Canadian GP: Fernando Alonso returns plus gophers, groundhogs and seagulls

Canadian F1 driver Jacques Villeneuve, like many before and after him, crashed into the Wall of Champions in 1997 and 1999

On an island made for leisure, in the middle of the mighty St Lawrence Seaway, sits one of Formula 1's greatest tracks.

The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is no Spa or Suzuka, but its combination of slippery surface, big braking zones and close-in perimeter walls provides a tough challenge for the drivers and, quite often, a thrilling spectacle.

The track is on the Ile Notre Dame, built for Expo '67, and some of the futuristic buildings created for that festival remain. As does the rowing lake from the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

It's a lovely setting, with the skyline of one of the world's great cities to the west, the dark, grey, swirling waters of the forbidding river on either side and big North American skies, everything bathed in the special clarity of light that continent somehow creates.

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The paddock is a slightly rough-hewn affair, with team hospitality units housed in temporary buildings perched over the lake and a narrow walkway between them and the garages.

It used to drive Bernie Ecclestone mad, but there is an old-school charm to it, and the same goes for the track.

Essentially just a sequence of straights and chicanes, with a hairpin at either end, it is much more than the sum of its parts. Each chicane is subtly different, and most end with a concrete wall on the exit ready to catch the unwary.

The most famous is the so-called 'Wall of Champions' out of the last corner - named after a sequence of crashes there involving title winners in the late 1990s. Since then, a bunch of others, including Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel, have ended up in it at one point or another.

But the walls on the exits of Turns Four, Seven and Nine are just as unyielding, the curving braking point into Turn One is tricky and the hairpin always catches people out.

Action, then, is guaranteed, both on track, and over the river in the city in the evenings. It all adds up to one of the best weekends of the year.

BBC Sport's chief F1 writer Andrew Benson

Groundhogs, gophers and seagulls playing chicken

Sebastian Vettel
Caution: Seagulls crossing

Canada, or the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve at least, appears to be home to some of the bravest - or most foolish - animals in the world. In 1990, an unfortunate gopher was hit by Alessandro Nannini's car while Anthony Davidson struck a groundhog in 2007.

Last year, it was pair of plucky seagulls that decided to get up close to the action. They refused to budge for Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari, forcing the German to take evasive action.

Indeed, Vettel - jokingly - claimed it was the seagulls' fault for him losing the race to Lewis Hamilton.

"I watched the seagulls and locked up," Vettel told Hamilton in the pre-podium room at last year's race. "That's when you caught up!"

Back to the day job

Fernando Alonso
'It's OK, it's a Honda. Reliable.'

The end of Fernando Alonso's Indy 500 adventure will have been disappointingly familiar for the Spaniard as the Honda engine in his car blew in the closing stages.

Alonso nevertheless acquitted himself well in America and returns to the cockpit of his McLaren for this weekend's Canadian Grand Prix seemingly refreshed and more determined than ever.

"The Indy 500 was an incredible experience and it's been amazing to learn a completely different style of driving, on a different circuit layout and with a very different car," he said.

"But I'm ready to get back to my 'day job' and go racing in F1 again."

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How to follow the Canadian Grand Prix on BBC Sport

Canadian GP coverage details (all times BST)
DateSessionTimeRadio coverageOnline text commentary
Thursday 8 JunePreview21:00-21:55BBC Radio 5 live, online and podcast
Friday 9 JuneFirst practice14:55-16:35BBC Sport websiteFrom 14:30
Friday 9 JuneSecond practice18:55-20:35BBC Sport websiteFrom 18:30
Saturday 10 JuneThird practice14:55-16:05BBC Sport websiteFrom 14:30
Saturday 10 JuneQualifying17:55-19:05BBC Sport websiteFrom 17:00
Sunday 11 JuneRace18:30-21:00BBC Radio 5 liveFrom 17:30
Monday 12 JuneReview04:30-05:00BBC Radio 5 live, online and podcast

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