The Wall of Champions: Will it claim a new champion this year?
The last stretch of wall after Turn 13 at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve happily proclaims “Bienvenue à Québec!“ or ‘Welcome to Quebec’. And it has given several drivers, among them FIVE World Champions, a very special sort of welcome.
The last corner of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Coming off a sharp chicane, the final turn before the finish line. That last home stretch – and still it has bamboozled many a world champion – five to date, three of which happened the same race. Turn 13.
1999. The Canadian Grand Prix. Three World Champions all vying to win. The German, the Briton, the Canadian, all of them racing to go over the finish line. Thirteen proving unlucky for each of them in turn.
The wall’s first World Champion Victim,figuratively speaking, was Damon Hill, driving for Jordan Mugen. Coming off the chicane on Lap 15, Hill steered wildly to compensate, his car spinning as he did so. The rear of the car careened into the wall, and Hill, the 1996 World Champion, had to retire from the race, his car limping along and off-balance. Hill was not the first to crash into the wall that race – Brazilian driver Ricardo Zonta with BAR retired very early on, meeting the wall in Lap 3 and losing one of his rear tyres in the process. Hill’s crash came at lap 15.
The next to feel the wrath of the wall was Michael Schumacher in his Ferrari, whose crash in Lap 30 was similar to Hill’s, with his car sustaining similar damage. Helped out of his car by stewards, Schumacher walked away from the wreckage completely unscathed, the Ferrari another notch on the post of the wall. Schumacher, who had been leading upto that point, gave the lead to Mika Hakkinen, driving at the time for McLaren.
The final victim was someone closely attached to the track for many reasons. At the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in 1996, the third to crash into the wall was the 1997 Formula One World Champion – Jacques Villeneuve, Zonta’s teammate at BAR, who had crashed at the very same spot at the circuit named for his iconic father two years prior, in 1997 – the year of his championship win. That year’s Canadian Grand Prix, funnily enough was run by Schumacher, although it was truncated at Lap 54 under red flag conditions after French driver Olivier Panis was involved in a crash that broke both his legs. Both
In the 1999 race, however, Villeneuve, unlike the other two before him, crashed into the wall headlong, crushing his front bumper in the process. The crashes earned the wall its name, and from then on, it came to be known as the Wall of Champions. With the safety car brought out a total of 3 times that race, all three champions retired, with Mika Hakkinen adjudged that year’s winner.
The wall would stay true to its name in the future as well. Jenson Button, who would be the World Champion in 2009, was in contention for the podium in 3rd at the 2005 Grand Prix, Michael Schumacher on his tail. Jenson slammed into the wall with the side of his vehicle, losing his podium chance. Schumacher would finish 2nd in that race behind his teammate, Kimi Raikkonen.
The final champion to crash into the wall to date was a four-time WC winning icon, although unlike the others, his crash did not come during the race, which he started in pole. Sebastian Vettel, driving for Red Bull Racing, caused the first free practice session to be suspended as he was unable to spin out of turn 13, the front of his car plowing into the wall at the exact same spot all the others had years before.
Vettel came back spectacularly from the free practice crash to win his 6th pole position of the season and finish second that race, which was won by the previous crasher, Jenson Button, for McLaren Mercedes. Lewi
Last year’s race came close to claiming another victim. Lewis Hamilton, driving near the fateful turn 13, cut the chicane as his brakes began to fail, veering off the track to the left which, had he not done, would have caused him to become another of the Wall’s victims.
Rosberg, now with 3 Formula One wins on the trot, looks to be in excellent form, but Hamilton will be looking to make up for his unnecessary loss at the Monaco Grand Prix.
Interviewed years later, Damon Hill has said that he thought it was the structure of the kerb that ‘sucked cars in’ at Turn 13.
The Canadian Grand Prix will begin tomorrow, the 5th of June, 2015 at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, Quebec.
All in all, will there be another driver in the wall?