The track in Montreal, newly renamed the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, proved to be a haven for turbos, the four such present heading the grid: Ferrari, Renault, Renault, Brabham-BMW. Didier Pironi had the pole in the revised 126C2, and was the thinking man's favourite to win. In addition to the sheer muscle of a turbo, he also had the reliability of Maranello and a chassis which had never handled so well.
That Pironi did not win really leads into the main story of the Canadian Grand Prix. For the second time in five weeks, Formula 1 faced stark tragedy. On the grid Pironi's engine stalled. Most of those behind found away past the Ferrari, but Riccardo Paletti's Osella, starting from the back of the grid and moving very quickly to the front, rammed the back of Pironi's car absolutely head-on at something over 100mph. Extricating the dreadfully injured driver took a long time, so devastating was the wreckage of the Osella. Briefly, there was a fire, dealt with efficiently. Paletti was finally removed to hospital, where he died shortly afterwards. Two hours later, the race was restarted.
Now in his spare car, Pironi was not the same force as in qualifying, and ignition troubles kept him from the battle. It was left to the Renaults to fight with Piquet, and the yellow cars took care of themselves, as is their recent custom. By half distance, Nelson was loafing, and the only matter at issue was the reliability of the BMW engine, not historically its strong suit.
In the cold evening air, however, it kept on running, chased distantly by its Cosworth-powered colleague, driven by Riccardo Patrese. Third, at the flag, was world championship leader, John Watson, not a strong contender on this occasion, but a man with the momentum of the season going with him. In the last few laps, Andrea de Cesaris and Eddie Cheever, both ahead of the McLaren at the time, ran out of fuel, presenting John with more points than he expected. Another with a dry tank was Derek Daly, in sixth place at the same time. For Frank's team it was a desultory weekend, with Keke Rosberg falling victim to all manner of ills in the race, and never a factor in its outcome.
Behind Watson, therefore, we had the consistent Elio de Angelis (Lotus 91), the persistent Marc Surer (Arrows A4) and the lachrymose de Cesaris, who drove an outstanding race (again).
Nigel Mansell was unfortunately involved in an accident with Bruno Giacomelli, the Lotus sailing over the Alfa, Nigel suffering arm injuries which may keep him out for some time.
It was simply a weekend when little went right, when the weather was capricious, the crowd thwarted by strike, and the meeting irrevocably marred by the appalling accident to poor, young, Paletti.
Entry and Practice
Montreal in June - what a contrast from races past. Visits have previously meant heavy suitcases, spilling over with sweaters, jackets, gloves, for Quebec in the fall is chilly indeed. You stood and shivered in the Metro station as you waited for your transport to Ile Notre Dame, were glad of the walk over the bridge at the other end of your journey. It got the blood moving again.
The organisers of the race have wanted for some time to shift their event to a less inclement time of the year, and this time they got their way. Now the underground was sticky and humid, and T-shirts were the thing to wear.
Quebec weather, though, rarely plays fair with motor racing. October races have had their fair share of rain over the years, and the first day of practice this time was plagued by more. Through the preceding days, said the locals, there had been no hint of it. All had been sunny and blue until Friday morning, when we awoke to grey skies and light drizzle.
More worryingly for the organisers, however, was the spectator count, for no one could anticipate how attendances could be affected by the loss of Gilles Villeneuve, around whom the Montreal event always pivoted. Zolder was still in the very recent past. Were there enough Formula 1 fans in Canada, or had the large crowds of the past merely made the trip to cheer on a national hero? The organisers could only hope for the best. On Friday, by way of encouragement, entrance to the track was free, as it had been at Detroit the previous week.
When the first untimed session began, the track was dry, but soon there was light rain, then a downpour. Keke Rosberg headed the lists, with Riccardo Patrese second, but it all meant very little, most people only doing half a dozen laps or so. Of interest was the fact that Nelson Piquet, still running the BMW-powered Brabham, was only a tenth slower than his Cosworth-equipped teammate, but Henton's Tyrrell was up in seventh place, and Serra's Fittipaldi 11th, so you could not take it very seriously.
Keke Rosberg headed the first untimed session
To some extent, the story was the same in the afternoon. After a dry start, there was more rain after 15 minutes, "Today it was just a matter of being out at the right moment on the right tyres," commented Nigel Mansell. "I ran on race tyres to start with, came in to change to qualifiers - and down it came..."
Andrea de Cesaris was out at the right time, and on his soft Michelins. Driving with the flair we now come to expect, the Italian was smooth and full of verve in his Alfa Romeo, lapping more than half a second quicker than the next man, Rosberg. Third, and looking easy and calm, we had Didier Pironi, still the only Ferrari representative. Then came Patrese, Arnoux, Daly, Piquet, Lauda, Prost, Alboreto. It was starting to look a little more sensible now.
Saturday, in absolute contrast, was glorious, cloudless, but with just the right amount of breeze. In the morning's untimed session, Rosberg was again the fast man, and looked a likely candidate for the pole. But in the afternoon we had the great turbo charge.
When it was all done, we had an emotional Pironi, tears in his eyes, dedicating his pole position to Gilles Villeneuve. Irony finds a ready home in grand prix racing. Bearing in mind the tragic deterioration, during the last days of his life, of Gilles's relationship with his team mate, now in his homeland at the circuit Gilles Villenueve, Didier had the pole, his first since Brands Hatch a couple of years ago, Ferrari's first since Imola in 1981.
Pironi does not get excited by his motor racing, which partly explains his effectiveness, but there was no doubting his pleasure on Saturday afternoon. "Really we have made a lot of progress recently," he remarked, "The new pull-rod front suspension makes a fantastic difference in slow corners. The car has always been quite good through quick ones, but we could never get it to turn into hairpins and sharp turns. There was a delay before there was any bite, before you could feel any grip at the front. At a circuit like this, the improvement is dramatic..."
Didier did only four laps in the last session, but the last one - 1m27.509s - was significantly quicker than any set by his rivals. More to the point, it was set on 'C' compound Goodyears, all the other Akron runners using the much softer 'E' qualifiers. Pironi was looking strong indeed, and Ferrari at last had a reason to smile.
Next were the Renaults, Arnoux and Prost. Rene had been clobbered by Winkelhock's ATS during the wet session on Friday morning, to the detriment of his RE30B's right hand suspension, at front and rear. That had meant using the T-car in the afternoon, but by Saturday morning his race chassis was repaired, and he concentrated on establishing a good race set-up, running on full tanks, which cloaked a problem in the final hour.
Going for a time now, with very little fuel aboard, Arnoux quickly discovered that his car was porpoising horribly. One of the most important parts of the track is the daunting, blind, right-left-right series of sweepers after the pit straight. These, in a properly set up car, are flat, and on qualifying tyres should be easily flat. But, now, running light, Rene found the Renault lurching off line, and there was no alternative other than to lift off, which made you slow on the following straight. Skirt adjustments helped a bit, and Arnoux finally screwed himself up for a very brave, banzai, lap.
The problems this week were all Arnoux's, for Alain Prost had a trouble free couple of days with his car, his main worry being constant pain from his foot. "No, no, it is not bad now," he shrugged on Saturday, but clearly it was hampering him. Third fastest, three-quarters of a second from Arnoux, was a good effort.
Piquet made full use of the colossal power of the Brabham-BMW © LAT
So, too, was fourth from Piquet. The Brabham-BMW had a chance to stretch its legs at Montreal, and as Nelson powered it out of the hairpin and on past the pits to the sweepers, you could see the colossal power of the German four-cylinder engine. Piquet's approach speed to the sweepers was clearly greater than anyone else in the place, and it was no surprise to find the car at the top of the speed trap lists, with a best of 178mph. Next up in this department, not surprisingly, was Pironi's Ferrari (176) and the Renaults of Arnoux and Prost (172). A speed of 171mph was quoted for Jochen Mass's March, but this is so much faster than any other Cosworth car as to be ridiculous, and a more realistic DFV speed was that achieved by Lauda's McLaren (164).
For once Nelson had a relatively uneventful time with the BMW, although a sticking throttle kept his attention once or twice. Changes to the metering unit since Detroit improved the engine's pick-up out of slow corners, and Piquet was always among the front runners. Patrese, in the Cosworth car, finished up in eighth spot, his chassis a brand new one to replace that damaged in the Detroit accident which caused the race to be halted. Riccardo, like Arnoux, found his car nicer to drive on full tanks.
The Alfas, predictably, figured strongly throughout. On Friday, de Cesaris was the pace-setter, but during the Saturday morning session a tyre went down on the straight following the first sweepers. "It was just before the right-left chicane," Andrea explained, "and I tried to get through it. But the car went sideways at the entry, and I hit the kerb hard." Such was the impact that the Alfa's monocoque was written off, and de Cesaris had to use the spare 182 for the final session, and also for the race. Fastest on the first day, he was disappointed to drop to ninth overall. Bruno Giacomelli, by contrast, had no dramas, improving dramatically in the last session, qualifying fifth and leading the non-turbo contingent.
Right on Bruno's heels, and heading the Cosworth brigade, we had John Watson whose confidence was never higher. "You know me," he said, laughing at himself between sessions on Saturday, "I can't find a balance. Same old problem...we can't seem to solve this problem with turning in, getting the front to bite initially." Despite being held up on one of his flying laps by the dilatory de Villota, John looked conspicuously quicker than Niki Lauda, and so the stopwatch confirmed, the Austrian never really seeming at ease. He did more laps than Watson, but qualified 11th.
Before the last session, it was expected that Rosberg would be the quickest Cosworth man, but seventh overall was the best he could do, his time nearly a second slower than he had managed in the morning when he went round in 1m28.22s. A few minutes from the end of that session, Rosberg felt his engine beginning to seize, and for the afternoon had to run the spare Williams FW08.
"We made a lot of changes to the car for the last session," he commented, "but I wasn't happy with it like that, so we put it back to the settings I'd had on my race car in the morning. That was a lot better, but I had a problem with tyres. These 'E' compound Goodyears give you really good performance only for about a lap and a half, and it's a matter of having that tremendous grip for the whole of one good, clear, lap. I just didn't manage to do that this afternoon, for some reason. The turbos went quicker than before, as expected, but I expected to be with them, to go quicker than I did this morning..."
Daly wound up 13th on the grid despite an engine change in the final hour of qualifying © LAT
The final minutes of the Saturday morning session were hectic indeed for the Williams team, for, as Rosberg's engine expired, Derek Daly's broke a valve spring, which meant an engine change for the last hour. Derek qualified 13th.
The Lotus 91s never looked competitive in Montreal, Mansell's car suffering from truly spectacular understeer through the many slow corners. Elio de Angelis took 10th place on the grid after two incident free days, but Nigel was disappointed to be down in 14th, dissatisfied not only with his car's handling, but also with its engine, which he said would not rev properly during the last session. Both the black and gold cars ran without engine covers. "It seems to be worth it on slow circuits" said Nigel. "The aerodynamics are not as important, and the engines seem to breathe better."
Talbot-Ligier again relied on the venerable JS17s, so successful at point-and-squirt Detroit, and again Eddie Cheever was quicker than Jacques Laffite. "There is a big problem with Jacques's car," commented Jean-Pierre Jabouille. "For some reason we cannot get it properly balanced." Laffite, who won so brilliantly in the heavy Montreal rain last year, could only hope for more of the same.
After practice, Cheever, who qualified 12th (seven places higher than his team leader), was more than a touch angry. The pit exit at Montreal is extremely dangerous, cars emerging from it to go straight into the ultra-quick sweepers. For a driver on a flying lap, such intrusions are, at best, annoying and costly in time. At worst, they are lethal. Towards the end of the session Cheever was going for a time, powering towards the sweepers as Manfred Winkelhock drove his ATS out of the pit lane. First of all, the German kept to his own (left) side of the road, then suddenly decided to chop across to the right. His motive was presumably to give Cheever more of a normal line into the middle, left hand, corner. But he did it far too late, and gave the American an enormous moment, the Ligier anchoring up and very nearly going over the ATS.
"I was doing 260kph, I guess," said Eddie afterwards, "and the stupid jerk comes straight across in front of me-and then back again! Jesus...you know my first urge was to drive him into the wall. It's so goddam dangerous. I mean, this could have been like..." and he stopped himself short of saying "Villeneuve at Zolder."
Cheever had a massive moment avoiding Winkelhock in qualifying © LAT
After a period of being almost in the ballpark, the Tyrrell team slipped at Montreal (as at Detroit), with latent star Michele Alboreto qualifying only 15th, and Brian Henton, who had two engine failures during Saturday, squeezed onto the very back of the grid, 26th.
Only slightly slower than Alboreto was Marc Surer, who was immediately followed by his Arrows teammate, Mauro Baldi. This was by far the most impressive showing by the Italian F3 man since he moved up. Like all the Pirelli users, Baldi found that the company's new, narrower, race tyre gave an impressive level of grip - so much so that all, apart from Riccardo Paletti, found them quicker than the supposed qualifying tyres! Jean-Pierre Jarier's similarly-shod Osella was virtually as quick as the Arrows pair, and Paletti also qualified the second car, in 23rd spot.
The week between Detroit and Montreal was a busy one for the Ensign mechanics, for Roberto Guerrero's car was extensively damaged in the multiple car shunt which caused the Detroit Grand Prix to be stopped. "We couldn't believe how much needed to be done," commented Mo Nunn. "The monocoque itself was ok, but the engine and gearbox mounting blots were all pulled out, the steering rack had been forced against the stops, you name it. What we had was virtually a complete rebuild."
At Montreal, Guerrero was one of a number of drivers to be severely troubled by porpoising. "I can't get through the quick turns after the pits properly," he said. "The car is bouncing so much that I have to lift off. We can make it better through there, but it's terrible down the straights-and I have to lift off there!" For the last session drastic changes improved matters somewhat, and with Michelin qualifiers Roberto got in easily enough.
So, too, did the Marches of Raul Boesel and Jochen Mass, the Brazilian a hair quicker than his teammate. On Friday Raul was involved in, shall we say, a dispute with fellow countryman Chico Serra over territorial rights during the untimed session. When both were back in the pits, Chico came down to have words with Raul, eyewitnesses reporting a somewhat foolhardy attempt to push his fist through the letterbox of Boesel's helmet. As Serra walked away, it seems that his protagonist attempted to put him into touch, and further 'discussions' ensued...
ATS had a terrible time. Without a spare car, their problem became acute when Winkelhock ran into Arnoux's Renault during the first session. The German, so startling in Detroit, was clearly in distress through the final timed hour, his car bucking so alarmingly over the bumps that even the abnormally brave Manfred was having to back off. Fifth on the grid a week before, he failed to make the field in Montreal. Eliseo Salazar did get in, however, despite poor handling and most of Saturday morning lost with gearbox problems.
Although Jan Lammers accompanied the Theodore team to Montreal, he was unable to drive, thanks to the unpleasant thumb injury incurred at Detroit. Therefore, Geoff Lees was drafted in for the weekend, and he did his usual competent job, working the understeering car into the race, albeit back in 25th position.
Out therefore were Serra's Fittipaldi and Emilio de Villota's March, the Spaniard putting in a tremendous amount of laps but never looking like a qualifier.
Pironi handed Ferrari its first pole in more than 12 months © LAT
So, at the end of a summery Saturday, we had a Ferrari on pole for the first time in more than a year, and that the spectators appreciated. But would this be yet another 'turbo grid,' with boost up high and sticky tyres, all going to pieces on Sunday, when it mattered? The weather forecast for race day - cloudy with occasional showers - was hard to take seriously as we basked in the evening sun. Would the crowds turn out? That was a thought still very much on the organisers minds, more so when it became clear that the Metro system, by which means 60 per cent of the spectators traditionally arrive, would be on strike on race day. In best Buckton fashion, of course, those responsible said the very last thing they wanted to do was disrupt the grand prix. Perish the thought. But in a commendable initiative the organisers immediately set about commandeering every spare coach in Quebec, to bring the fans to the track free. No country in the world works harder for its race, and you hoped their drive would be rewarded.
The Grand Prix
Overnight the shades came down, and they did not lift with the new day. Summer had evaporated. The forecasts had been right. Sunday morning was grey and misty and downright chilly. There seemed to be rain in the air, and the start was not scheduled - TV schedules remember - until 4.15.
To everyone's astonishment, however, it remained dry all day. In the morning warm-up the Brabhams of Piquet and Patrese were quickest, their times so close as to suggest that choice of power unit mattered not at this particular place. On reliability you had to fancy Riccardo's chances rather than Nelson's, but the wind was whipping up, and turbos love cool weather.
During the session there were the usual last-minute problems, Henton stripping a pinion in his crownwheel and Jarier blowing an engine, Guerrero a driveshaft, Surer an exhaust. Among the leaders, only Giacomelli was in strife, his Alfa refusing to run cleanly due to fuel starvation. The mechanics went to work again.
Finally, after an endless wait, they were away, Pironi leading them on the final parade lap. Down to the hairpin they came, weaving black patterns on the track, trying to work some heat into the tyres. Onto the grid, forming up, and it seemed a long, long time before the red lights went on. By now Pironi, his Ferrari in gear, was creeping helplessly. Didier jabbed the brake pedal, momentarily dropping the revs, and the engine died. All grand prix drivers have experienced this, and all had every sympathy for his plight.
The Frenchman held up his left arm to warn those behind, and when the green flashed Alain Prost, directly astern of the Ferrari, moved left to go round it, those behind following suit.
This is one of the most perilous situations in grand prix racing, with all that power unleashed, less than a full road available, some inevitably unaware of the problem, unable to see it.
It looked this time as though everyone would get away with it. "I was accelerating hard," remarked Derek Daly later, "and suddenly saw Pironi in front of me. Mansell was alongside me, on my left, and I must thank him for reading the situation so well. He moved left of the Ferrari, and he left me room to do the same. In fact, neither of us lifted off, just jinked left at the same moment..." There were many other, similar stories.
As the last few cars approached, however, there was trouble, and of the worst kind. Drivers towards the back of a Formula 1 grid are moving quickly indeed - over 100mph - by the time they reach the front row positions. Boesel's March hit the left rear wheel of the beached Ferrari, took off and fortunately landed right way up, with no harm to the driver. Right behind Boesel, though, was Paletti's Osella, the driver presumably unaware of the impending hazard, perhaps a little overkeen to do well in only his second grand prix.
With a truly sickening force, the blue car cannoned into the red one, knocking it across the track, where it was clipped by Lee's Theodore, with no particular harm to either. Medical cars and ambulances stopped, but the first man to reach the unfortunate Paletti was Didier Pironi, who ran across the track and began pulling wreckage from the front of the Osella. The young Italian was unconscious in what remained of his cockpit, and doctors and rescue workers began to arrive.
Paletti's stricken Osella suddenly burst into flames © LAT
Three-quarters of a minute after the impact, with people all around, the Osella suddenly burst into flames, and a dreadful sight it was, with Paletti still immobile, trapped in the middle of it. Fire marshals dealt very efficiently with the blaze, which required at least five large extinguishers for its snuffing out. That done, work then began to free the driver, and get him to hospital as soon as possible. So badly was the car crushed that the task took 28 minutes, after which Paletti was taken aboard a helicopter, alive but fearfully injured. It was clear very soon that there was little realistic hope of his survival, and he died, of massive internal injuries, two hours later.
The enormity of the tragedy necessarily left everyone stunned, but the track workers grimly set about the task of clearing away the debris, refilling extinguishers, preparing for a restart. Eventually it was announced that the race would begin at 6.15, by which time the murk and gloom had well and truly descended. It was also bitingly cold.
Enzo Osella announced that Jean-Pierre Jarier's car would be withdrawn from the race, out of respect for poor Paletti, and Theodore had no option but to pack up, for there was no spare car for Lees. The race having lasted less than three laps, all damaged cars could be replaced by T-cars, which let Boesel back in. Salazar had been clouted by Lees's car, so he faced the task of running Winkelhock's recalcitrant non-qualifier.
Facing the most difficult dilemma of all was Pironi, who has been through so much tragedy recently. Through no fault of his, the car had stalled on the line, another had hit it, and the hapless driver was dying. Didier agonised for some time, made his decision and prepared to climb aboard the spare Ferrari. It was the action of a courageous man, and the only one he could take.
And so, in a frankly dismal evening, the red number 28 car once again led the field slowly round to the start line. This time there was no drama, everyone getting away cleanly, Pironi leading narrowly from Arnoux, Prost, Piquet, Watson, Rosberg, Giacomelli and de Cesaris. But it was soon clear that the Ferrari T-car, without the new front suspension and much work on its set-up, was not going to hold stay for long. On the second lap Arnoux moved through into the lead, and Piquet, having passed Prost, was also closing upon the Ferrari.
On lap two, unhappily, we had more trouble. Right at the start of the race Giacomelli's Alfa V12 had become a V10. Bruno nevertheless made an excellent start, but was quickly swamped by the pack. Coming into the hairpin, at the end of lap two, he was intending to make for the pits. Behind were Daly's Williams and Mansell's Lotus, Derek diving for the inside, and finding, surprisingly, no resistance at all. For Nigel it was more than a surprise: "I had no idea that Bruno was intending to pit. He didn't have his arm in the air, and he wasn't off the racing line. I was coming up fast behind him, and it just seemed to me that he braked amazingly early to let Derek through. When he did I wasn't ready for it..."
The Lotus driver stood on his brakes, began to slide sideways, hit the Alfa and flew high into the air, fortunately landing back on its wheels. The rest made it through without getting involved, but the Alfa and Lotus were still in the middle of the road by the time the leaders came around at the end of lap three.
Bruno had been quickly out of his cockpit, giving his rear wheel a disgruntled kick before walking away to the pits, but Mansell was a long time moving.
There seemed to be no obvious reason for this, nothing of the car which could be trapping him. He was moving in the cockpit, but clearly having great trouble getting out. After gingerly levering himself from the Lotus, the cause of his problem became clear. As he stumbled away, he was gripping his left elbow, and from his every movement it was obvious that he was in agony: "Then this bloody marshal came over and grabbed my bad arm. I'm sure he was acting from the best of motives, but it hurt so much that I lashed out at him with my good arm!"
Eventually, an ambulance arrived, and Nigel, stretchered, was taken to the track hospital. The arm may be broken. "My left hand slipped through the steering wheel at the first impact, then the car landed on its front wheels, which wrenched the steering wheel - with my hand still caught..." Mansell could be out for as long as eight weeks.
Meanwhile...we had a race. Arnoux was doing his customary thing, running away with the early laps. After five of them, he led Piquet by nearly three seconds, but Nelson was really on the move now, and proceeded to cut back the gap. On lap nine, the healthy-sounding Brabham-BMW came by in the lead. By now we already had ourselves a two car race, for Prost's Renault, still in third, was being dropped.
Already out by this time were Guerrero, who had lost his clutch, and Laffite, who retired his Liger because of dire handling, Jacques convinced that something had broken at the back.
If one of the blue cars was already out, the other one was going splendidly. By lap eight, Cheever had passed Pironi for fourth place, and a lap later de Cesaris took his Alfa passed the Ferrari, which was clearly no match for its pole-winning sister car. Andrea, it should be said, overtook Didier under a yellow flag at the hairpin, but apparently this went unnoticed by the marshals.
Piquet recovered from an early moment to maintain his lead © LAT
At the same spot Piquet had a big moment on lap 11, but gathered up the Brabham and hurtled off into the middle distance once more, with Arnoux still in touch, but apparently not able to challenge.
Very much on the move at this point was Patrese, who dealt swiftly with both de Cesaris and Cheever during his climb from a poor start. After 20 laps, it was Piquet, Arnoux, Prost, Patrese, Cheever, de Cesaris, Watson, Daly, Pironi and de Angelis. Into the pits for good had gone Niki Lauda, who had topped a thoroughly uncharacteristic weekend by destroying his clutch at the start, having never looked a serious contender.
For the Williams pair, it was a decidedly unhappy evening, with Rosberg's car porpoising badly and dropping down the field. Keke was also in trouble with failing rear brakes, as was Daly, and later gave it all up when he lost fifth gear. In the early laps, Derek had come up impressively, running with Watson and even looking like getting by, but now, with his brakes going away, any challenge was out of the question.
On the 23rd lap Pironi came in to have an engine problem looked into. Thinking that the problem might be fuel starvation, the mechanics added some Agip, also changing all four wheels before sending Didier out again. Later he would stop for more of the same, and finally, when the black box had been changed during a final stop, the Ferrari started to perform. For the last 30 laps of the race, indeed, Pironi was the fastest man on the track, setting a new lap record shortly before the end of the race.
Arnoux seemed able to contain Piquet's lead to around a couple of seconds, but any hope of a late-race battle between the two disappeared on lap 29 when the Renault spun and stalled, Rene unable to restart it, exactly as happened at Monte Carlo. This was effectively the end of the yellow turbo's challenge for the day, for Patrese had overtaken Prost, and now inherited second place. On lap 31 the second Renault expired in a massive cloud of smoke. Engine. Another. Gone.
At 35 laps - half-distance - everything was set fair for Brabham, with Nelson leading Riccardo by nearly half a minute, BMW turbo leading Cosworth. The cynic in me wondered if Bernie wanted it this way round...
With the Brabhams dominant, de Cesaris's fight for third provided the entertainment © LAT
Behind the two white cars ran de Cesaris, who had overtaken Cheever, and was driving superbly, starting to gain a little on Patrese. Nor was the Ligier far behind the Alfa. There, and there alone, lay the only interest in the race. By now the spectators were chilled through, most just wanting it to be over. At Lords, they would have stopped it on grounds of bad light, but here the procession ground on and on.
Nothing much happened in the last hour. All the way down it was stalemate. Piquet caused a few BMW hearts to flutter when the crisp note became a crackle and pop: "It was like at Monaco," reported Nelson later. "As the race went on, the mixture got leaner and leaner, but I compensated by turning down the boost...I really had no problems, no trouble with brakes, nothing."
It was a cantering victory, then, for the world champion. He lost his win at Rio, so Montreal was the first in a long time. Remarkable, is it not, that a car and driver should fail to qualify one weekend, then win the next? In the last few laps Patrese started to catch Piquet, but Nelson was in no difficulties, and ran out a comfortable victor.
Third, fourth, fifth, sixth: Watson, de Angelis, Surer, de Cesaris. Whaaaaat? What happened to the order in the last few laps? A hundred and ninety miles around the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is heavy on fuel, and Cheever, de Cesaris and Daly did not have enough of it. Eddie got out and kicked his car, Andrea wept with frustration and Derek shrugged it off. All three had driven extremely well and deserved better.
So Marc Surer's Arrows, which had been on seven cylinders for virtually the whole race, took two championship points, reward for the Swiss driver's dogged persistence. For much of the race he had followed teammate Baldi, another to make a good impression, dicing for a long way with Alboreto's misfiring Tyrrell, which expired eventually with engine and gearbox problems.
"John can't go wrong at the moment." Niki Lauda had said during practice. "He's on one of those streaks which everything works out for one driver. They happen." Perhaps the most significant event of the afternoon was John's luck continued to run well. At present, the cards are falling for him. "Today was a bonus," he admitted "I was just hoping for some points, one or two, maybe, because I was in no position to challenge. To be third, right at the end, amazed me..."
Points from the blue is how most world championships are settled.