The news last week that Austin (Tex.) City Council had voted 5-2 to support the 2012 U.S. Grand Prix is good news for Formula One and the race’s promoters but maybe not so good for the Canadian Grand Prix.
For weeks leading up to last Wednesday’s vote, opponents of the race had focused on the payment of a $25-million sanctioning fee to F1, which has now been approved.
Although the race is scheduled for next June, a week after Montreal, there is already talk that it would be better to hold it later in the year when it wouldn’t be so warm (June can be boiling in Austin).
The suggestion is that the U.S. race could then be "twinned" with the race in Brazil in November, thus saving money. Twinning to save money is one reason the Austin race was initially pencilled in after Canada.
F1 returned to Canada in 2010 for $15 million (all either supplied by taxpayers or tourism groups), which is significantly less than the going rate for an F1 race these days. This followed a year when – because of a disagreement over money – there was no F1 race in Montreal, meaning F1 did not have a presence in North America.
But it now has that North American presence – in spades. It’s getting $10 million more from Austin than it’s getting from Montreal, for starters, and if the race is moved to the fall and twinned with Brazil, Montreal could suddenly find itself marginalized.
Now, a year ago Grand Prix weekend, I presented a case in Toronto Star Wheels that because the Canadian Grand Prix is taxpayer-supported, it should be moved around from time to time to other parts of the country, much like the taxpayer-supported Canadian Open golf tournament. I suggested several years in Montreal be followed by a year in Toronto, or Vancouver, and so-on.
I am now going a step further. I would suggest that because of what happened in Austin last week, and what might happen the next time the Canadian Grand Prix comes up for renewal, that Francois DuMontier, the president of Octane Racing Group, which promotes the Canadian Grand Prix, start actively investigating moving the race permanently to Toronto.
There are many reasons why he should do this.
– Unless I missed something, I didn’t see any signage at this year’s Grand Prix advertising anything "Canadian" (other than government). The Grand Prix does not have a title sponsor, nor many visible associate sponsors. And why is that? Because most of the head offices of all the large Canadian corporations, including the banks, are in Toronto.
Ergo, moving the race to Toronto would substantially increase the potential for serious Canadian corporate support.
– Some of the moneyed gentry may have been at the Grand Prix in Montreal but except for Rihanna (who was doing a concert there), there were few "beautiful people" in attendance. Why? Because when they do come to Canada, those folks all come to Toronto. There are more celebrities and singers and actresses on the streets of Yorkville on a given Saturday than are ever in Montreal for the Grand Prix.
Move the race to Toronto and the F1 crowd will be smack-dab in the middle of the celebrity driven culture it covets.
– I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of the same old TV shot of that geodesic dome on Ilse Notre-Dame that was a holdover from Expo 67. It was intriguing then but boring now. What the Grand Prix of Canada needs as a backdrop is the skyline of Toronto, the Big Smoke, the financial centre of the country and among the greatest of North American cities, complete with the tallest free-standing structure on the continent, the CN Tower.
– Pan those TV cameras around and show the world Ontario Place, Lake Ontario, the Toronto Islands, the ferries in the harbour, the street life, the patios – many of the things Montreal just doesn’t have. Toronto is a big, happy, prosperous, multicultural city on the move with fine hotels and marvelous restaurants and ready for Formula One to introduce it to the world.
– Do you want me to go on? Everybody in Little Italy would be cheering for Ferrari, which means thousands of people all wearing red shirts. Hell, there’s an airport right downtown where Bernie and the rest of them could park their private jets.
Remember, Toronto was the original choice of then-sponsor Labatt to move the Grand Prix away from Mosport back in 1977. The city council of the day rejected the idea one day and Montreal city council endorsed it the next.
And that was probably the best thing at the time. Montreal was ready for the Grand Prix; Toronto wasn’t.
But that was then and this is now. Times have changed – and are about to change again.
Yes, it would take the city of Toronto, the province and the feds, and the country’s corporate giants to pull it off. It won’t happen immediately, but bears discussing. No one should reject this suggestion out of hand.
Toronto wanted the Olympics and fell just short. Except for the Olympics and the World Cup, more people watch and follow F1 racing than any other sport in the world and you can’t buy exposure like that.
On the flip side, Montreal is a very European city and has done a good job with the Grand Prix since the first one in 1978. But her day is done. The people who run F1 and are involved in it want business-to-business and the big money, the big movers and the big shakers are all in Toronto. This is where the action is.
You know what? The guy who found the site for the Grand Prix, and roughed out the course on the Expo Islands way back in 1977, lives not in Montreal, Que., but in Mississauga, Ont.
I bet Roger Peart would be very intrigued if Francois DuMontier called him up and asked him to nose around Toronto for places to stage the Grand Prix.
Who knows? Maybe he already has.