Pirelli ambassador Jean Alesi has one particular reason to remember F1's annual trip to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, but admits that it is always a special weekend for the rest of the F1 circus.
The French-Sicilian only won one grand prix but, as a Ferrari driver, could not have picked a much better venue – Monza aside – for that success. Driving an emotionally-numbered 412T2, Alesi, on his 31st birthday, took advantage of problems for Michael Schumacher to claim victory ahead of the two Jordans, amid a track invasion by ecstatic fans.
“Canada will always be an incredibly special place for me because, of course, it's where I won the race in 1995, driving for Ferrari, with the number of Gilles Villeneuve: number 27,” the veteran reflected, “It's hard to describe the emotion, but it was just an amazing feeling of joy and an incredible atmosphere, with the crowd running onto the track afterwards…
“Canada is always a place where the fans are absolutely fantastic. It's a great feeling to go to a country where F1 is embraced so enthusiastically.”
The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is renowned as one of the more unique venues on the calendar, being largely composed of two tight hairpins linked by a series of quick sections. The seldom-used surface puts unusual strain on the tyres, and was the scene of the race, in 2010, which prompted the current trend towards degradation in the name of more exciting racing.
Although the setting, on the Ile Notre Dame, prompts comparison with Monaco thanks to the proximity of both water and the unforgiving walls, Alesi insists that it deserves recognition in its own right.
“For a driver, it is a really big challenge,” he points out, “So many of the grandstands are close to the track, and the walls are very close as well, so it feels a bit like Monaco in some ways – but, of course, it's a lot faster than Monaco and this is why it is challenging for the tyres.
“The main characteristic is acceleration and braking - you cover a really wide range of speeds from flat-out on the straight to very slow corners, so it's important to manage the tyres properly and have a good strategy to cope with these demands.”
“I think we're in for a fantastic race - this is a grand prix I always really look forward to.”