Formula 1

Will F1 return to Montreal this June? Answer unclear as negotiations continue

Formula One officials are appealing to various levels of government to invest $6 million to bring the Canadian Grand Prix back to Montreal in June but it’s unclear how Ottawa will respond.

The race was first postponed and then nixed last year, and now F1 needs the money to offset the costs of presenting the event this year without spectators on site. 

The race usually attracts thousands of tourists from around the world, but with the third wave of COVID-19 picking up steam, bringing all those people together in one place to watch cars zip around the Gilles-Villeneuve track is out of the question.

F1 officials are also asking to bypass the mandatory 14-day quarantine for the hundreds of staff, crew members and drivers. They would instead rely on private medical staff to keep COVID from spreading among the personnel.

Radio-Canada has learned that Quebec public health would be ready to authorize the holding of the Grand Prix without spectators if certain measures are applied.

For now, the event is scheduled for June 13, but it is still up to upper levels of government to approve and fund it.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante has made it clear that the city can’t invest. Premier François Legault said “nothing is settled” on Tuesday. 

“We are told that because there will be no spectators, there should be compensation from the government, when we have already given a lot,” he said.

If it weren’t for the concern over the 2022-2029 agreement with F1, Legault said, “I don’t see why we need this — the Grand Prix — here this year.” 

Legault said the Grand Prix is an important event with real economic benefits “because it is money that comes from abroad and is spent here in Quebec.”

He said the event is the subject of discussion at the moment.

Trudeau not committing just yet

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau remained vague on the subject.

“I know that talks are underway right now, but at every stage, our priority is the health of Canadians. And that is the basis on which we will make the decisions,” said Trudeau.

Even if there are no spectators, the health concern is that hundreds of F1 staff will arrive on scene, most flying in from Baku, Azerbaijan, where a race is scheduled the weekend before. 

The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal has other uses when high-performance race cars aren’t roaring around the track. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Quebec Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda said on Tuesday it could be possible to hold the event safely but there is much to discuss beforehand. He said the study of ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is underway.

“There is a way to hold it in terms of public health with well-thought-out protocols,” he said.

“As for the importation of the virus by people who come from outside without quarantines, these are discussions that are taking place between Quebec and Canada.”

F1 says it can be done safely

F1’s top brass has made it clear that holding events without spectators isn’t financially feasible as the organization relies on ticket sales.

On March 27, F1 group president Stefano Domenicali challenged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office on the issue of mandatory quarantine for travellers flying into the country.

In a letter that Radio-Canada has obtained a copy of, the F1 boss outlines the measures put in place to prevent outbreaks of COVID-19 throughout the season.

In 2020, 78,000 PCR tests were carried out and only 78 tested positive. The F1 president says that is a rate of 0.1 per cent.

If Montreal loses the annual event, F1 has already picked Istanbul, Turkey, to host it in the future instead.

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