Formula 1 Needs the Canadian Grand Prix to Stay at Its Montreal Home

Matthew WalthertFeatured ColumnistApril 25, 2014

Lewis Hamilton scores his first F1 victory in Montreal.
Lewis Hamilton scores his first F1 victory in Montreal.Associated Press

The American economy is still the largest in the world by quite a large margin. Because of its size, Formula One has been trying for most of its existence to penetrate the U.S. market, without much progress.

Meanwhile, just to the north, the Canadian Grand Prix has been a raging success. It is popular with both fans and drivers for the action on and off the track, as Montreal embraces its guests and hosts a week of race-related festivities.

The circuit's current hosting deal expires following this year's race, but it is very much in the interest of everyone involved in F1 to see that the race continues in Montreal.

The Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve—which has hosted the grand prix since 1978—is an ideal mix of purpose-built racing facility and temporary street circuit. It features long straights, plenty of overtaking opportunities, limited run-off areas and, usually, lots of action.

But there is more to the Canadian Grand Prix than that. Like at Melbourne—and unlike most European races—the track sits in the heart of a large, metropolitan city. That means convenient access to the circuit, accommodations and the numerous parties away from the track on grand prix weekend.

Another potential bonus for F1 is the opportunity to capture new fans. While logistics make it unlikely that many people will just happen upon a race at, say, Silverstone or Spa, it would be very easy for someone in Montreal to hop on the metro on a whim, pick up a general admission ticket and get their first taste of live F1.

Local hero Gilles Villeneuve—who scored his first grand prix victory at the first race in Montreal—stoked the passion of Canadian motorsport fans. Later, his son, Jacques—Canada's only world champion—kept the fires burning.

Jacques Villeneuve, Canada's last F1 driver.
Jacques Villeneuve, Canada's last F1 driver.DAVE CAULKIN

However, even without a Canadian driver since the younger Villeneuve retired in 2006, attendance has remained strong, even while some of the newer races in Asia have struggled to draw fans.

And since Villeneuve's retirement, Canadian fans have been treated to some spectacular moments, including Lewis Hamilton's first victory, in 2007. That same year, Robert Kubica had a scary accident, but he recovered and won the race in 2008. In 2011, after a two-hour rain delay, Jenson Button passed Sebastian Vettel on the final lap to snatch a win from the eventual world champ.

While F1 grands prix in the U.S. have been held at 11 different locations, the Canadian Grand Prix has found a true home in Montreal after safety concerns forced the race out of Mont Tremblant and Mosport, which hosted grands prix in the 1960s and 1970s.

While the U.S. Grand Prix was on hiatus in the 1990s and 2000s, the Canadian race remained a constant point of contact with the North American market for F1. And with Montreal only about 60 kilometres from the American border, it is an easy trip for fans from the northeastern U.S.

The more races the sport has in and around the U.S.—and especially at U.S.-friendly viewing hours—the better chance F1 will have of capturing some of the elusive American market.

For all of these reasons, the powers that be in F1 should be hoping that the race remains in Montreal for a long time.


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