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I attended the Canadian Formula 1 Grand Prix – Montreal Travel Diary

Upon arriving in Montreal, I learned that the Canadian Formula 1 Grand Prix would take place during our stay.

Even though I’m not a motorsports fan at all, you’re beginning to know that I enjoy attending sporting events in the places I travel to. So I figured this was the perfect opportunity to attend a F1 Grand Prix. Before that, I watched the Netflix Formula 1: Drive to Survive series that just came out. It’s very well done and allows a beginner like me to understand this discipline a little better.

How is the Canadian Grand Prix?

Like all F1 Grand Prix events, the Canadian Grand Prix takes place over 3 days, from Friday to Sunday.

Friday is dedicated to free practice, drivers will be able to do laps to tame the circuit, adjust their car, start comparing their times with other drivers, …

Saturday is dedicated to the qualifications, the performances of the drivers will define their order on the starting grid.

Sunday, the day of the race itself.

The Formula 1 race is obviously the main event but there are also races of other car categories: Formula 1600, Porche GT3 and Challenge Ferrari. These categories will also have their free practice, qualifying and races on the same days as F1. To be honest, it’s much less interesting but for someone who is discovering like me, it’s interesting to be able to compare the differences in speed, noise, … between different categories.

Where does the Canadian Grand Prix take place?

The Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal is held on Circuit Gilles Villeneuve (named after a former Canadian driver who became a legend after his accidental death during a grand prix. His son, Jacques was F1 world champion in 1997).

The circuit is located on Île Notre-Dame and is easily accessible by metro. However, expect to walk a lot during the weekend.

During the Grand Prix, the Société de Transport de Montréal (STM) offers a specific transportation ticket for the Grand Prix that allows you to use unlimited transportation during the 3 days. This ticket is sold at the price of 19 CAD. It is an interesting fare if you come all 3 days. If you only come for one or two days, other formulas will be more interesting (day formula or weekend formula).

How much do the tickets cost?

It’s expensive.

I bought my tickets on the official website(Ticketmaster).

There are many different formulas, but basically, the price will vary depending on :

  • From the number of days you are present, you can buy a ticket for a single day (in which case Friday will be the cheapest and Sunday the most expensive) or a ticket for the full 3-day WE.
  • Of the quality of your location (I go into details below)

For my part, I took a ticket for the 3 days in grandstand 47 (one of the worst places), it cost me 200 CAD.

This is already a big budget but it can go up a lot more. The 3 days in the best grandstand will cost 4 times more and there are many “VIP” formulas with access in box, meals, …

How to choose your location?

The first choice to make is to decide whether to take a “general admission” or a grandstand seat.

With a “general admission”, you don’t have a reserved seat in the grandstand but you can sit behind the gates, at track level or on certain areas with grass. These “general admissions” are the cheapest, that’s what I wanted to take initially but I read that you have to come very early to hope to find an interesting place and it discouraged me

It is partly true, there are enough places to sit somewhere even without coming hours in advance. On the other hand, for the best spots in “general admission”, you have to be quite a connoisseur of the circuit and come as soon as it opens.

So I made the choice of a grandstand seat. My choice was limited because I was doing it at the last moment (many grandstands were already sold out) and because I didn’t want to spend a huge budget on it.

So I found myself in stand 47, which is probably the least interesting on two counts:

  • It is in a straight line and therefore does not allow to admire the maneuvers of the drivers who are just passing at full speed (even if we can see the exit of the hairpin bend which is one of the hot spots of the circuit).
  • One does not benefit from a giant screen which makes the follow-up of the race difficult.

If you have the budget, the grandstand number 1 is probably the most interesting (you are on the start and finish grid, you are above the pits, you see the ceremony, …). Then, the grandstands with a view on the hairpin(stands 15, 21, 34 and Lance Stroll) seem very interesting, it’s a 180° turn and it’s often there that there are exits from the track.

Small point to know because I had trouble finding the information. The rows are numbered from A to ZZ (A, B, C, … Z, AA, BB, CC, … ZZ). Row A is the closest to the track and ZZ the highest. For my part, I was in row J and it seemed not bad.

Activities next to the circuit

Whatever your ticket, you will have access to the general admission areas where many activities are proposed: F1 simulator, simulation of “pit stop”, exercise to measure your reflexes, … Nothing transcendental but it allows you to pass the time

My experience

Having no racing experience, everything was a first for me.

I realized how much F1 was a sport for enthusiasts: there were a lot of foreigners who have to do several grand prix every year. Rare are the spectators who didn’t have a jersey, a cap, sometimes the whole panoply in the colors of a team

People come well-equipped: coolers full of food, folding chairs, umbrellas, buttock cushions, … real pros!

The atmosphere is generally very good, you can feel the people happy to be here. Funny little anecdote, just before the start of the race, fighter planes passed over the runway, cheered by the crowd. A few moments later, two seagulls passed by chance with a more or less similar trajectory. The seagulls also received a standing ovation from the crowd, it was very funny 😀

I came for the first time on Friday to discover the circuit and the atmosphere. I was impressed by the feeling of speed and the noise of the engines, it makes quite a racket!

I didn’t come on Saturday because I had a picnic planned and I figured the day would be more or less similar to Friday.

On Sunday, I came at the beginning of the day (arrival at 9am) to attend the races of the other categories. If I had to do it again, I would surely arrive a little later because it makes a lot of waiting before the F1 race which starts at 2pm. Especially since the races of the other categories were shortened following crashes (that I could see in the hairpin) and the intervention of the safety cars.

Before the start of the race, the drivers make a parade, sitting in the back of nice Porsche convertibles.

Then I lived the 70 laps of the race itself. To tell the truth, as a neophyte, in my grandstand 47, without a screen, it’s not easy to follow the race.

You can see the cars going by at full speed. I recognized the colors of the main manufacturers (Ferrari, Mercedes, Renault, Redbull, …) which gave me an idea of the ranking of the race. But we don’t have any information about overtaking, pit stops, accidents, penalties, …

The ideal would obviously be to have a giant screen in front of each grandstand, but at the very least, we could have audio comments

Contrary to a soccer match where from the stands you have access to the whole playing field, the vision from an F1 stand is very fragmented

I had more information by following the race on Twitter than by being in the grandstand, which is quite paradoxical.

This proved absurd when the large number of Ferrari fans believed that Vettel had taken the win, unaware that he had been penalized five seconds for a dangerous manoeuvre, thus giving victory to Hamilton who crossed the finish line only second. This is absurd

As soon as the race was over, many fans entered the track. I’m not sure if it’s allowed but considering the number of people, I followed the movement. Some of them took the opportunity to pick up pieces of tire rubber which is a memory like any other 😀

We drove up the track to the finish line where I could admire the parked cars and the paddock where the technicians were putting away the equipment. This is also where the racers are interviewed after the race, they had already left when I arrived but I could see Toto Wolff, the Mercedes director answering the journalists.

The exit isn’t the funniest moment of the weekend, it was quite crowded to get out and the subway was completely crowded, I preferred to wait while resting in the shade and take the subway 40 minutes later.

A few tips

At least in June, the weather is nice in Montreal. So make sure you have something to moisturize and protect yourself from the sun

This year, the good weather took longer than usual to come and the Grand Prix WE was the first very sunny WE

So I was fooled, I had water and a hat but no sunscreen. You have to know that on the whole circuit, there are very few shady areas and the grandstands are in full sun, which hits hard. So… I got toasted 😀 Even if I hydrated well (I drank about 2 liters), I had quite a headache at the end of the day.

Don’t make my mistake, take sunscreen with you.

During the waiting time, the “Heineken Terrace” is a good spot. It is at the water’s edge, with shade, armchairs and hammocks, very pleasant.

You should also provide food. I wanted to buy some groceries before entering the circuit but there is no grocery store on the island. Once you enter, there are many stands to buy food but there are quite a lot of queues, it’s expensive and not necessarily very appetizing

Finally, Formula 1 cars are very powerful cars that make an impressive noise! Hearing protection therefore seems to me indispensable. Some people have helmets like the ones the engineers may have in the pits. As a good traveller, I had simple earplugs in my EDC kit, it did the job perfectly.

In conclusion

I am very happy to have lived this experience even though I came home with a headache and lots of sunburn.

It was a total discovery of a universe I didn’t know.

However, I think you really have to be a F1 fan to appreciate the race at its true value, especially in a “not very interesting” grandstand like grandstand 47

I will probably not repeat the experience unless I have the opportunity, one day, to have a much better location for a reasonable budget

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