Grand Prix Weekend in Montréal – Part One

Cold and wet.  Those are not the usual adjectives used to describe June weather in Montréal, Canada’s second largest city, but that is what we had – at least for Friday and Saturday – at this year’s Grand Prix.  The sun did not really break through until the morning of the race, and the wind blowing off the St. Lawrence River had us shivering in the grandstands.  Luckily, we had sufficient beer supplies to carry us through.

TPL headquarters is in Ottawa, about 200 kilometres west of Montréal, and 2013 was my tenth GP weekend (and ninth race – I was only there on Friday last year).  Typically, we are on the road at some ungodly hour on Friday morning to ensure we are in our seats at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve when the lights turn green at 10 a.m. for the first F1 practice session.  This year, however, we sensibly left on Thursday night and checked into our hostel about 12 hours before the first cars would hit the track.

IMG_3677Photo credit: André Kiley

Our plan to grab a beer and a quick bite to eat and then turn in relatively early hit the skids at McKibbin’s, a dark, noisy pub across the street.  Several pints of Guiness later, we made it back to the room around 2:30 a.m. and set an alarm for 7 o’clock.

It was raining when we woke on Friday, and our walk to the Metro required jackets to avoid a soaking before we even heard the first engine fire up.  It took about 45 minutes to get from downtown Montréal to our seats – 20 minutes on the Metro, 25 minutes of walking (and our grandstand was one of the closest to the Metro stop) – and the rain had passed by the time we cracked our first beers (you can bring your own!).  Still, the track was too wet for the drivers to test the new Pirelli tyres, which were supposed to be ready to race in Britain.  Despite the wet track, the Friday sessions were relatively uneventful, except for Pastor Maldonado, who planted his Williams nose-first into a barrier just up the track from our grandstand (which, I suppose I should mention, was at turns 6 and 7).

IMG_3696Photo credit: Matthew Walthert

Red Bull had one of their team members stationed beside our grandstand, and we assume he was there as a weatherman – to give the team real-time updates from the other side of the track.  That way, even without sending their cars out, the guys on the pit wall would know the track conditions around the circuit.  In case of further rain, the Red Bull weatherman was equipped with a rain coat and umbrella.  He barely looked at the track, and spent most of the time on the phone.  We were wondering if the team would send a car or golf cart to pick him up or if he had to walk back to the pits – at least twenty minutes from our grandstand.  Unfortunately, we didn’t see him sneak off.

Picture 8Photo credit: Matthew Walthert

That evening, F1 commentator and writer Will Buxton was hosting a tweet-up at Hurley’s Irish Pub on Crescent Street.  We had already planned to be there on Friday night to see local band, Squidjigger, so we headed over a bit early to find Buxton.  The place was packed, well beyond fire safety standards, but we did get a minute to chat with the host and ask about the new tyres; he tipped us off that they may not be ready for the British GP and, well…

Picture 4

TPL editor Matthew Walthert and Will Buxton
Photo credit: Zac Cimon

After Hurley’s, we took in some of the party on Crescent, although the rain seemed to put somewhat of a damper on it.  Not only that, but the outdoor party now ends at 11 p.m., whereas it used to go until the bars let out at 3 a.m.  This is a disappointing new trend, which has probably helped the competing party on The Main.  There are still lots of fun activities on Crescent, though, including a pit stop challenge, F1 simulators, sponsor booths handing out free samples, and the chance to get up-close and personal with an F1 car (although it is an older model painted to look like this year’s Lotus).

Picture 7Picture 5Photo credits: Matthew Walthert and André Kiley

Getting to bed at a more reasonable hour on Friday night made Saturday morning slightly more bearable.  It also wasn’t raining as we hurried to the circuit.  Arriving 15 minutes before practice was supposed to begin, we were greeted with the video screen across from our seats showing footage of track workers trying to repair a section of Armco barrier just past the Casino hairpin.  Apparently, three cars from one of the support series had somehow all hit the same section of the wall and damaged it.  In the end, the start of F1 practice was delayed by 30 minutes and, because the rules mandate a two-hour gap between practice and qualifying, the session was cut in half, to only 30 minutes.  Maybe the race promoters missed a pay-off somewhere?

That, however, was not the most embarrassing occurrence of the day: a few laps into a Formula 1600 qualifying session, the entire track was under a yellow flag as one of the city buses used to transport marshals around the track had decided to go for a victory lap and was being dodged by the race cars at over 200 km/h.  Luckily, no one was hurt.

Following the shortened F1 practice and a couple support series sessions, the track was beginning to dry out and an F1 qualifying session on slicks began to look like a real possibility.  Part two of this entry will be up soon, covering qualifying, the race, and a fun Saturday night on Rue Peel.

Picture 6Photo credit: Matthew Walthert


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