08 Jun History of CMHF Inductees in Formula One
By Bryce Turner
For decades, Formula One (F1) has been known as the series that awards the world championship. With drivers from around the world, races in various countries and a history dating back to 1950, it’s no surprise that several Canadians who have raced at that level have been inducted into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame (CMHF).
The series’ history in Canada started in 1967, with the first of eight races held at Mosport International Raceway (now called Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, or CTMP). There were also two races at Le Circuit Mont-Tremblant, in 1968 and 1970. The last race at CTMP was held in 1977, after which the series shifted its Canadian date to Montreal’s Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, starting in 1978.
When it comes to the CMHF inductees who’ve raced in F1, they include some of the early legends of Canadian motorsport. In fact, half of the Hall’s inaugural class of inductees, in 1993, had F1 experience.
Peter Ryan, who was part of that first class, was born in the United States before moving to Canada and becoming a citizen. He was the first Canadian to try his hand at F1, finishing ninth in a Lotus in the 1961 U.S. Grand Prix at Watkins Glen (NY). It would be his only F1 outing. Ryan died a year later after crashing in a Formula Junior race in France. He was just 22.
Many of the early Canadians to compete in F1 raced in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
Al Pease, who was inducted in 1998, was born in England before moving to Canada and becoming a citizen. Pease, a champion sports car racer, finished 43 laps down in an Eagle at CTMP in 1967 before entering the following year’s race at Mont Tremblant, where he did not start. His third and final F1 attempt ended in disqualification at CTMP in 1969.
Toronto’s Bill Brack, who was inducted in 1993, raced in three F1 events. He retired with a vibration issue in his Lotus in the 1968 race at Mont Tremblant, finished 10 laps down in a BRM at CTMP in 1969, and retired after spinning off track in his BRM, at CTMP, in 1972.
Brack’s fellow Canadian Driving Championship winner and 1993 inductee Eppie Wietzes – who originally hailed from the Netherlands – raced in two F1 events. He was disqualified, in his Lotus, in the inaugural CTMP race in 1967. He returned several years to compete in the 1974 race at CTMP but went out when engine issues hobbled his Brabham.
Toronto (ON) native George Eaton, who was inducted in 1994, raced in a total of 14 F1 events between 1969 and 1971, all for BRM. His best finish was a tenth-place result in the 1970 race at Mont Tremblant in 1970. His final F1 outing was at the Canadian GP at CTMP in 1971 where he finished 15th.
Also racing for BRM, in 1971, was John Cannon, who was inducted in 1993. Originally from England – before becoming Canadian – he finished 14th at Watkins Glen in his lone F1 race.
Another Canadian who had just one F1 start was John Cordts of North Bay (ON). A 2003 inductee, he drove a Brabham in the Canadian Grand Prix, at CTMP, in 1969. Cordts, who was born in Germany, had a DNF in the race, as the result of an oil leak.
While there was limited success in that early crop of Canadians in F1, the country’s future in the series was bright, with the Villeneuve family about to make its mark.
Gilles Villeneuve of Berthierville, QC, made his F1 debut in 1977, finishing 11th in a McLaren at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. The 1993 inductee raced in two events later that year for Scuderia Ferrari, which included a 12th place finish at CTMP.
Villeneuve raced full-time for Ferrari from 1978 until his death in 1982, collecting six wins and 13 podiums. His first victory in F1 came in the inaugural Grand Prix in Montreal. Three of his podium appearances took place in Montreal. He posted a runner-up finish there in 1979 and came home third in his home-country race in 1981. His best F1 championship finish came in 1979 when he lost the title to Jody Scheckter by a mere four points.
Villeneuve died in a crash during F1 qualifying at Belgium’s Circuit Zolder in 1982. He was 32.
Gilles’ son and 2017 inductee Jacques Villeneuve, originally from St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, QC, is the Canadian with the most experience in F1, competing in 163 events between 1996 and 2006.
Villeneuve took the series by storm, collecting four wins and 11 podiums in 16 races during his rookie season. Driving for Williams-Renault, he won the pole for his first F1 race, at Australia’s Albert Park Grand Prix Circuit. His first win came in just his fourth outing, at Germany’s Nürburgring, after finishing runner-up twice in his first three events.
Villeneuve’s other wins came at England’s Silverstone Circuit, Hungary’s Hungaroring and Portugal’s Autodromo do Estoril. He entered the season finale at Japan’s Suzuka Circuit just nine points behind Damon Hill, but the Canadian finished second in the championship after a wheel came off his car.
The following season brought increased success for Villeneuve and his Williams team. He won seven races and collected eight podiums en route to the 1997 world championship.
After being disqualified in the penultimate race in Japan, Villeneuve found himself just one point behind Michael Schumacher. In the finale at Spain’s Circuito de Jerez, Villeneuve finished third.
Schumacher, while attempting to crash Villeneuve out of the race, became stuck in a runoff area and was unable to continue, leaving the Canadian to win the championship by three points. Schumacher was subsequently disqualified from the 1997 championship for his unsportsmanlike conduct.
Williams switched from Renault to Mecachrome engines for 1998 before Villeneuve switched from Williams to British American Racing in 1999. The driver raced for a few different teams during the remainder of his career but was never able to replicate his early success in F1.
Following his championship season, Villeneuve wouldn’t record another race win and made the podium just four more times (two each in 1998 and 2001). At his home race in Montreal, Jacques had only one podium, finishing second in 1996.
The most recent CMHF inductee with F1 experience was 2019 inductee and Vancouver native Allen Berg, who raced in nine events for Osella Squadra Corse in 1986. Berg retired with an electrical issue in his Alfa Romeo in his first race, the U.S. Grand Prix at the Detroit Street Circuit. His best finish was 12th at Germany’s Hockenheimring.
Currently, two of the CMHF’s Rising Star Award winners are competing in F1. Nicholas Latifi, the 2018 Rising Star, is set to make his series debut with Williams once racing resumes. Lance Stroll, the 2016 Rising Star, drives for Racing Point. In three full seasons, Stroll has one podium, finishing third in the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix for Williams Martini Racing.
While Canadians – other than the Villeneuves – have had relatively limited experience in F1, there were still opportunities for some of the biggest names in Canadian motorsport to climb behind the wheel and compete in the world’s top open-wheel series. It’s a point of national pride that ten CMHF inductees have raced in F1 at some point in their careers.