Wednesday, December 5, 2012

2012 Montreal F1 Grand Prix Trip Report

In the first installment of F1 racing vacations, we will cover the 49th Formula One Grand Prix du Canada that was held on June 10, 2012. But before we get into the race itself, let's talk about the beautiful city of Montreal.

To me, Montreal is a little piece of Europe in North America, due to its heavy French influence. The official language of Quebec is French, that means that wherever you go, you start with, "Bon Jour!" Of course, you can then proceed to carry on the rest of your conversation in English, but if you speak any French at all, you might as well take the opportunity to practice your French. Oui, c'est bon!

Nobu's TIP: Always start any interaction with any vendor with a cheerful, "Bon Jour!" even if you don't speak any French. This will go a long way towards getting good customer service.

The city has plenty on offer, ranging from interesting architecture, amazing food and restaurants and plenty of shopping for those inclined. Getting around is very easy, due to its well laid out and organized public transportation system.

Nobu's TIP: Buy the 3-day unlimited bus/metro fare card and use it exclusively to get around throughout your trip. It's also the best way to get to and from the circuit. You can also use it on the airport bus that runs between various points downtown and the airport.

When you combine a great city like Montreal with the excitement that Formula 1 brings, it is simply an amazing time to be there. You wake up early in the morning to get to the track, spend all day wandering around the circuit watching F1 cars go rushing by, then hit the town at night for some partying with 100,000 of your closest like-minded friends. What's not to like?

Welcome banner at the entrance of the circuit.

Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is the venue of the F1 spectacle. It opened in 1978 and was originally named Île Notre-Dame Circuit, then was renamed to its current name in honor of the great racing driver. What's unique about the circuit is that it's built on a man-made island that is also part of a public park called Parc Jean-Drapeau. This means that if you visit anytime other than when a race is going on, you can actually drive the circuit in your own car! Just keep in mind that the speed limit is 30 km/h.

Nobu's TIP: The best way to reach the circuit is via public transport (STM). It is only one stop away from one of the major stations (Berri-UQAM), so another tip is to stay within walking distance to Berri-UQAM for the quickest way to/from the circuit.

Facilities map showing grandstands, etc.

As you can see in the map above, there are many grandstands available to watch the race from. Each have their pro's and con's and depending on what your priorities are, some may be better than others. Use the comment box for this blog entry if you have any specific questions, as we will be focusing on the section where we were seated (Grandstand/Tribune 21).

Nobu's TIP: Unless you're willing to get to the circuit as soon as the gates open and plan on camping out in one spot all weekend while fighting off crowds, avoid General Admission tickets. They are much cheaper than grandstand tickets, but good viewing areas are few and far in between, preventing you from doing anything other than holding your position.

Grandstand 21 (Grandstands are also known as "Tribunes") is one of 6 grandstands at the hairpin corner of the circuit, and provides for some great overtaking action to be witnessed. It is also one of the few places where there's a good General Admission spectating area, although you must be dedicated to secure a spot all weekend (see RV Tip above). We were in GS21 and here are some views from my seat in section 1, Row R, seat 23.

View from GS21. GS26 is right across the track.

View from GS21. GS22 (left) and GS34 (right) also pictured.

View from GS21. GS15 is also pictured.

Nobu's TIP: All grandstands at C.G.V. are uncovered, bleacher style seating. Thus, it would be a good idea to bring a bleacher cushion or foldable bleacher seat with you to be nice to your bum. They sell cushions at the track, but you will pay a premium.

One of the nice things about the Canadian GP (and many other F1 races) is that you can bring in your own refreshments and food/snacks. If you have General Admission tickets, you can even bring in a large cooler full of beer, which you will need if you plan on camping out in one spot all weekend. If you have grandstand tickets, your belongings must fit under your bleacher seat, so make sure you don't bring a large plastic cooler with you. I highly suggest the soft-sided variety intended for picnics.

Just because you have tickets to a certain grandstand doesn't mean that you need to sit in your designated seats all weekend. You will essentially be spending the entire day at the track, so make the best of your time by exploring the track and various viewpoints on the Friday practice day and Saturday practice/qualifying day. A typical F1 schedule at the Canadian Grand Prix looks like the following:

  • Thursday - Pit walk open to the public. (Was cancelled in 2012 unfortunately, due to student protests.)
  • Friday - Two F1 practice sessions (90 minutes each), plus other series practice/qualifying (Ferrari Challenge, Porsche GT3 Cup)
  • Saturday - One F1 practice (60 minutes), F1 Qualifying, plus other series races
  • Sunday - F1 Race, Other race series race(s)
Nobu's TIP: On Fridays you can usually check out the view from most grandstands even if you don't have grandstand tickets, so take this opportunity to scope out possible grandstand tickets for the next time you're there.

There are lots of vendors of food and fan gear.

Budweiser had a large stage and entertainment area complete with Bud girls.

These "streets" can get very crowded at certain times of the day.

One gadget that I highly recommend that you rent for the weekend, is Fanvision. It's basically a portable television that also provides alternative commentary (i.e. - BBC, Sky) and also a wealth of information at your fingertips. Even though there are jumbotrons spread throughout the facility, Fanvision allows you to keep track of the on-track action even when you're not in your seats watching the big screen. If you're a geek like me, you'll also appreciate the ability to track certain drivers and their sector times during Qualifying. Fanvision is available for purchase as well, and they also support other motorsports, so if you're a multifaceted motorsports fan, a purchase might prove more economical in the long run.

A must have for dedicated fans.

Come race day, you will want to get to your designated seats before the Drivers Parade begins. Basically, each driver is driven around in a convertible and fans have the opportunity to take photos and see the drivers outside of their cars. Once you're seated for the race itself, you will have an extremely tough time getting in and out of your seats as you will be sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, knees-to-backs. Thus, unless your seat is at the end of any given section, make sure you make a bathroom stop and procure any drinks/snacks prior to taking your seats for the race.

After your day at the track is over, it's time to take a breather, change into your party duds, and hit the streets of Montreal! Again, public transportation is the way to go, but keep in mind when the last trains are heading back to your hotel, unless you don't mind taking a taxi (never a bad idea). There are numerous restaurants in Montreal for the foodie in you (or the foodie *with* you), but it is strongly advised to make reservations ahead of time. If you're new to Montreal, I would highly suggest that you try some poutine. The purpose of this blog is not to be a Montreal restaurant guide, so I won't go into details about specific restaurants. However, feel free to ask in the comments section for our recommendations.

After your appetite has been satiated, it's time to party! There's no better place than Crescent Street to kick off the night. If you aren't fortunate enough to be a VIP and invited to one of the many exclusive parties hosted by various teams and event planners, this is where you want to go, where an entire two blocks' worth of streets are closed down for booths hosted by various vendors as well as stages for live concerts. More information about Crescent Street can be found here. Be warned, however, that the crowds can be quite dense and overwhelming if you're claustrophobic.

A Lotus F1 demo car on display on Crescent St.

Crescent St festivities in full swing.
Nobu's TIP: Just because Crescent Street is the best known and most crowded, doesn't mean that it's the only place to go do some people-watching and engage in activities. If you walk around the general area, you will run across other closed streets where certain car manufacturers and other corporate entities are sponsoring street festivals. Old Montreal is also a cool area of town to check out, with its cobbled streets and many restaurants/stores.

After your long day of waking up early, attending the races and then dining/partying, it's off to bed for a few hours before repeating it all over again. Talk about making the most of your vacation!

We've covered a lot here and there's certainly a lot more details that can be covered. However, I've hit the high points and hopefully this blog entry serves as a useful guide for a new visitor to the Canadian Grand Prix. As always, please feel free to leave comments or ask any questions that you may have and I'd be happy to answer them.

Bon Voyage!



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