2017: 50 years of Formula 1 in Canada

For three days in the beginning of June it has become an annual tradition…

The streets of Montreal shut down and the latest ‘habs-hockey’ talk is put to the side for the week to welcome the world’s racing elite and indulge in the luxurious world of Formula 1 racing.

2017 marks the 50th Canadian Grand Prix, which is a considerable milestone for the sport as only Monza in Italy and Silverstone in the UK have hosted races for longer than Montreal. While motorsport may not be top-of-mind for most Canadians, it certainly has a strong history in our country. What better way to be celebrating this milestone alongside the 150th anniversary of confederation for Canada in the same year.

Sport$trategies spoke with Francois Dumontier, President and CEO of Formula 1 Grand Prix du Canada, on the importance this race holds and gave his thoughts on the special additions for the 2017 edition of the Grand Prix. With only two races in North America currently on the F1GP schedule, Montreal is the oldest Grand Prix outside of Europe. The track has been part of the F1 calendar for nearly four decades, hosting its first race in 1978 and only being left off the circuit twice since then. Dumontier told Sport$trategies what fans can look forward to for the big 5-0:

“There are two areas where the 50 years of F1 in Canada will be reaching fans: memorabilia and in activities over the event weekend. Those who ordered their tickets will get very soon something very special, real collector’s items and there are more to come. Concerning special activities, we will unveil these at a later date.”

With much to look forward to, this year’s Canadian Grand Prix, set for 9- 11 June, was under some speculation last year whether or not it would be included on the circuit in the future, as Formula One Management (FOM) at the time was pressing for improvements to be made to the track. A deal has now been concluded with F1’s new owners, Liberty Media, and the City of Montreal have committed to provide funds to upgrade many track facilities. Dumontier shed some light on the new renovation plans to the track that helped the race promoters ensure Montreal will be included on the calendar until 2029:

“New garages, team facilities and media installations in the paddock area and also elsewhere on track, the hospital, these are all areas to be improved. This should all be ready for 2019. Besides that, several improvements are planned around the track over the upcoming years, especially in the drivers’ safety area.”

Now that Liberty Media have taken over full-control of the future of the sport, it was incredibly important for the Canadian Grand Prix to cement its place on the calendar with the objective of keeping a long-standing circuit in North America. In the past, all Formula 1 partners were active on-site and individual race promoters were unable to sell their own sponsorships. That structure may change, although it is not yet clear how Liberty Media will structure its commercial partnerships with the various tracks around the world. Dumontier provided his insight saying:

“Under the previous administration, we had the possibility to negotiate some major deals for our event in accordance with the objectives of FOM. We think that the fact that Octane [the race promotion company for the Formula 1 Grand Prix du Canada] has now an agreement until 2029 makes our Grand Prix extremely attractive on a long term basis.”

Dumontier has added in previous media releases that Liberty Media had stressed, during their negotiations with FOM, that Montreal is an important circuit to the championship. Now that the circuit is confirmed until 2029, the growth of the sport in North America will be a key motivation for Liberty Media.

View of the hairpin at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, Canada.

The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, famously named after the Canadian driver, who raced for six seasons with Ferrari, holds an important legacy for old-time Formula 1 fans. He won his first Grand Prix in 1978 on home-soil. His son Jacques then made his mark in the sport, racing for various teams including Williams and Sauber and setting multiple records, before moving onto other disciplines of motorsport.

It has not been since Jacques Villeneuve left the circuit that a Canadian has featured in F1, until this year. Lance Stroll, the 18-year old Quebec native, is making his rookie debut in F1 this season with Williams. His entry into the sport could not have come at a more fitting time. The young driver has re-ignited the interest of long time F1 fans, who now have a home-grown racer to root for.

Dumontier highlighted the importance of carrying on the legacy of Canadian drivers in the sport:

“We have already noted Lance Stroll’s effect at the ticket office and also a renewed interest for Formula 1 from the Canadian media. We say there are three key turning points in our history: 1978 with Gilles Villeneuve, 1996 with his son Jacques and now, 2017 with Lance Stroll.”

It’s not just fans that are paying attention to the newest Canadian on-track. Famous airline company, Bombardier, is also making the jump into Formula 1. The business jet division has signed a sponsorship with Williams, in support of the young racer. The agreement will have the aircraft manufacturer see its logo on Stroll’s helmet, and will also have a presence in the team’s garages during all races on the 2017 calendar.

Montreal’s Grand Prix turning 50, Canada as a nation becoming 150, the path of motorsport has already made its mark on our country from a long-standing history, but an even more exciting future awaits!

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