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F1 FEATURE: The F1 Fan’s Complete Guide To The Canadian GP Experience

by on June 4, 2012

With Bernie Ecclestone constantly threatening GP venues, those of us who frequent certain circuits that we love are always in fear that it might be the last race.  In 2009, my fear became a reality only  two years after the US GP was also dropped, meaning F1 would not have a presence in North America. Similarly, my heart dropped when SPA-Francochamps and Imola were dropped.  Thankfully, Montreal and  SPA both made a comeback, but the threat always lingers, especially with the current economic climate and Bernie’s apparent fetish of foreign global markets.

If you are going to be one of the lucky few to make it to a GP this season, and one of them happens to be the Canadian GP, keep some of the following in mind.

Montreal is actually located on an island which edges on the eastern parts of central Canada, smack in the middle of the mighty St. Lawrence river in Quebec.  The changing landscapes provide a whole  spectrum of different weather conditions. Always bring a light jacket and carry an umbrella or poncho with you.

Montreal is a very fashion forward city, so bring your club duds for a hot night out of dancing and fun.  Showing up in one of the city’s fine dining establishments with ripped Jeans many not do you  any favors either when you’re trying to get a table.  Be sensible, bring comfortable clothing and most certainly comfortable shoes.  There will be much walking, either in and around the circuit,  downtown Montreal and down by the old Port (vieux du port) also known as Old Montreal.  You will find a myriad of terrain, from asphalt and concrete walkways, to cobblestone roads within the city, grass,  dirt (mud if wet), asphalt etc… on Isle Notre Dame (the island where the circuit is located).

Tip: bring a knapsack so your hands are free at all times.

Montreal offers a number of specialty stores, not unlike those in main European cities, prices are reasonable overall and selection is usually pretty good.  There is a distinct difference between the  shopping found downtown Montreal versus that which you would find in Old Montreal and certainly just outside the city which is slightly less expensive.  Check out the Eaton Center and various shops along Ste. Catherine street  in the city center and along the cobblestone roads of Old Montreal.

Montreal offers a very diverse culture and thus a menu that will please every palate.  Typical Canadian\Montreal fare is available for the experience, such as Poutine (which I call a Heart Attack  in a bowl – comprised of French fries, smothered in cheese curds and gravy).  You will find French Bistros, Italian restaurants, English Pubs, fast food chains and number of healthy selections  including Kosher and Halal options.  Beer is cheap in general and stronger than some may be ready to handle.  Drink a lot of water.  The water is safe to drink, unless you’ve fallen into the river in
which case, try not to swallow.

Regular favorites:

  • La Queue de Cheval Bar and Steak House: Among most prestigious fine dining Montreal restaurants, La Queue de Cheval Bar and Steak House specializes in USDA prime dry aged steak, seafood and more. 1234 Rue de la Montagne  Montreal, QC H3G 1P1 1-(514) 390-0091
  • Sapore Di Napoli: Italian home-style, for those looking to get out of the city-centre madness and enjoy good food with no fan-fare. Ask for Actor/Comedian and owner Guido Grasso and tell him Ernie sent you for the Nutella Pizza.  1465 Rue Dudemaine  1-(514) 335-1465 (Entrees under $10)
  •  Hurley’s Irish Pub: one of the best pubs in the City in the heart of the action 1225 Crescent St  Montreal, 1-(514) 861-4111
  • Bar-B-Barn: Chicken and Ribs BBQ family style restaurant: 1201 Rue Guy : 1-(514) 931-3811
  • Buona Notte: Italian Resto/bar. Not uncommon to find F1 people: 3518 Boulevard Saint-Laurent 1-(514) 848-0644
  • Thursdays: Resto-Lounge that always offers a memorable party 1449 Rue Crescent 1-(514) 288-5656
  • The Pub St. Paul: St Paul ,124 St-Paul East, Old Montreal
  • Les 3 Brasseurs Resto – Microbrewery Pub:  all over the city: visit for locations

Hotels sadly jack up their rates during the GP weekend.  It is not uncommon to pay more than twice the usual rates.  Some hotels charge a fee to park your vehicle each day so beware of this hidden  cost.  Try to book a hotel either in Old Montreal ( and Le St. Sulpice are my favourite), or anything in the downtown area.  As close to possible to St. Catherine and Crescent Street which is  the hub of the action.  Always pick a hotel on the subway line (Metro or Tube as it is more commonly known).

If you’re flying into Montreal, take a taxi to your hotel, most offer a flat rate – $38.00 CAD – Taxi fare from Trudeau airport to Downtown. While in the city, pick up a three-day Metro pass for less  than $20.  You can use it all weekend long to get anywhere in the city and you never have to worry about having that extra pint.  Keep in mind, the only way to get to the circuit on the neighbouring  island is by subway (underground public transit).  Give yourself plenty of time to get to and from the circuit as it will be very congested.  Avoid driving if at all possible, the traffic is stifling and Montreal is full of less than hospitable road warriors. (

The circuit:
Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is usually full of events and booths and beer tents.  There are more than a few places to spend your money but beware.  The prices at the circuit are not cheap, especially when  buying F1 licensed merchandise.  Go for a walk around the circuit if you get a chance before the weekend’s events.  Walk around the grounds to get familiar with the locations of the portable toilet  facilities, food stands and entertainment areas.  There is always a stage setup with pretty dancing-girls and a DJ giving away free t-shirts and other fun gear right by the beer tents while loud music
gets your feet moving.  You are allowed to bring your own sandwiches and beer to the circuit as long as it’s not in glass bottles.  Check the website for the dimensions of the cooler that is allowed to  ensure no problems are encountered. (

Where to Sit:
The casino hairpin offers perhaps the best view of the cars as you see them approach the hairpin from near top speed and violently braking before tip-toeing around one of the slowest corners in Formula One before they hit the apex and bury the throttle to unleash every ounce of horsepower available.  The sounds will send shivers up your spine, in part because the aluminum bleacher style grandstands tremble as the cars launch down towards the main straight.  Grandstands 21, 15, 24 and 34 offer the best view of the Hairpin. Avoid Grandstand 22 unless you want to get whiplash.  Alternatively, you may want to try Grandstand 33 for a mix of high and low speed action as well as Grandstands 12 and 11 in the Virage Senna just after the pit straight which are my favourite.

Night Life:
After the circuit activities are abundant.  Although the gates open up between 7am-8am each morning (beer tents are open for breakfast) and the circuit activities last until 6pm or so, many fans still somehow have energy to stay out most of the night and party until the wee hours.  Montreal will not disappoint as there are a number of parties all over the city.  Ste. Catherine street and Rue Crescent is the hub, but any street within a 10 mile radius and beyond will be hosting parties.  Some of which will be closed to transportation including Peel street. There are night clubs and bars with guest lists as long as the line-ups outside and private celebrity parties that you just might be able to find yourself stumbling upon if you happen to bump into the right people.  It’s all possible if you just keep your ears open and socialize.  In 2010, I bumped into the president of the Peel street merchants association that organized the party and live bands for the street festival.  While chatting with him, I got wind of a private party and jokingly asked what time I should be there.  I was handed a little red ticket with an address.  That was it, the rest is history, the pictures are posted online but are well guarded to protect the innocent.


From → Features, Formula One

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