Following Gilles Villeneuve’s fatal accident in Belgium, the Montreal circuit had been renamed in his honour and after the rain-sodden 1981 race, the event had been moved to a summer date in the hope of better weather – but Friday morning saw rain, though it eased off to a drizzle in time for practice.
Jan Lammers had broken his thumb in practice for Detroit and was replaced in the Theodore by Geoff Lees after a deal for Lotus test driver Roberto Moreno fell through, while the Toleman team still hadn’t made it despite having hoped to enter, so with just 29 cars there was no need for pre-qualifying. Meanwhile, Ferrari had officially announced Patrick Tambay as their new driver and he would debut at the next race at Zandvoort.
Geoff Lees had been brought up near the Mallory Park circuit in the midlands and was bitten by the racing bug at an early age, working in a garage to save money for his first car, and being able to exchange a few words with Graham Hill at Mallory Park one year. He moved into Formula Ford and after a stunningly successful 1975 (32 wins out of 40 races), in 1978 he moved into Formula One with the unofficial Aurora series, and in 1979 he made his full F1 debut with a one-off Tyrrell drive as a last minute substitute for Jean-Pierre Jarier. In 1980 he tried again with Shadow, but the car was dreadful and so was the Ensign he drove after Shadow were wound up. Later that same season he even had a go with a customer Williams FW07, but was suffering from the flu and didn’t do well. So when Theodore came calling for a short-term replacement for Lammers, it seemed like just another disappointing substitute drive for Lees.
The weather was better on Saturday and despite the circuit offering a balance of long straights and a twisty infield, the turbo cars once again dominated qualifying. Just for once, though, it was Pironi’s Ferrari instead of a Renault on pole. Arnoux and Prost were second and third, with a fired-up Piquet fourth after his embarrasment in Detroit. Manfred Winkelhock had a shunt on Friday and with no spare car he failed to get a good enough time in his patched-up ATS to make the grid – the first time the German team had missed out so far this season. Joining him on the sidelines were Emilio de Villota (again) and Chico Serra (who had had a narrow shave with Raul Boesel in practice, leading to fisticuffs in the pitlane). Geoff Lees made the grid in 15th for Theodore’s first start of the season, directly behind Riccardo Paletti, qualifying again after his disappointment at being bumped from his car in Detroit.
Race day dawned clear and cold, and when the cars were all lined up on the grid, the lights went red, then – after a longer than usual pause – green. Arnoux got away well but Pironi stalled. The field streamed past the stationary Ferrari – all except for the luckless Riccardo Paletti, who, arriving unsighted, smashed into the back of it at over 100mph. The nose of his Osella crumpled, trapping his legs. Pironi leaped out of his Ferrari and began to try to free the Italian along with Dr Sid Watkins, but then the Osella’s fuel tank touched off. With Pironi frantically summoning marshals and trying in his fireproof suit to reach Paletti, it was still over a minute before the fire was out and a further 25 before he could be cut from his car while his mother Gina watched horrified from the stands. Helicoptered to Montreal hospital, he was pronounced dead shortly afterwards – not burned as might be expected, but suffering a combination of crash injuries and smoke inhalation. It would have been his 24th birthday two days later.
Two hours after the crash, an unenthusiastic grid formed up once more, without Jean-Pierre Jarier’s Osella and Geoff Lees’ Theodore (which had been hit in the accident). Pironi was in the Ferrari spare car and this time got away first, with Arnoux, Prost and Piquet tucking in behind – but not for long: On the second lap, Arnoux pulled out and overtook the Ferrari, and immediately began to pull out a lead while his team-mate Prost was once again sufferering from engine gremlins and lost third place to a charging Piquet. The Brazilian seemed to finally have got the Turbo Brabham working and soon overtook Pironi as well, who was struggling with a spare car with different suspension to what he was used to. Further back, still on the second lap, Giacomelli’s Alfa suddenly locked up approaching the hairpin and was clouted by Mansell’s Lotus, putting both out. Bruno aimed a kick at his broken Alfa Romeo as he departed the scene, frustrated.
On lap 3, the struggling-with-suspension Pironi dropped behind engine-gremlins Prost, but even with their problems they were already well ahead of the rest of the pack thanks to the power of their turbo engines. Leader of that pack was Watson, with Cheever and de Cesaris chasing and with both having more powerful engines than the DFV Cosworth, they soon got past, while Patrese was also moving up in the Cosworth-powered Brabham, overtaking a whole series of cars to get up behind de Cesaris and Cheever, then passing poth of them, catching Pironi and Prost and passing them to go third.
Third became second on lap 25 when, under no pressure, Arnoux spun and stalled on the back half of the track, leaving Piquet and Patrese in first and second slot. Two laps later, Prost’s Renault V6 Turbo went up in smoke and all Piquet and Patrese had to do was finish. De Cesaris and Cheever diced for third for a while, but Cheever ran out of fuel four laps from the end (and joined Giacomelli in giving his car a good kicking), then de Cesaris did the same thing two laps from the end.
For once reliable, the Brabhams cruised home in formation with John Watson eventually inheriting third place, with the lapped Elio de Angelis 4th and Marc Surer 5th the only other cars running. Andrea de Cesaris was classified 6th. Piquet and Patrese could be satisfied with their result (especially as it transpired Piquet had had burning hot oil dripping on his feet for most of the race), Renault were still in trouble over reliability and John Watson extended his championship lead. But the death of young Riccardo Paletti at the circuit named after a driver who had died just a month previously had taken the wind out of everyone’s sails and much talk was of how Formula One could be made safer in the future.
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|14||Andrea de Cesaris||5|