In 1995, when Jean Alesi scored his one and only F1 victory at the Grand Prix du Canada in Montreal, fans of the driver went crazy.
Seconds after he crossed the finish line, hundreds – and soon thousands – of overexcited spectators spilled over the safety fences surrounding the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve and went out on the track.
The problem wasn’t that they were out there. The problem was that the cars were still racing.
Hundreds were on the main straight when Michael Schumacher and Olivier Panis, who were fighting it out for fourth place, came around the final corner and headed for the start/finish line. Nobody was hit, but it was close.
Luca Badoer and Mika Salo also nearly hit people who were over the fence.
The FIA was not amused and warned the Canadian organizers that if there was ever a repeat of that scene, that the financial penalty would be severe and, if the situation was deemed serious enough, that the country could lose its Grand Prix.
So the next year, in 1996, organizers were ready for any tom-foolery.
About three laps from the end, with Damon Hill leading our own Jacques Villeneuve toward a 1-2 finish for the Williams-Renault team, there were suddenly dozens of brawny young men standing with their backs to the fences and looking up at the crowd.
All the way around the circuit, and particularly near the podium, these muscle-bound men wearing brown shirts, brown shorts and army boots – in fact, in my Globe and Mail article I referred to them as “brownshirts” – dared anybody in the crowd to try to get anywhere near the racing surface.
One false move, and the implication was that they would break you in half.
You hadn’t seen them before those closing laps. They had been standing up against the fence with other spectators, or sitting in grandstand seats, or been loitering behind the garages, but by some prearranged signal (or something) they had doffed whatever outerwear they had been wearing and were suddenly and dramatically “in uniform” and ready for action.
Nobody got on the track that year, even after the race.
I suspect that this will be the plan this weekend at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve.
Montreal is on edge because of threats against the Grand Prix made earlier by students protesting tuition-fee increases. Nobody knows what to expect, although student leaders have since tried to play down any plans to interfere with the Grand Prix or any of Montreal’s other famous festivals (the Jazz and Just for Laughs).
Whatever, the Grand Prix will be ready. You can bet on that.
Francois Dumontier, president and CEO of Octane Motorsports Events, which promotes the F1 race, has said there will be a large police and security presence at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve this weekend.
My bet is that you won’t really see it Oh, maybe the police might be visible but if 1996 is any guide, the “brownshirts” will be ready and waiting but won’t show themselves unless there’s an emergency.
And let’s hope that it never comes to that.
Columns Everything you need to know about purchasing, maintaining and driving your car.
Become a member
Register now to access all features including:
- Save and ask friends to review vehicles
- Exclusive rebates & offers from local dealers
- Premium content, reviews and tools
All for free!
Already a member?
Registration 2 of 2
Welcome to Wheels!
As a final step we've sent a confirmation to your email address as a security measure. Please click the link in the email to complete your registration.
Terms of services
DISCLAIMER OF WARRANTIES AND LIMITATION OF LIABILITY
TO THE FULLEST EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW, TORONTO STAR IS PROVIDING THE TORONTO STAR WEBSITES ON AN "AS IS" AND â€œAS AVAILABLEâ€ BASIS AND MAKES NO WARRANTIES OR REPRESENTATIONS, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING WITHOUT LIMITATION THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, IN ANY CONNECTION WITH THE TORONTO STAR WEBSITES, THEIR CONTENTS, OR ANY WEB SITE OR CONTENTS WITH WHICH IT IS LINKED. TORONTO STAR DOES NOT WARRANT THAT THE FUNCTION OF THE TORONTO STAR WEBSITES OR THEIR CONTENTS WILL BE UNINTERRUPTED OR ERROR FREE, THAT DEFECTS WILL BE CORRECTED, OR THAT THE TORONTO STAR WEBSITES OR THE SERVERS THAT MAKE IT AVAILABLE ARE FREE OF VIRUSES OR OTHER HARMFUL COMPONENTS.
TO THE FULLEST EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW, UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, NEGLIGENCE, SHALL TORONTO STAR BE LIABLE FOR ANY LOSS OF USE, LOSS OF DATA, LOSS OF INCOME OR PROFIT, LOSS OF OR DAMAGE TO PROPERTY, OR FOR ANY DAMAGES OF ANY KIND OR CHARACTER (INCLUDING WITHOUT LIMITATION ANY COMPENSATORY, INCIDENTAL, DIRECT, INDIRECT, SPECIAL, PUNITIVE, OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES), EVEN IF TORONTO STAR HAS BEEN ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES OR LOSSES, ARISING OUT OF OR IN CONNECTION WITH THE USE OF THE TORONTO STAR WEBSITES, THEIR CONTENTS, OR ANY WEBSITE OR CONTENTS WITH WHICH IT IS LINKED. IN NO EVENT SHALL TORONTO STARâ€™S TOTAL LIABILITY FOR ALL DAMAGES, LOSSES, AND CAUSES OF ACTION, WHETHER IN CONTRACT, TORT (INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, NEGLIGENCE), OR OTHERWISE, EXCEED THE AMOUNT PAID BY YOU FOR ACCESSING THIS SITE.X