x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Canadian Grand Prix is on track for more success

Organisers have issues to worry about but are not concerned about the addition of races in Texas and possibly New Jersey, writes Gary Meenaghan in Montreal.

Enthusiastic fans cheer on Felipe Massa as he guides his Ferrari during practice at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix.
Enthusiastic fans cheer on Felipe Massa as he guides his Ferrari during practice at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix.

 

When the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was announced on the 2009 Formula One calendar, questions were asked of the impact a second Middle East race would have on the region's trailblazing Bahrain event.

It is understood both circuits offered incentives to Bernie Ecclestone, the sport's commercial rights owner, to have the two Arabian Gulf races book-end the season in an attempt to draw as many spectators as possible to both races.

This year's Canadian Grand Prix, which was coincidentally the event the UAE capital replaced on the calendar three seasons ago, is being joined by a second North American race in Austin, Texas.

Additionally, a third round in the continent is planned to take place in New Jersey either next year or the year after.

However, while the United States Grand Prix in Texas is scheduled to take place at the custom-built Circuit of the Americas in November, the Grand Prix of America on the streets of New Jersey is proposed to appear back-to-back on the calendar with Montreal from next year.

How such scheduling will affect the Canadian race, which first featured on the calendar in 1967, remains to be seen, but Francois Dumontier, the race promoter at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, is confident it can work in his team's favour.

"Geographically, the Austin race is pretty far away, so we do not see an effect or envisage it will have an effect in the future," he told The National.

"Similarly, the New Jersey race - if it is happening - while being more close to Montreal, can be seen, I think, in a positive way.

"Since 2006, we have been the only North American race on the calendar and so have provided all the visibility for F1 and only once a year. Now, however, we are going to have at least one more race in North America, so I see that as a positive for the sport and resultantly for our race."

Courtesy of threats made against the race circuit by student protesters, the event's Open Doors day was cancelled and ticket sales for this year were down on last year's figures, Dumontier said.

Thousands of young people - having for the past two months denounced a 75 per cent rise in tuition fees - took to the streets again this week, using the heightened international media presence to increase their exposure.

Some protesters during a Thursday evening rally carried posters expressing discontent at the cost of hosting Formula One, while others objected to the more seedy side-effects of bringing a male-dominated sport to the city.

"The protests have had an effect on us, especially in the past month," Dumontier said.

"We have had student protests in Montreal for a few months now and at some point in late April or early May, when reports made it out of Canada, that is when some people seemed scared to buy tickets and scared of coming to Montreal."

Filip Aleksandrow, a Norwegian interface designer living in Montreal, has attended the Canadian race for the past five years.

He said there was a "different vibe" this weekend, but added it is likely as much to do with the weather than weathering a storm of protests.

"Last year it rained so heavy, but this year the weather is perfect, so that's generally why I think it feels a little different," he said.

"But the protests are pathetic - they have nothing to do with F1 and have been going on for too long."

The controversy, mixed with the fact the contract for the Canadian Grand Prix expires in 2014, has generated whispers regarding the future of one of the most popular races on the 20-round calendar.

Dumontier, however, confirmed discussions are ongoing with Ecclestone about extending the contract.

Reports in local media suggest the deal being discussed is for a 10-year extension, yet it is by no means an easy negotiation to broker.

Ecclestone, a former used car salesman, is notoriously demanding and wants assurances that more than US$20 million (Dh76.5m) worth of renovations will be carried out at the racetrack, as well as incremental increases to the annual hosting fee.

The current contract involves three different levels of government, who together help contribute US$15m - a fee that can be justified by last year's event generating almost $23m in ticket sales and tax spinoffs.

Whether Canada remains one of the sports few profitable races once joined by another one or possibly two North American races could prove crucial.

Dumontier, who welcomed a delegation from the Austin circuit this weekend, said he is considering offering combined package deals that include tickets for more than one race.

"That's the way to do it," he said.

"People can see us as competitors, but at the same time we should work together because it's the product at the end of the day and what everyone wants is for Formula One to have a higher visibility in North America."

Aleksandrow, sat in the grandstand at Circuit Gilles Villenueve, hopes to visit Austin later this year too.

"I've just welcomed my first child into the world though, so my wife is saying I'm going to need to stop spending so much on Formula One," he said.

Likewise, Tyler Elliot, an American student at McGill University in Montreal, said two races in one season is likely too much too soon. "Once I graduate and have more disposable income, then for sure I will try to get to more races," he said.

"For now though, I'm happy just coming here."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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