After about 30 years, I finally got the attend the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Montreal and all I have to say is “wow”. It was pretty incredible and I can’t believe why I waited this long to go. ok I do live 4000 kms from it but that should not have been an excuse. I thought I would document my experience much like I did for the Portland Indycar Grand Prix last year.
As you might know, the race takes place at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montréal on a man made island just off of downtown. The whole island is at its largest point 500 metres wide and just over 2 kilometres long. Now imagine fitting over 100,000 people on it and you can see that it can get a bit crowded. Walking from one end to the other is pretty quick; however, you do have to make a few detours. Also because it is narrow, the crowds can be a bit tricky. The views of the track are generally good and you are very close to it as there are no big run off areas like at certain tracks. One thing though is because the whole venue is very narrow, there are chunks of the track that are blind. From just after Turn 2 all the way to Turn 6 (so no one got to see the Vettel – Hamilton controversy) and from 7 to 8 which is the first DRS zone (the second one is on the back straight).
We bought seats in Grandstand 34 which is at turn 10 “l’épingle” or the hairpin. I had looked at many videos online and felt this gave us the best value for the price. You get to see cars going pretty much at their top speed of ~ 300 km/h and slowing down to about 75 km/h which is in theory a great place for passing; however, it is not at the end of a DRS zone so there was only a few passes actually during the race. I was also hoping that we could see further up the track all the way to turn 9; however, there is a large tree right beside the grandstand and it blocks most of the track. Since the grandstand is inside the track, I had also assumed it would be easier to walk to other spots to watch the cars from other vantage points but besides Friday, it was so busy that we just stuck to our seats. One good thing about 34 as well is that at the edges of sections 1 and 4 (where we were), you are pretty much right on top of the track so you get a real feel for the speed.
The grandstand is also facing north so you have the sun in your back the whole time which is good. Actually in Section 4, rows A to E roughly you get to sit in the shade (from that tree that’s in the way) so that’s also welcome since it can get pretty hot at that time of year (was 29C on Sunday). One drawback of 34 is that the TV screen is placed pretty far so it is hard to see the positions of the cars during the race or during qualifying. Binoculars are useful. My brothers after the race went to the Lance Stroll stand (aka grandstand 24) and they said next time, we should sit there. I also talked with a guy in our stand on Saturday that bought tickets in our stand because he wanted to compare with what he normally got (Stand 11 or 12) and he left 10 minutes in to go back to his normal stand. Also most grandstand are metal bleachers so I highly recommend bringing a cushion.
As I mentioned, on the Friday, we tried to watch the practice(s) from different vantage points in general admission. Well we tried to sit in different seats like how they let you do at certain races but we got denied. That being said, I did see some people walking into seats without getting checked so I bet with a bit more persistence, we could have pulled it off. At first we watch in the home straightaway across from the pits. It was good but you actually don’t see the cars in the pits as the wall between the home straight and the pit lane is too high. I think that’s where the teams sit to monitor the race. A bit later, we walked to the back straight just before the last turn where the cars go at full speed. Around 320 km/h with DRS on. It was pretty incredible. There is a ramp actually right beside the track so you get to see over the catch fence which is usually pretty rare for general admission. Now for the race itself, general admission is not recommended. You either have to show up right when the track opens for the day to reserve your spot or be 4 people deep. There are some spots in the shades though which can be nice but for the price difference, you can get tickets for stands 46 or 47 for roughly $40 more than general admission so well worth the extra price for a reserved seat.
To get to the race, your best bet is the subway. There is a subway stop right next door and they have tons of staff to help maximize the number of folks on the train. One thing is to get there early as you can expect about 30 minutes lineup to get in. There is parking as well but very limited from what I hear and I suspect expensive.
The Race Itself
The race itself was pretty good even with the controversy surrounding Vettel’s 5 second penalty. Not too many passes though but that’s F1 so somewhat expected. Although we did see Verstappen pass a McLaren (I think Norris) at the start (see video). I think it was also the first race I attended where there were no full course yellows.
The overall experience was great. The crowds, people everywhere wearing racing apparels (they are not cheap btw), the passion was just insane. There are tons of things to do beside watching the race. Similar to what The Vancouver Indy had in its heyday. The Portland Grand Prix still has a long way to go. I also went downtown on Sunday after the race and the whole downtown was under the vibe of the race. That’s not something I remember happening in Vancouver. The other thing which was neat is that you were allowed to bring alcohol at the track as long as it wasn’t in glass bottles which is a way to “save” money but after what they charge for the tickets, that’s the least they can do. Now the drawback with this is that some folks can over do it but it wasn’t too bad. Also I do suggest to bring your own food. The prices are normal for those type of events (similar to hockey or football game) but the lineups are massive. Well Friday was ok. Finally, another first is that they let you walk the track after the race which was fun. The pit wall was packed though with people trying to get a glimpse of the cars waiting to be inspected. That’s one big difference with Indy. With Indy, you can spend $20 and go in the paddock and get right up close to the cars and talk to drivers and such. Way more expensive if you want to do that in F1.
Here are some pictures I took over the weekend
Note that most of the pictures were taken with my phone using burst mode so the quality is so so .
Here is a montage of the videos (and some photos) I captured.
If you are looking for more information on the track and event, The F1 Spectator does a very good job but I thought I would give my take on it