Our Grand Prix Experience: Montreal 2011
Guest post crafted by the brilliance of my wifie
Some time in the early 1990’s, random curiosity prompted my brother to tune into a Formula 1 race on television. He didn’t know any of the teams or drivers, so he selected a car because it “looked cool” and decided that he would root for the driver of that particular vehicle. That driver ended up being the great Michael Schumacher, but at that time no one knew just how great he would be. He was still just a very talented but relatively new phenom on the Formule 1 racing circuit. In any case, my brother Joseph’s first F1 race would end up being a very fateful one: Ayrton Senna would die on the track that day, ending one era and commencing a new one. Joseph’s been a die-hard (and rather encyclopedic) fan ever since.
My sister Victoria, her husband Matt and our brother Joseph decided to make the pilgrimage to the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal last summer for the Grand Prix du Canada. Despite the oppressive heat, they decided to return the following year and to make it an annual event to take in at least one Grand Prix race, either in the U.S. or Canada. Rich and I decided to tag along this time. Rich had never been to Montreal, and although it had been a few years since I’ve had the time or the wherewithal to follow Formula 1 racing very closely, I’ve been a casual fan for some time and wanted to see a race live. We booked a room at the Marriott Chateau Champlain for the weekend and drove up to Canada with my brother for the three days of Formula 1 festivities. We arrived on Thursday night. Events would commence on Friday morning with the practice session.
Though Rich and I bought general admission tickets, we had use of Matt and Victoria’s grand stand seats for the practice session because they were attending a wedding on Friday. My first and most prominent impression of an F1 race? The noise! I thought I could hack it without earplugs, but the deafening sound of the car engines as they flew down the track at speeds of over 150 MPH quickly made me realize that ear protection was not optional. The practice session was a lot of fun: We had great seats, enjoyed glowering at Fernando Alonso fans sitting nearby, and it was a comfortable, sunny day. (There was not yet any indication of the torrential rain that would drown out the race for two hours on Sunday!) Between the morning and afternoon sessions, we explored the kiosks selling official team memorabilia and went for a long walk around the man-made island on which the track is located, Ile Notre Dame. It was actually quite a pleasant walk: In addition to the track, the island features a casino, playgrounds, parks and even a small beach. Though I grumbled a bit about my feet hurting, it turns out that it was a good thing that we thoroughly explored the island on Friday, since when we returned to the track on Saturday for the qualifying session it was overcast and drizzling!
As for the city of Montreal itself, it’s definitely one of the most beautiful and sophisticated cities in North America. It’s clean and orderly and safe, and the locals are polite. There are also many examples of beautiful architecture, including the Basila Notre Dame and the quaint colonial buildings in the Vieux-Port district, which reminded me of a seaside European village. We had a great time sightseeing. Not only were the race-related events a lot of fun, but the whole city was in on the action. The checkered flags that decorated the lobby of our hotel were echoed throughout Montreal, flapping over doorways of many of the local businesses, and the city was clearly proud of its participation with Formula 1. Some streets were closed off for F1 events, including an outdoor concert on Crescent Street. It had the atmosphere of a raucous, congested festival, but the crowds were orderly and congenial. Various F1 sponsors had booths set up, and many car enthusiasts brought their exotic sports cars into the city for the festivities. I was hoping to take a photo with a Ferrari, but I had to settle for posing with an inferior Lamborghini. On the other hand, I also posed with a Formula 1 car, so it wasn’t a total wash. It was especially nice having Joseph with us as we were sightseeing. I never get to spend enough time with my brother, and it turns out he was an excellent ally when I bothered Rich frequently for coffee stops. Rich usually feels free to ignore my desperate pleas for caffeine whenever we travel, but this time he was outnumbered. By the end of the weekend, we were all very well acquainted with Tim Horton’s!
Though Rich and I ended up missing the race itself on Sunday because we had to head back to D.C. for work by Monday morning, it turned out to be quite epic! Joseph joined Victoria and Matt at the track for a water-logged Grand Prix. The rain wreaked havoc on the event, shutting down the race for two hours and leading to a virtuoso performance by Schumacher, resulting in his best finish of the season. Hamilton’s over-aggressive driving caused a crash with his own partner and took himself out of the race. A last-minute pass of Vettel by Jenson Button gave the contest a breathtaking conclusion. I wish we could have seen it! In any case, it was a really good time. Hopefully, we’ll be able to do it again next year.
It was a brief visit, and our priority was the Grand Prix and its related festivities, so there are dozens of things to do in the city that we didn’t have time to explore. Even still, here is a brief list of my favorite parts of the weekend:
1. Grand Prix du Canada (bien sur!)
2. Vieux-Port or Vieux-Montreal
3. Tim Horton’s
4. Ile Notre Dame
5. Crescent Street
6. Basilique Notre Dame
7. Bell Center (we glared hatefully at the life-size statues of famous Canadiens)
8. Biodome de Montreal
9. Rue des Artistes
10. Place Jacques-Cartier