The mayor went to the mountain Thursday and came down to report Montreal might have a Grand Prix next year, after all. Monteal mayor Gerald Tremblay told reporters in London -- somewhere outside the office of Formula One commercial rights boss...
The mayor went to the mountain Thursday and came down to report Montreal might have a Grand Prix next year, after all.
Monteal mayor Gerald Tremblay told reporters in London -- somewhere outside the office of Formula One commercial rights boss Bernie Ecclestone -- that a meeting with the F1 supremo yielded hope that the race at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve might live on. The circuit was named to honor the only Canadian winner of the race, Quebecois Gilles Villeneuve, who was also the father of 1997 F1 World Drivers' Champion Jacques Villeneuve.
With the exception of 1987, a Canadian Grand Prix has been staged as part of the Formula One series every year since 1967. The race was threatened in 2004 by pending legislation to ban tobacco advertising; most tobacco sponsorship has since been driven from the sport through ad bans. Tremblay told Radio-Canada the race generates $75 million from tourism.
"We've had a constructive meeting," Tremblay said. "We have a better understanding of the issues. We still have a lot of work to do to evaluate all the options, but it is still possible to hold the grand prix in Montreal in 2009 and subsequent years."
Tremblay traveled with Quebec economic development minister, Raymond Bacand, and Canada's international trade minister, Michael Fortier. The group was granted two-and-a-half hours with Ecclestone.
Although Ecclestone had been quoted as saying race officials hadn't paid bills for three years, Paul Wilson, marketing vice president for Canada Grand Prix, issued a statement at the weekend disputing that claim.
"It is true that we have a commercial disagreement regarding our monetary obligations, but only for 2008," the statement read in part. "This is the result of an historical difference within the contractual understanding between the two parties. We were working hard to resolve the matter in order to meet our 2008 obligations when Mr. Ecclestone, without notice, surprised everyone by unilaterally dropping the Canadian Grand Prix from the 2009 FIA schedule last Oct. 7."
The race -- according to Wikipedia the most-watched F1 race in the world in 2005 -- was not on the 2009 schedule approved Oct. 7 by the World Motor Sport Council for the sport's sanctioning body, the FIA. The decision left North America, the largest market for most backers and many sponsors of F1's 10 teams, without a grand prix for the first time in 49 years.
Canadian Broadcasting reported the founder of Cirque du Soleil Guy Laliberte, a friend of Ecclestone, might be willing to stump up cash to keep the race on the calendar. Fortier said help from Laliberte is one of many ideas under consideration. The Globe and Mail expects taxpayers will foot the bill.
The subsequent loss last week of financial backing for the French Grand Prix, resulting in the dropping of the historical home of grand prix racing, put the 2009 race total at 17.
Ecclestone told reporters at last weekend's Chinese Grand Prix, "They want 17 races, the teams, and that's what they've got."
Reuters news agency quoted BMW Sauber team boss Mario Theissen as saying earlier this month in Japan, "It's the opposite of what we want to see. The intention should be not to step out of this market but just the opposite, to use Montreal as door opener for a future U.S. race as well."
The U.S. Grand Prix (called U.S. Grand Prix East for five years when Long Beach, Calif., was an F1 venue), was a fixture in Watkins Glen, N.Y., for 20 years before financial issues, circuit ownership change, and other considerations sent the race to various temporary sites. The race found an eight-year home at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway until 2007. The race was dropped when Speedway owner Tony George and Ecclestone could not agree on financial terms. George refused to raise ticket prices as Ecclestone suggested to meet Formula One Management's famous escalating payment schedule required of race promoters.