The Cult of Cars, Racing and Everything That Moves You.
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The Fascinating Process That Turned Maple And Carbon Fiber Into Canada's F1 Trophy

All photos credit: Appearance, Guy Hamelin
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Imagine being a Formula One driver during a Grand Prix race. You’ve worked your way through the qualification session and managed to secure a respectable starting position on the grid. Miraculously, the engine in your car held together. (For the sake of this exercise, you don’t drive for McLaren-Honda.) You battled it out on the track, experienced extreme G’s, and sweat out most of the water in your body. You’re exhausted, dehydrated, completely stressed out, but you made it: You won first place.

Now’s the time to grab that enormous trophy and parade it in front of thousands of people. You suddenly ask yourself: “Will my arms hold? Or will they collapse under exhaustion and drop that expensive ornament into the crowd, making me look like an absolute jackass?”

Don’t worry, Mr. Stroll, everything will be fine. Because very much like the lightning-quick, purpose-built machines you drive on the track, these trophies have weight regulations to adhere to. Surprised? You should not be. This is F1, where ridiculous regulations are applied to everything.

Here’s a geeky F1 trophy fact that might catch your attention: Those things can’t exceed 12 pounds for the exact reasons mentioned above.

So when Montreal’s own Jean-Philippe Caron and his company, Protocole, were given the mandate of conceiving the trophies for the 50th Canadian Formula 1 Grand Prix, they didn’t merely design them to meet FIA’s regulations, nor did they outsource the job to some cheap, foreign-built trophy maker.

Instead, they baked those regulations into a unique, magnificently built, home-inspired creation. The end result, it must be said, is among one of the most intelligently built sculptures to have ever been crafted for a motorsport event.

Triple Party

This year’s Canadian Grand Prix is kind of a big deal for three important reasons. (Of course, I’m Canadian, so I’m biased.)

Not only is this the 50th Formula One race to be held in the prosperous land of the beaver, it’s also Montreal’s 375th birthday and the 150th anniversary of the Canadian confederation. That makes for one hell of a birthday bash.

So, how do you capture all this historical significance into a trophy?

First, you need solid materials. And for François Dumontier, the promoter of the Canadian Grand Prix, these materials not only needed to have a significant connection with the province of Québec and its culture, they also had to be lightweight while evoking the actual sport of F1; its past, present and future. Not an easy task.

To properly explain how these ever-so-intriguing little trees were put together, I’ll work my way up from the bottom of the stump.

Maple, Because Canada

When you think of Canada, you’re probably picturing hockey, Tim Horton’s coffee, socialized medicine, excessive politeness, a handsome-ass Prime Minister, legal marijuana, and a big-ass maple leaf. All spot on.

So for the base of these trophies, Protocole chose wood. But not any cheap synthetic wood. The finest Canadian wood, taken straight out of Québec-sourced maple trees, which, along with Ontario and part of New Brunswick, produce the best goddamn, oh-so-golden-and-sweet maple syrup this God-given planet has ever sampled. (Fuck off, Vermont.)

Maple happens to be the tree that dominates the landscape around the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve F1 racetrack, on Île Notre-Dame. The use of wood for the trophy also pays homage to the wooden steering wheels that constituted the first race cars to drive on Canadian tarmac 50 years ago.

Carbon Fiber And Kevlar

Twelve carbon fiber rods then stem from that circular maple base. That’s right, carbon fiber, like what you get in a supercar. Each rod is woven, rolled and baked with precision to help give the trophy rock-solid-yet-lightweight characteristics for the imposed weight restrictions. The idea behind carbon fiber being planted straight into wood was to illustrate the evolution of the materials used in F1.

Going upward, from wood to carbon fiber—the past, the present, and the future of the sport.

All four trophies, the large one being for first position, medium for second, and the little tiny one for third, along with the big manufacturer’s winning trophy, although appearing brittle at first glance, are held together in one solid piece thanks to carbon fiber.

The driver trophies get an extra layer of red kevlar integrated into the carbon rods. Yes, integrated. In fact, the material was braided along with the carbon fiber strands themselves, during the creation of the rod, and then everything was baked together for solidity.

Québec’s Finest Aluminum

And finally, the pièce de résistance: the big-ass, golden maple leaf that dominates the top section of the award.

Go for it; take it all in, all of Canada. Bask in the magnificence that is the great land of the moose with this giant, metallic maple leaf that protrudes atop a hand-made, carbon fiber structure, as if jumping at you, straight in your face from all angles. It’s as if Trudeau himself has scooped you into his strong arms, carried you off to a hospital, and before you search for your insurance card, he says “Don’t worry, we got this.” Magical, all of it.

No, that golden maple leaf isn’t homage to Canada’s sumptuous maple syrup, which we all know tastes a lot better than Vermont’s, but as a tribute to the 50 years of F1 in Montréal. Gold is the official color of anything 50th anniversary, in case you didn’t know.

In the spirit of these lightweight materials, Protocole figured anodized aluminum would be the ideal material for the conception of its giant maple leaf. And since Québec is a large provider of the thing, the idea of putting forward the French-speaking province’s economic prosperity only made sense for this occasion.

The leaf itself was cut using a high-precision water jet, again, performed by a company located in the region of Beauce, in Québec, that specializes in that kind of stuff.

It Had To Be Functional

F1 trophies don’t only need to look good; they also have to work as an actual trophy. You’d think that having these things stand up straight on a bookshelf was enough criteria to call it a day. But in this case, it was categoric that the trophy also be a functional statuette for the actual person holding it up in the air: the driver.

Think about it, when you’re standing on that podium, presumably tired, burnt out, hyped to shit that you finally won the race, and a photographer comes up to you and asks: “Excuse me, sir, M. Vettel, would you mind holding that trophy upwards, in a perfectly straight angle, facing the front if possible, so we can all see it, a bit more to the left please? OK, snap!”

Hell no. You hold the damn thing in the air, sideways, upside down, whatever man, you won the damn thing. It’s yours now.

Which is why this trophy works. Turn it sideways, and you’ve got the official FIA F1 stamp underneath. Turn in the other way, and you’ve got that giant maple leaf coming straight at you. And since you can see through it, you always kind of know what you’re looking at. There’s a sense of depth to this thing, purpose—something that Caron said was missing in past F1 trophies.

“The outline of a racetrack for a trophy is cool and all, but once it’s held upright, all you see is a straight line,” Caron said. “You have no idea what the trophy is supposed to be anymore.”

So, whoever will win this year’s race, please, hold this trophy high and strong, crooked, slanted or upside down. Hold it up there like the overachieving champion that you are. You’ve just taken a bite out of F1 history, conquering the almighty circuit Gilles Villeneuve at the cockpit of your high-precision racing machine, the same way Villeneuve himself claimed the first F1 victory at the iconic facility 39 years ago. You’ve won the 50th Canadian Grand Prix and now you’re bringing a piece of its history, people and culture back home with you.

One day, you’ll look back at that giant maple leaf and say to yourself: “Je me souviens.”

William Clavey is an automotive journalist from Montréal, Québec, Canada. He runs