Wall of Champions explained: How one Canadian Grand Prix corner gained its fearsome name

Henry Valantine
The Wall of Champions at the Canadian Grand Prix.

The name of the Wall of Champions can be traced back to one single Canadian Grand Prix.

To complete a lap at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, drivers must avoid the Wall of Champions at the exit of the final chicane. Here is a look back at how it got its name…

At the end of the long back straight, the drivers head into a heavy braking zone into the final chicane, but there is little room for error as, continuing the theme for much of the lap in Montréal, there is a wall on the exit instead of run-off. This particular wall, however, has a back-story.

How the Wall of Champions got its name at the Canadian Grand Prix

Even though the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve has been in Formula 1 since 1978, the Wall of Champions was not christened with its name until the 1999 edition of the Canadian Grand Prix.

Four drivers crashed out of the race one by one – three of which were Formula 1 World Champions – in a race that set a record at the time for having the Safety Car deployed four times, which had never happened before at the time.

The first to crash into the wall was Ricardo Zonta. While not a World Champion in Formula 1, he was the reigning FIA GT champion after winning the International Formula 3000 title the year before, so he was certainly a title-winner in motorsport.

On lap 14, the Jordan of 1996 World Champion Damon Hill found itself in the troublesome wall, after he suffered a snap of oversteer and his right-rear wheel caught the edge.

Or, as he pragmatically put it afterwards: “I lost control of the vehicle and hit the wall, there’s nothing more to it than that.”

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That wasn’t the end of it however, with pole-sitter Michael Schumacher falling foul of the same end on lap 29 – sliding into the wall with both right-hand tyres becoming dislodged from his Ferrari.

“It was very clearly a mistake by myself,” the then-double World Champion admitted. “I seem to make one a year, and I hope that is the last one I make this year.”

Five laps later, the fourth and final crash would come from 1997 World Champion, Jacques Villeneuve, who was the exception and understeered into the wall.

With drivers looking to keep their speed up as much as possible for the pit straight, he explained the potential reasoning behind his and the crashes of others at the final right-left chicane.

“Some drivers cut it pretty hard and there’s a lot of sand going on the track,” he said.

“So if you’re just a little bit wide, you lose a lot of grip – and it’s the same for everybody.”

In a somewhat ironic twist, the advertising slogan at the time on the exit of the final chicane was “Bienvenue au Québec” from the local tourism board, but the sight of a crashed car underneath it was arguably not the welcome those drivers were looking for.

Since that race, the Wall of Champions has claimed a host of non-champions and other champions, too – with 2009 World Champion Jenson Button having crashed there and four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel having crashed out in free practice at the now-infamous wall.

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