The Wall of Champions is infamous for crashes from numerous Formula 1 World Champions over the years.
But why does this particular corner on the Canadian Grand Prix track cause so many crashes? And why don’t they just move the wall?
This article sheds light on why the wall is such an accident-blackspot and how there’s little that can be done about it.
What is the Wall of Champions in F1?
The Wall of Champions is a solid concrete wall on the exit of the final corner on the Montreal F1 circuit in Canada. It has been the scene of a number of high-profile driver crashes and race retirements over the years.
There is now a cushioned safet barrier on the first part of the wall but drivers still crash in to the concrete section further down.
Victims of the Wall of Champions:— Salracing (@salracing) June 9, 2019
Damon @HillF1 Michael Schumacher, Jacques Villeneuve, Ricardo Zonta (FIA GT sports car), @nico_rosberg @jpmontoya (CART), @Carlossainz55 (F Renault 3.5), @JensonButton Sebastian Vettel, @KevinMagnussen (F Renault 3.5)#F1 #CanadianGP pic.twitter.com/A6WUjQsvk0
Where is the Wall of Champions?
The F1 Wall of Champions is on the exit of the final corner, Turn 14, at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Turn 14 is the final part of the difficult right-left chicane made up of turns 13 and 14.
The wall is on the right hand side of the circuit which is the outside of the corner but the inside of the track.
This circuit has hosted the Montreal Grand Prix ever since Gilles Villeneuve first lifted the Canadian GP trophy here in 1978.
The Canadian F1 track layout has included this corner ever since it was first used. It wasn’t until 1999 that this corner was given its infamous name, however. More on that below.
Why is it called the Wall of Champions?
Before 1999 this was just an unnamed innocent section of wall minding its own business on the exit of Turn 14. But when the 1999 Canadian Grand Prix came around, all of that changed.
On lap 14 of the Grand Prix Damon Hill, the 1996 F1 World Champion, lost the rear end of the car after clipping the inside kerb at Turn 14. He lost control and went right-rear wheel first in to the wall, ending his race.
On lap 29 Michael Schumacher, who’d won two of his seven Formula 1 World Championships by this point, did exactly the same thing. He hit the wall side on and it destroyed the right hand side of the car, also putting him out of the race.
5 laps later the 1997 F1 World Champion and local hero Jacques Villeneuve, son of Gilles who the track was named after, also ended up a victim to the wall.
His crash was slightly different; he entered Turn 13 too fast, ran over the kerb on the inside of Turn 14 which meant he lost steering and tobogganed nose-fist in to the wall.
Image credit Richy Jimenez
With these three drivers all crashing in to the wall within the space of 20 laps it coined the name Wall of Champions which it has held ever since.
But those three World Champions wouldn’t be the last to face the curse of the wall.
Jenson Button - 2005
In 2005 Jenson Button was driving for BAR Honda. He qualified on pole position for the Canadian Grand Prix but on lap 46 the curse struck.
In a crash incredibly reminiscent of Villeneuve’s he carried too much speed in to the chicane and bumped over the big sausage kerb on the inside of Turn 14. He couldn’t scrub enough speed off and scraped the wall, breaking his front-right suspension and putting him out of the race.
Button won his one and only World Championship four years later in 2009 with Brawn GP. When he did, that made it four World Champions who’d ended up in the Montreal wall.
Sebastian Vettel - 2011
During the first free practice session before the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix, reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel became the fifth F1 champ to end up in the Wall.
He lost the rear of his car through the right-hander of Turn 13, managed to get it straightened out but was well off line and had too much speed. He hit the F1 Wall of Champions pretty much nose-first and ripped the right front off his Red Bull.
Recent Wall of Champions Crashes
The wall has claimed some non-champion victims in recent Formula 1 races.
Carlos Sainz - 2016
In 2016 Carlos Sainz was driving for Toro Rosso and in Q2, the second section of Qualifying, he carried too much speed and scraped the wall. He damaged the right hand side of his car and came to a halt, out of qualifying.
Carlos isn’t an F1 World Champion but driving for Ferrari he may well be one day.
Lance Stroll - 2018
The Canadian driver hit the wall when driving for Williams during FP1 and popped the tyre off its rim.
Kevin Magnussen - 2019
The most recent crash at the wall was during Q2 in 2019. Kevin Magnussen driving for HAAS had a smidge of oversteer on the exit of 14 and just clipped the Wall of Champions with his right rear wheel.
That sent him in to a tank-slapper and speared him across the track where he smashed hard in to the inside wall along the pit lane, doing devastating damage to his car.
Why do so many people crash at the Wall of Champions?
Turns 13 and 14 on the Canadian Grand Prix circuit are particularly difficult. They come between two long straights.
On the approach to Turn 13 Formula 1 cars are doing over 300kph / 186mph. It’s a huge braking area where they have to drop down to 120kph / 70mph.
That means that every metre later the driver can brake shaves off a noticeable amount of lap time.
Plus, being located before the long start / finish straight, every extra bit of speed they can carry through the chicane will carry along the next straight.
In the hunt for the fastest laps around the Canadian GP track, drivers will brake as late as they dare and carry as much speed as possible.
If they brake too late and carry too much speed in to the right-hander of Turn 13 they’ll miss the inside apex. That will send them straight over the big kerb on the inside of Turn 14. At that point the car will usually lose some steering as it scrapes over the kerb.
There is virtually zero run-off between the track and the Wall of Champions. Any deviation from the perfect line at racing speed will mean they have nowhere to go apart from in to the wall.
Why don't they just move the Wall of Champions?
Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is squeezed on to a small island. On the inside of the island is a lake called Notre Dame Lake.
Between the wall and the edge of the lake is a distance of less than 40ft. That little bit of space has to house marshals, camera crews, safety teams and a pedestrian pathway during the F1.
Unlike some of the modern purpose-built circuits, the Canadian Grand Prix track doesn’t have the luxury of lots of space for large run-off areas.
Misconceptions about the Wall of Champions
Everyone states that currently 5 World Champions have ended up in the wall: Hill, Schumacher, Villeneuve, Button and Vettel.
But there’s one other driver that gets overlooked. Ricardo Zonta. In 1999 he was racing for BAR and on lap 2 of the same Grand Prix which claimed Hill, Schuey and Villeneuve, he was the first driver to crash in to the wall.
20 years ago today, the "Wall of Champions" was born. Since its birth, champions of various motorsport categories like Zonta, Schumacher, Villeneuve, Hill, Button, Vettel or Maldonado crashed into this famous corner #CanadianGP pic.twitter.com/TFPAX821Cq— Kimi Martinez #JB17 🏳️🌈 (@KimiMtz17) June 13, 2019
Now Zonta was never a Formula 1 champion. But he did win the 1998 FIA GT World Championship. So technically he was a champion, and technically that means the Wall of Champions has actually had 6 champs crash in to it.
Oh and Jacques Villeneuve actually crashed in to it twice. The first time was in 1997, his title-winning year.