It's always a pleasure to drive up to the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal.

I enjoy the city and its restaurants and feel a great bond with le Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on Ile Notre Dame because I was there for the very first race (an Atlantic race) back in the Autumn of 1978.

I also covered the first Grand Prix at the track two weeks later when Gilles Villeneuve scored a memorable first Formula 1 victory, beating Jody Scheckter's Wolf and Carlos Reutemann's Ferrari. Since then, schedule permitting, I've covered many Canadian Grand Prix and all four of the late, lamented CART or Champ Car races at the track.

Back in (Gilles) Villeneuve's Formula Atlantic days I was focused on covering CanAm, Formula 5000 and USAC races, so I managed to get to only the occasional Atlantic race. Two Atlantic races I remember vividly from those days were the Mosport season-opener in 1977 and the same year's season-closer in Quebec City. At Mosport, Gilles Villeneuve and Keke Rosberg ran side-by-side through the first turn and around most of the opening lap, and that's the way the entire season went. Gilles and Keke were bitter rivals in those days, not speaking to each other as they fought to claw their way into Formula 1 by duelling for the title of King of Atlantic.

In Quebec City at the end of the season Gilles was a little distracted because he had flown to Italy and back earlier in the week to negotiate his F1 contract with Ferrari. Between all the flying and the pressure to perform at that critical stage of his career, Villeneuve crashed two cars during practice and qualifying as he tried to wrap-up his second successive Atlantic championship. Gilles was able to win the race, taking the lead on a late restart and beating Bobby Rahal- who was as quick as Villeneuve and Rosberg that year - into second place. Rosberg led the opening laps in Quebec City but hit the wall twice and finished four laps down in twelfth place, while Gilles won the championship from Rahal and Bill Brack, with Rosberg tied with Price Cobb for fourth in points.

All these memories, and many others too, at places like the fantastic Mt Tremblant road circuit in the Laurentian Mountains north of Montreal, contribute to the warm feeling I have for racing in Quebec, and at the storied Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in particular. Montreal is a delightful four-hour drive from home in New Hampshire for me, headed northwest across the Green Mountains of Vermont. There's little traffic, the roads are good, and the scenery is soothingly bucolic.

Just ten miles across the border into Quebec there's a great little restaurant called La Suisse where I love to stop for lunch. It sets me in the right mood for a weekend in Montreal. From La Suisse, it's less than an hour's drive across the flatlands of the Eastern Townships, turning left just before St. Pie - home of the little Sanair tri-oval where CART once raced - and heading west toward the Champlain Bridge across the St Lawrence River into the city.

This year, of course, Formula 1 is all abuzz with the extremely impressive arrival of Lewis Hamilton who is enjoying one of the finest rookie seasons in history. Hamilton added to his growing legend by taking his first pole in Montreal in only his sixth F1 race, then scoring a superb first win. Hamilton is a very aggressive driver but he's equally tidy and precise, and showed it last Sunday as he ran away from the field in command all the way.

"It has been a fantastic day," Hamilton said. "It's history and to come here for my first time in Canada. It's been a fantastic season already and I've been ready for quite some time to win. It was just a matter of when and where. The team gave me the best car and I had no problems in the race at all.

"I have to dedicate this win to my dad because without him this would have been impossible. You wouldn't believe the amount of work he's put into my career. He had nothing when he was younger. He lost his mother when he was really young and to be successful like we've been so far this year is just the fulfillment of a dream."

Hamilton was so much quicker than anyone else that he was able to cruise through the final laps with only Nick Heidfeld offering any competition. "The team did a great job in getting me in before the first pace car," Hamilton commented. "That got me out in clean air and I was really fortunate and kept a good gap. For the last two laps I was just counting them down. I'm the type of guy who usually pushes right to the end, but this is a tricky circuit. If you make one mistake you're in the marbles and into the wall. So I quietened down near the end and just enjoyed it. It really was about enjoying the whole moment."

Hamilton has received massive amounts of press coverage in the past few months and is the English sporting press' new darling. After Monaco two weeks ago, Hamilton and the McLaren team found themselves embroiled in a media-driven controversy about illegal team orders. In many ways the arguments in the press were downright silly but the affair must have been a big learning experience for Hamilton about the media and 'big-time' sport.

Steve Hallam is McLaren's head of race engineering, overseeing the technical work by both its drivers. Hallam has been with the team for many years and is one of the best-placed people at McLaren to assess the working relationship between its drivers.

"Lewis has a very good reference in Fernando who is a consummate professional and the current World Champion," Hallam observed. "We've prepared Lewis as well as we can and he's lined up against Fernando and done well. Fernando still has the depth of experience and understanding that goes with what he's achieved. We see on a weekly basis just how good he is and Lewis is benefitting from that. He looks across the table and there is the World Champion and that is his reference.

"This was Lewis's sixth race and he was on pole position and won the race," Hallam added. "He has done an outstanding job and there is a long way to go in both of their careers. So we are just so excited about the possibilities for the future."

Hallam compares the Alonso-Hamilton pairing to that of Jackie Stewart and Francois Cevert at the Tyrrell team some thirty-five years ago...

To read the rest of this Gordon Kirby column and other 'The Way It Is' columns go to www.gordonkirby.com

 

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