Grand Prix du Canada is Montreal’s Formula 1 racing event held in early summer. I went to Montreal to see the race in 2012. It was my second F1 Grand Prix; the first one being the USGP at Indianapolis in 2005, the infamous “Bridgestone Only” race. So in a way this was my first true race. The track at Montreal is all about horsepower, plenty of straight runs.
Grand Prix weekend begins on a Friday with Practice 1 & 2, Practice 3 and Qualifying on Sat and the actual race on Sunday. I couldn’t be there on the Friday but caught the action on and off the track on the other two days. Off the track, city of Montreal becomes one giant party, especially the downtown areas between Peel and Crescent on St. Catherine street. Car shows, street concerts, bars, pubs, freebies – its ON! The same party atmosphere continues on the circuit, more concerts, more beer, more stalls, more freebies; Grand Prix throws one hell of a party. Of course, the main attraction, at 200 mph, never disappoints.
From our seats in Stand 22, we saw the cars slowing down for the hairpin but the view of the turn itself was blocked by strategically placed trees. We then saw cars accelerating after the turn, making slight turn at turn 12 and into straight. Ears hurt, so loud was the sound! We had to put on ear plugs. We saw P3 and the race from the stand.
On Sat, after P3, we abandoned our seats to check out other views of the track. The best view, I thought, was the ‘S’ turn at Turn 6. Cars cornering at over 100mph, shaking the ground as they brake and making that popping sound as they accelerate is an awesome experience. We decided to watch QP from here too. Intense competition, Schumacher, Alonso, then Hamilton had the fastest time but finally pole position was taken by one Sebastian Vettle – only driver below 1.14 min.
Next day the formalities for the race began at 12pm with much fan-fare. First driver’s parade: all 24 drivers driven around in antique top-down cars, then Canadian anthem, then ‘installation’ lap – to get drivers in the starting positions. At 2pm, off they went. In a few seconds, they came screaming towards the hairpin then launched off towards the straight and past our stand. After a few laps, Vettle in front, Hamilton, Allonso, Webber on his tail, then a big 5 sec gap then Force India pair. Half-way thru the race, Alonso in lead, then Vettle and Hamilton. Schumacher sufferers a technical failure and Kartthikeyan spins out on Turn1. Both do not finish. Then, Ferrari makes a tactical mistake: they don’t pit a second time to change tires. McLaren does, Hamilton is 2sec faster than Alonso and races past his competition with ease to first position (Hamilton overtook Alonso in front of our Stand). Vettle emulates Hamilton but it’s too late, others take advantage – Grosjean in second, Perez third. The crowd erupts for they have seen a great race, Hamilton does a slow lap to acknowledge the fans, Ferrari fans are devastated.
Then, the most unexpected, track invasion! I had no idea this is allowed!! We jump the fences and walk on the track towards the pits. The cars are ready to be transported, pits are winding down. The die hard fans gather outside McLaren pit to see Hamilton, urging him to come out. We didn’t stick around for that. what an experience.
Which Stand to Sit? Each stand has a unique view and depends what you want to see and how much you are willing to spend. Best way to decide, watch videos on YouTube. In my opinion, it’s better to sit at the hairpin since it gives better and longer view of the cars and a good location to see some overtaking. Stand 33 sits on top of the ‘S’ I mentioned earlier but the view is limited. Besides, you can see the same view from the General Admission area on QP or Practice session. I wouldn’t sit there. Similarly, Stand 2 sees pits and start/finish but for rest of the race one just see oars zooming by; nothing else. Stand 11 has a big tree blocking view on the left of the stand, so be careful where you sit. Stand 22 and 34 both have good view of cars slowing for hairpin, making the turn and accelerating – 34 has a better view. Book 34 early its first to be sold-out.
General Admission: General admission are treated like second class citizens at Montreal. No place gives a clear view of the track. There is always atleast one fence blocking a clear view, if not a tree. Still some better spots are better than others. For eg. the ‘S’ next to Stand 33, patches next to Stand 12 and 24 both give view of the hairpin turn. GA is not allowed near stands 1,2,11. Trees: a major source of disappointment for me, they were placed close to the track and at such strategic locations, they more often than not blocked a lot of the good views.
Getting to/from the Track: No matter where you are staying, getting in-out and around the city is a breeze due to the excellent public transport system. There is no parking at the track so take the Metro and rather than leave early to beat the crowd, invade the track, spend time at the pits and then leave by the Metro. It’s much less crowded an hour after the race.
Where to buy tickets: There are many fraudulent website so beware. Buy directly from f1.com. Its better to call. The attendants are helpful and find you the best spot in your price range – at least they did for us.