The travelling circus we call F1 which we love and adore (for the most part) leaves its mark wherever it lands. Sometimes it’s like a deep Merlot stain on your crisply pressed virgin white Egyptian cotton shirt for those cities which simply can’t afford the fee and can’t attract the crowds. Other times, it’s the happy face on your frothy cappuccino on a Friday morning (as is the case with Montreal) for those which can’t afford not to have it.
The agreement signed this past weekend to extend the contract of the Canadian GP for the next 10 years is a monumental one for the city of Montreal. For this mainly French speaking little island city, the Formula One Grand Prix is far more than just a race. It is a lifeline for many small businesses, hotels and shops which rely heavily on increased foot traffic and the monetary injection.
In 2010, I spoke to the president of the Peel Street Merchant’s Society. He and others shared the same sentiment which was how devastating it was for some business in the previous year when there was no Formula One race in the city.
Max Bitton of the F1 Boutique on Rue St. Paul in old Montreal indicated to me that he came very close to having to make a critical decision to close or try to weather the storm. The very existence and survival of his boutique and his family were very much in the balance until it was announced that F1 would make a return to Montreal the following year.
Montreal has developed quite the reputation for embracing the event with open arms, and as such is willing to close down many streets in its downtown core for street parties. The most famous of which are undoubtedly the Crescent Street party and Peel Paddock among many others. It is not uncommon to wait several hours for a table at a restaurant, but that doesn’t seem to really bother anyone.
This willingness to open up the city to F1 parties attracts people who have little interest in the Formula One event at all. I personally know people who are not motorsport fans, yet they come from as far away as the mid-western US as well as Toronto and Ottawa just for the night life and to partake in the “extra-curricular” events spawned by the Grand Prix.
This year however, there was some concern as I found out that up to just weeks before the event, several tickets had not yet been sold. Nearly 35% of tickets were still available and very few Paddock Club seats had been sold.
Formula One may actually be becoming too exclusive for itself. Prices for grandstand tickets are almost out of reach for the average fan here costing on average $350 Canadian dollars per person for the three days. Some fans I canvassed during the weekend indicated that Formula One is not very fan friendly. Fans feel that they are unable to get close to teams and drivers, especially now that the FOTA Fan Forums no longer exist.
Then there’s the product. After a stretch of Red Bull domination, fans are faced with more domination at the hands of Mercedes, a new formula with a disappointing sound. The spectacle of F1 is lacking and so too is its allure.
The new 10 year deal is good news for Canada and Montreal but the sport needs to appeal to new generations as well. Thankfully, despite the criticism from some fans, F1 is still alive and well in Montreal and as we have learned, its presence is more than just a race.
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic and Richland F1.