Formula 1 is coming back to Montreal this summer, like every summer. Are you ready for the rush?
It was a rainy, cold, foggy day June 12, 2011 on Montreal’s Ile St. Helene. Twenty four hopeful race cars lined up on the grid at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, a track synonymous for unpredictable weather and tight racing. Nearly 300,000 fans packed the circuit during the weekend to watch the fastest cars in the world go around a track seventy times. And then came the rain. The cars started struggling for grip, the safety car was seen more often than the actual racing cars, and by the time it was all over, Jenson Button, a driver who had to make 5 pit stops, and was at one point at the back of the grid, overtook odds favourite Sebastian Vettel on the last lap. That’s about as exciting as racing gets!
This weekend, Formula 1, equipped with their new, more fuel efficient V6 turbo engines, will take over the second smallest country in the world, Monaco. This principality of France is known for it’s exuberant parties, it’s wonderful casino, and it’s tax haven status. Come Sunday morning, hundreds of yachts will crowd the small Monte Carlo Harbour in an effort to catch a glimpse of their favourite driver, pushes the envelope of how fast one can drive around a circuit as narrow as many old Montreal streets.
As the biggest and most expensive race of the year get’s underway, planning and organizing of this year’s Canadian Grand Prix will be taking place. Hotels are starting to clean up, restaurants filling reservation books, and merchandisers pulling out all the stops. Heck even Crescent closes down for the weekend! All for a event that costs the public $15 million. After this years race, the contract will be up for grabs, and you can bet that Bernie Ecclestone wants more from Canada. Last year, the Canadian Grand Prix brought in anywhere from $32-$90 million.
This year, Montreal is under competition from other North American cities, for what may be the first time in a long time. Austin has had a circuit for the last 3 years, and has featured on the F1 calendar for the last 2. The circuit, which cost $400 million, employs 300 full time employees. Taking into account the 1700 jobs created to build the circuit, and the 3000 seasonal employment opportunities, Circuit of the Americas estimates that it can create around 6000 jobs (don’t bother checking the math, it’s wrong). That’s $67,000 per job created. To make matters even worse, because of Texas’ laws regarding sport stadiums, major events, and expenses, the circuit can claim all of it’s expenses as tax credits. The private investor group says it can generate a profit of $5 billion over the next 10 years, but sadly with the way US tax laws work, very little of that revenue will be going back into Texas.
Waiting in the wings is a second U.S race, formerly slated for inclusion in 2014 but withdrawn at the last minute due to readiness concerns. The Grand Prix of America is planned to take place next year on the streets of New Jersey, with a New York skyline in the background. The Port Imperial Street Circuit was supposed to raise $100 million before the first race. However, it has failed to achieve anything close to that number, and for a circuit expected to generate $100 million in revenue every year for New Jersey, it’s looking more and more like an elephant than a race circuit.
What both of these circuits have that Montreal doesn’t is private money. Not a single penny of public funding has been pumped into these circuits, and that’s what is going to keep them afloat. Montreal, Quebec, and Canada are on the hook for millions of dollars (US dollars) every year to hold this race. If any of these branches of government decide to reallocate those funds elsewhere, Montreal loses it’s biggest summer revenue generator. There will be no more Crescent street festival, there will be empty hotel rooms, empty restaurants, a less crowded airport, quitter public transportation, and a whole lot less cash in government pockets. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. All I care about is the excitement that comes with watching billion dollar carbon shells race each other around a race track. Lights out, away we go.