Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2016

Why the Canadian Grand Prix is a must-visit race

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F1 Fanatic reader Steve Smith (@Ragwort) has been to F1 races across the globe but Canada’s round remains a favourite.

He headed back to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve for this year’s surprisingly cold race day.

For my return to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve I chose to take advantage of what they call a “Trio Ticket”. This meant we had reserved seats in three different grandstands for each day of the weekend. It’s a great idea and one that other circuits should consider.

I flew from Britain to Canada on the Thursday before the race with a fellow Formula One fan, the pair of us noting we weren’t experiencing quite the same level of luxury as Christian Horner and Jonathan Palmer were.

The following morning to took advantage of Montreal’s Metro system to make the journey to the circuit. Hopping off at Jean Drapeau station along with thousands of others, we begin our walk to grandstand 12 at the far end of Notre Dame island.

Felipe Massa, Williams, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2016
Massa hit trouble on Friday
It took about 25 minutes to reach it, but we were rewarded with an excellent vantage point. Our seats overlooked turns one and two, along with the pit lane exit.

The drama began quickly: Felipe Massa plough into a barrier right in front of us when his DRS failed to release under braking for turn one. Between sessions there were other unusual sights to occupy us: massive fuel tankers cruising slowly up the St. Lawrence seaway and mile-long trains crossing the river by bridge.

After second practice we trekked back to our hotel and spent part of the evening watching the Cirque Du Soleil down at the Old Port before grabbing a late meal in nearby Chinatown.

The biggest disappointment of the weekend was the unusually cool weather. Saturday, which we expected would bring the brightest and warmest conditions, was cold and showery. We watched qualifying from the hairpin at the opposite end of the circuit, with the iconic Montreal Biosphere built for Expo 67 to our right.

I’d sat near here on my first visit to the circuit in 2007, and witnessed Robert Kubica’s almighty crash. It is another good vantage point, though our particular grandstand could do with being closer to the corner.

The grim weather continued on Sunday. A glance from the hotel room window confirmed the forecast rain had come and hone before the race. But what we couldn’t see was how cold it was.

I have been to dozens of races before but this was by far the coldest. I have never had to buy a woolly hat before – but I did in Canada!

Picture from the pit straight grandstand
Close view of the action on Sunday
Sunday’s seat was on the pit straight, a short distance down the grid, as little as 20 feet from the track surface. Finnish due Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas took their places in front of us, and directly opposite we enjoyed a view of the Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes team pits.

As well as being a superb view, these seats were far more comfortable. Unlike the other grandstands which have numbered bench seats, these were individual ones with backrests.

Bernie Ecclestone has been pressing the Canadian Grand Prix organisers to improve their track’s facilities. Although I don’t often see Ecclestone’s point of view, I can understand his grumbles. Looking at the pit complex, it is plainly looking dated, resembling something more like Donington Park than Silverstone let alone the mega-bucks new-build circuits.

It didn’t diminish our enjoyment of the race, however. Large video walls, an excellent public address system and radio broadcasts helped us keep on top of the action.

On rare occasions when we didn’t catch the times between drivers, we could pick things up by reading the pit boards hung over the walls. The pivotal moment of the race came when Ferrari pitted Sebastian Vettel just as the Virtual Safety Car period was coming to an end, and it was pretty clear from our vantage point on the other side of the straight this had just cost them the race.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2016
Hamilton scored another win
The chequered flag fell and Lewis Hamilton scored his latest win – appropriately enough at the very circuit where I’d seen him score his first victory nine years ago. We made it onto the track to watch the podium celebration from below and take a few photos too before heading to the station.

With tens of thousands of people heading for the Metro, we expected a massive crush as we had seen before. However the impressive organisation meant we queued for no more than five minutes. We were back at our hotel in less than an hour to enjoy the benefits of a well-stocked bar and central heating.

After a day spent exploring the city on Monday we flew back to Heathrow the following day. But I won’t have to wait long for my next dose of F1 action: next week I’m heading to Silverstone for my 60th grand prix!

2016 Canadian Grand Prix

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 25 comments on “Why the Canadian Grand Prix is a must-visit race”

    1. i love these articles. they always make me want to go to a race (i have sadly only been to two – silverstone 99 and spa 2000). it seems amazing to think that hamilton has achieved all he has in only 9 years. same with vettel. i think it shows that the last decade or so has been a golden age for driver quality – shame the cars and circuits have not lived up to that.

      also, i don’t get the christian horner/jonathan palmer reference.

      1. Keith has edited my article, as is his privilege. My original words stated that we shared the same flight out as Christian and Jonathon. But not quite the same degree of comfort on the plane. They didn’t fly economy!
        But it never got them past Canada Customs any faster.

        1. Thanks for the article. I’ve still not been to a grand prix as it’s hard for me to leave work but it’s nice to hear your experiences. It’s definitely getting more tempting to go. @ragwort

      2. Evil Homer (@)
        28th June 2016, 12:54

        They were on his flight but in business or more likely first class.

      3. Yeah, I’ve sadly only been to two also. Phoenix 1990-91. Great article.

        1. Wow, ps4 browser stinks. My reply was to frood19

      4. jere.jyrala@gmail.com
        28th June 2016, 15:57

        I’ve only been to two as well (Monza 2010, and Hungaroring 2012).

    2. pastaman (@)
      28th June 2016, 12:37

      Nice article, but it doesn’t really sell the GP as a “must visit”, it’s just more of a travel log.

    3. Its weird how accidents increase the excitement for us viewers; almost even criminal. Its difficult to support either of the two views:

      1) Accidents make races thrilling and eventful; and thus enjoyable ||> Value human life dude !!
      2) Impeccable driving from the drivers even under challenging circumstances is preferable. ||> ZzzzzzzzzzzzZbaku

      Which one do I support ?
      Wheel to wheel racing with majority of teams having chances, opportunities and capabilities to do something.

      Did I evade my original choice question ??
      Yes.

      1. Michael Brown (@)
        28th June 2016, 14:58

        When driving flawlessly has spectacle, then it ends up being more exciting than accidents. An example would be Hülkenberg’s defense in Korea in 2013.

    4. That’s not why its a must visit. For starters, on Thursday, the track and pitlane are open to the public (theyre one of the few circuits that still do this) so you can walk up and down the pitlane, hear engines being fired up, and some teams (usually Force India and Manor) will let a few people who show up early into the garage to have a chat and look around. The drivers are there too (I havent seen any team principals, the Sky crew, or Mr E yet but they must be around too), signing autographs, and doing track walks. Plus the ticket prices fairly reasonable compared to other circuits, and the fans are really passionate so the atmosphere even in chilly weather is great. Between sessions there’s also sportscar racing that you can watch for free or head over to the biosphere, which is also on the island.

      One of the best parts about the Canadian Grand Prix is how close it is to Montreal. 10 minutes by Metro. So you can go back to the city and have plenty of time to explore the amazing food and trattorias, Tam Tams, poutine, the nightlife, the parks, the clubs, and the views. I havent seen any other venue with that combination (Monaco and Singapore come close in some respects but you’re very limited because of cost).

      Admittedly, I havent been to Monza or Silverstone yet, but Montreal is still an awesome venue to visit.

      1. I can’t fully comment on Monza, the town is not too far away and the train is a very short walk from the track. We stayed at one of the campsites and there was a lovely bar/restaurant we went to almost every night.

    5. Tony Mansell
      28th June 2016, 13:11

      Interesting piece, the trio ticket is a fantastic idea.

      With some circuits its also good to know if a roaming ticket will do or you should go grandstand.

      Spa, its un-necessary, Silverstone, if you get up early enough Becketts & Maggots is a great vantage point but otherwise upgrade upgrade! Spielberg last year was rubbish on roaming, we found a great corner but were told by Marshalls we couldn’t stand there! You definitely need grandstand tickets.

      This year we have grandstand tickets for Hungary but I find it boring sitting at the same place and also I like to see the cars move around on the corners I try and find a vantage point behind the corner – not easy when Bernie blocks off ‘roamers’ by covering some areas of fencing.

    6. Evil Homer (@)
      28th June 2016, 13:17

      @Ragwort
      60th Grand Prix- that’s impressive mate. I am close to 20 but cant wait for the next one- Singapore this year.

      Comments above about being close to the city are important – I know one driver, I think K-Mag said he is looking forward to Austria as its in the country (and I agree with him) but as a punter getting in & out a circuit makes things so much better for attendance. As iconic as Spa is I hear its hard to access, but I’m happy to give it a go :)

      I have been to Melbourne, Malaysia (stayed at the airport, not KL city) and Monaco and the easy access is great. Also done Spain & Suzuka and they are harder to commute in and out of- its no deal breaker but just makes a longer day.

      I think the one thing that makes Canada seem like a great spot to go is that everyone says the whole city embraces the F1 and its party town, a bit like Adelaide back in the day.

    7. Judging from your photos I’m pretty sure our group was seated right by you. We were the ones chanting “Kimi, Kimi, Kimi” as he walked to his car. Even Will Buxton the NBC race reporter got the same treatment.

      It was a great race overall. The only complaint we had was the dearth of beer choices being sold. I wish Heineken signed up with F1 a week late and we wouldn’t have had to lug our choice of brews everyday! The “trio” tickets which is what we also had was a great deal. The long walk though… and the cold…

      We will definitely be back again!

    8. For the record, wooly hat is “toque” in Canadian.

    9. I haven’t been to a race in Montreal in a while but the water taxi may still be the secret option to get to the track. You would board in Old Montreal, wine would be served en-route and it would dock in an out of the way place near the track so there was no crush of fans to deal with. The hairpin was the place to be back then because Alesi would always give the fans in that area some extra love with donuts, burn outs and on at least one occasion he threw some of his gear into the stands.

    10. Great review – a race I’d like to go for, but its unfortunately its rather a long way and all times badly work wise. On the trio ticket – while I’ve never done this for Singapore they offer a similar thing with combinations of three different grand stands, and Melbourne has its four corners package (they have Thursday non-F1 racing which makes up the four days). But the thing I really liked was Suzuka in Japan where on FP1 & FP2 on Friday you can sit anywhere you like and move around, with exception the pitlane grand stand. Got my best ever F1 shots taken high up in the final corner stand in FP2 in 2012 as the cars come round the final chicane.

    11. Although I’ve never been to an F1 race I’d really love to go. Bucket list item I think. However, which is best…a purpose built circuit or a street circuit? I must admit the street circuit seems more exciting and enjoyable. I once drove around the Birmingham Uk circuit before it was closed for racing. Great fun. Anyone remember Birmingham having F1?

    12. Justin (@vivagilles27)
      28th June 2016, 18:45

      I visited this race in 2008 and 2010 (2009 was cancelled by Darth Bernie) and I highly recommend going as well. 2008 was special because it turned out to be Robert Kubica’s only Formula 1 win. We rented a car that year and ended up only driving it to and from the airport. We found the metro system to be clean, safe, cheap, and easy to use. In 2010 I stayed one metro stop from the track and I could get to my seat in about 35 minutes from my hotel door. The people of Montreal are exceedingly friendly and they all seem to be aware that the race brings money to their city. I also visited China Town and had the best Vietnamese food I have ever encountered. There is amazingly good food all over the city. The food at the track was really good and pretty affordable, and the organizers brought in a lot of unique vendors. They also let you carry in a cooler and this saved me a small fortune in beer money! For an American, this is the closest you can get to going to Europe without leaving the continent. I have been to 19 Formula 1 races (17 USGP and 2 in Montreal) and I would say the two in Montreal have been my favorite with Indy being a close second (*when all the cars start the race). Austin provides for better viewing (3/4 of a lap if you sit in the right place), but Montreal gets you closer and the atmosphere is top notch.

    13. I’ve been to the Canadian GP 3 times now. This year my wife and I splurged for one of the trio packages as well, although it was in a different order (Hairpin [Grandstand 15] on Friday, pit straight [GS1] on Saturday, and turn 1 on Sunday) and I agree that it’s a great way to experience the circuit. I’ve also sat at GS33 and GS34 in previous years. My thoughts about the locations very closely mirror yours. I found the hairpin to be too far back from the circuit, although I definitely understand the need for all that runoff at the end of such a long straight. GS34 provided a better view, in my opinion.

      I too was taken aback at just how cold it was, although I was there in 2013 as well, when Friday and Saturday were quite cool, although not as bad as Sunday this year. Luckily I’ve got an old McLaren-Mercedes toque for when it gets too chilly to wear my regular Schumacher cap.

      My wife and I live near Toronto, and both agree that Montreal is hands down our favourite Canadian city to visit. The city and it’s people are very cool, plus it has great food and entertainments, and isn’t too expensive either. As others have pointed out, being able to bring in a cooler of beer, which is much cheaper in Quebec than in Ontario, is a massive plus.

      The immediacy of the race blows me away every time. I’ve been a die-hard F1 fan since about 2001, and always felt pretty isolated here in Canada until I went to the race for the first time in 2013. It’s an amazing experience, and I love seeing F1 personnel beyond just the drivers. It’s just cool to feel that connection to the sport. This year, for example, I walked under the stairs to the commentary booths, and David Croft was just chilling on the steps chatting with someone. I pointed him out to my wife, discretely but excitedly I guess, because he noticed and gave a little smile of recognition. On Saturday it was an extra thrill to see Sir Jackie Stewart walking up and down the pitlane. It’s incredible to feel like a little piece of the greater F1 cloth for a couple of days, and I’d urge anyone who’s never been to check out the GP in Montreal at least once.

    14. I went to Canada in 2012 and I totally agree with the benefit of having a proper seat. We sat at the horseshoe, which was a fantastic vantage point. However, the seats there were backless bleacher seats numbered so closely together that you had no choice but to squash up to your companions. Although I was 6 months pregnant at the time which made it doubly uncomfortable, the seats were very bad to pass three days on. Other than that though, I loved Montreal. The track is great, easy to get to and there were plenty of amusements in between sessions. I also loved being able to walk the track afterwards and sit on the wall of champions.

      Melbourne also does a multi-stand pass, its called a ‘four corner pass’. I’ve tried it a couple of times although of late I’ve gone back to my Senna stand tickets.

    15. Montreal was my first race in 2014, and it was a fantastic weekend. I also opted for the Trio ticket, which gave me a seat at T8/9 on Friday, end of the hairpin on Saturday, and Grandstand 1 on the front straight on race day, at about row 5 of the starting grid on track. The price of the Trio ticket is very very good when comparing it to other packages at other tracks. The weather was very warm, unlike this year’s race, in the range of 30C every day. The race was a very exciting and dramatic as well, rating very high on F1Fanatic as well (highest Canadian GP I believe?). Thursday morning the pits were open to check out the cars, meet and greet the drivers in an autograph session (which was quite chaotic actually, security could have relaxed a bit to make it more open to people wanting to meet these superstars), and talk with some of the support race drivers and check out their cars inside and out. On the note of support races, Formula 1600, Canadian Touring Cars (the craziest mix of cars you’d see on a grid), Masters Grand Prix (70s and 80s F1) and Ferrari Challenge were on the bill. The support pits were open to the public, where you could go poke around at all of the cars up close and personal, even the old F1 beasts.

      The Trio ticket lets you roam to almost any part of the circuit and watch during support race and F1 practice sessions, because the race day ticket is in Grandstand 1, so they can see you paid good money for your weekend, so they’ll let you go check out the view from other grandstands. There isn’t a lot happening off track to be honest. There weren’t any concerts from what I remember, there was a party area that had DJs, some simulator booths, and your typical team gear/Canadian GP clothing booths, but not a lot more to expand the experience at the track. The venue is great though, being a public park, there’s plenty of scenery to see, shade to find on the hot days, and the views of downtown Montreal across the river are a great sight.

      I will be going to another Canadian GP in Montreal someday, it was a fantastic experience. I would like to go to some other races (US, Britain, Australia, Belgium, Spain, Austria are on my list) to experience them as well, but Montreal is a must again for me.

    16. It’s so refreshing reading other fans experiences at the CanadianGP. I’ve been a fan of the circuit starting in 2010 and has never missed a race since! That’s 7 consecutive races. I also have been doing Austin, this year’s race will be my 3rd consecutive race there.

      Both circuits are phenomenal with their own DNA. I live in Toronto, so getting to Montreal is a 540km, 4.5 hrs drive. I take my entire family, wife , two daughters(now 17 and 11) and my mom 74 yrs old. We do the General Admission as we join other friends and family at the track, usually a group of up to 14(#LewisNation). We are all Lewis Hamilton supporters and have been in a uniquely fortunate position to see him win 4 times there and twice at Austin, including his 2015 championship!

      We make banners, flags etc to show our support and it’s been growing through the years with Mercedes noticing and have invited our group to take photos with Lewis’ car in the garage on a few occasions. We’ve met Lewis countless times although it’s a bit more difficult at Montreal than in Austin. We’ve had selfies with him and many autographs. We always attend the free Thursday pit walk, but in Austin this event is reserved for grandstand ticket holders only. It kick starts our week end and for the rest of the weekend we hang around the hairpin, turn 11 specifically. Viewing is generally good but there are limited viewing areas compared to Austin where it’s a GA paradise.

      Ticket prices are affordable and are sometimes on 50% discount. My 11yrs old daughter has never paid to attend the Montreal race since we started going, as it’s free for kids 11 and younger attending with an adult. In Austin she pays full adult prices which are twice as high as the Montreal GA price.

      I understand Bernie’s call for the GP organizers to upgrade the facilities as there are areas that can be better used for viewing by relocating trees, accessibility is a major concern as this year my wife was in a wheelchair and with no elevators at the track, four of us had to be lifting her in the chair, to get around. The Metro is super convenient to get around Montreal, but again wheelchair accessibility is poor with no elevators to help us get her to the track.

      I usually park my car and never use it again until I leave. The city comes alive for F1 and this is by far, my favourite Canadian city and a 2nd home.

      After the race we walk the track from the hairpin to the pit to celebrate with other fans and the team. We’ve had the winning champaign a few times, free memorabilia and give aways from the team. Have met many other fans from all over the world including the Australians, #It’sHammerTime. It’s such a sweet event.

      This year the weather sucked, like in 2012 but we’ll be back for more. There are street festivals, food fairs and as another fan reported, everyone seems to know the importance of the event to the city and act accordingly. Prices are very reasonable also and the residence are very friendly and helpful.

      There are no security concerns as the police presence is visible but never overwhelming. I will continue to support this race and must point out that having experienced Austin also, I’m convinced that this combination of the two tracks is all a F1 fan needs for total enjoyment and a varied experience. Please make this race a must do and you’ll never have regrets.

    17. The thing to know about Montreal is that the General Admission tickets are rubbish. You can’t see anything unless you don’t mind the squished-together rock concert effect while trying to get a glimpse through a fence. A very cattle-pen experience if you’re into that.
      They don’t even let you walk to the Senna end of the track with the Peasant Ticket (GA). This is in direct contrast the experiences I’d had at Indy where you could go where you wanted to during FP and Qualifying (and sit where you wanted!), and even with a GA ticket there were plenty of areas to see the track without deliberately obstructed views.
      On the other hand, the track itself is a park and it is a pleasant juxtaposition between the humanity-centric race and the natural environment. Just don’t get bother with GA.

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