What is it about Air Canada? The airline must have the worst punctuality record in the industry: Three journeys with Canada’s flagship in three years, and no less than five issues – and this is being written on Sunday, ahead of my (planned) return to Europe…
In 2010 they cancelled (completely) Monday’s flight to Europe after the race, and last year the flight to Montreal was delayed by 14 hours due to phantom thunderstorms.
Then, on the return journey they ‘forgot’ – I kid not – three passengers in the terminal (indicating how seriously Air Canada takes terrorism), then realised the error as we were queuing for take off. We were forced to return to the terminal to collect them, and, by the time we had a new landing slot, another two hours had passed! This meant late arrival in Brussels, causing most F1 folk to miss onward flights – after a week away…
On Thursday, going to Canada, we were again delayed for unknown reasons. Late arrival in Montreal meant missing all Thursday’s activities. If journalists treated deadlines with Air Canada’s level of contempt for punctuality you’d get to read this at Christmas…
Fortunately Friday proved more productive: the race weekend marked two years since Pirelli exchanged contracts to return to F1, this time as sole tyre supplier. Thus I arranged lunch with Paul Hembery, the Italian company’s Motorsport Director – who stands out as a true motorsport enthusiast in a paddock increasingly populated by bland suits.
Over a delicious tuna/sweetcorn salad the Welshman described that hectic 2010 weekend, one which saw him scuttling about between FIA folk, Bernie Ecclestone’s office and 12 team hospitality suites as he sought vital signatures.
“By the time it was all done the race was long over, and I headed to my hotel planning to have a celebratory dinner. But it was late, so I ended up having champagne and pizza in my room. So much for the glamorous life in F1…
“Everybody was waiting for somebody to sign first, then eventually Adam Parr (then CEO of Williams, a barrister) picked up his pen. Eric Boullier (Lotus) was last, as I regularly remind him when we talk tyres,” recalls Hembery with a grin.
Best/worst moments? He maintains there have been no bad moments during the 25-odd races since Pirelli hit the grid. One believes him totally, for Paul is utterly sincere.
He does, though, admit to an extremely fraught eight-month window as Pirelli simultaneously fulfilled its world rally commitments and ramped up for the massive challenge of annually supplying 24 cars with rubber for 20 grands prix across the globe.
Which brings us to the best moment: “Without doubt the satisfaction of knowing the entire team had given its all to make it to the grid in Australia.” Second-best? “Packing up in Brazil after a season without a single tyre failure.”
It is not often one gets to meets the family of a hero, but I was lucky enough experience just that on Saturday: wandering about Ferrari I was invited to join a table, where I was introduced to Joann Villeneuve, widow of the late, great Gilles, whom I had been fortunate to meet in Durban, my home town, in 1977 when the French-Canadian raced a Formula Atlantic Chevron in our Sunshine Series, and a few times thereafter at Kyalami when he partnered Jody Scheckter at Ferrari. Gilles died on 8 May 1982 during qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix, and Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, bore banners commemorating 30 years since that awful day which robbed Joann of her husband and son Jacques (1997 champion) and daughter Melanie of a father.
Sitting with Joann, who recently moved back to Montreal from Monaco, was Michael Taylor, a movie producer in the planning stages of producing a docu-drama mini-series about Gilles and Joann.
“It has all the ingredients,” said Taylor. “Rags-to-riches, young penniless couple living in a motorhome on their parent’s property as Gilles ploughed every cent into racing, then the call came from Ferrari, betrayal by his team-mate (Didier Pironi), death and subsequent cult status.”
Joann is utterly charming, and we reminisced at length about Gilles. Meeting her was most certainly my Montreal weekend highlight – and I can’t wait to see the movie, one of four such projects currently underway: Rush, based on the Niki Lauda/James Hunt rivalry in 1976; a movie on Francois Cevert, Jackie Stewart’s team-mate and ‘little brother’, who was killed in 1973; a remake of ‘Weekend of a Champion’ by Roman Polanski and Mark Stewart, Jackie’s son; and the Gilles movie.
A truly rich seam for big and small screen alike.