 World Champion, Damon Hill, made a similar mistake to Zonta on Lap 15.

His Jordan was also carrying too much speed into the final chicane and broke his suspension.

By Lap 29, Schumacher had opened up his lead over Hakkinen to a couple of seconds and was looking comfortable.

Looks can be deceiving though, and at the same spot, he got onto the inside kerbing.

This unsettled his car and skidded straight into the wall at terrific speed. It was a pure mistake, something we almost never saw from the German.

Hakkinen inherited the lead and the Flying Finn had a golden opportunity to take the lead in the championship.

The wall, wasn’t done yet, though.

Just five laps later, the local hero and 1997 world champion, Jacques Villeneuve, also fell victim to the Wall of Champions.

The Canadian wrecked his BAR by colliding head-first into the outside wall of – you guessed it – the final chicane.

Three F1 World Champions had crashed out of the race at the same point on the track.

Thus, that was how the Wall of Champions was Christened.

The Safety Car was inevitably brought out for Villeneuve’s stricken car and most of the field took the opportunity to make their sole pit stop.

More Carnage in Canada

David Coulthard had been stuck behind Eddie Irvine for most of the race. As a result, he clearly let his frustrations show by trying a daring move around the outside at the restart.

Irvine attempted to shut the door but Coulthard kept his foot in it. The two then touched, sent them both off the track and to the back of the pack.

Fisichella had moved his Benetton up to second, but this didn’t last long. The Italian got stuck behind some backmarkers and allowed Jordan’s Heinz-Harald Frentzen past.

Irvine was channelling his rage through pure pace, scything his way through the field.

By Lap 48, he was back in the points and on the gearbox of Johnny Herbert for fifth place.

A few laps later, Irvine was passed the Stewart driver, despite both drivers cutting the final chicane.

However, it was insult added to injury for Coulthard as he recieved a stop/go penalty for the earlier collision.

Irvine continued his recovery and eased past Ralf Schumacher on the back straight for fourth.

A podium was a long way ahead of the Ulsterman and looked a like a steep climb to reach.

Then, a sudden brake failure for Frentzen had a brake failure occurred with just a few laps to go.

The German flew off at Turn 3 and lost out on what looked like an almost certain podium.

This meant this Grand Prix became the first to end under Safety car. Hakkinen claimed the win, with Fisichella in second and Irvine third.