Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Grand Prix du Canada, done right.

The past weekend marked the only North American stop on the Formula 1 calendar - until 2012 at least - held at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, Quebec. The circuit skirts tiny Île Notre-Dame and features some famous corners, including a hairpin and one named after racing deity Ayrton Senna. The course is a driver's favorite although this year's GP may have temporarily spoiled that sentiment, due to an unprecedented 2-hour rain delay. Quick recap: Mercedes Mclaren's Jenson Button stole what would have been another victory for Vettel, in lap 70. Out of 70! Button deserves the credit though, working his way from dead last at one point, making up for many pit stops, a tussle with team mate Lewis Hamilton, a speeding violation (they have those), weather etc. Also of note, is a 4th place finish from Shumacher, who is on the rise in his second season back from retirement. Hamilton, who has been successful here historically, was forced to retire. Kinda had that coming to him. Anyways, the point of this post is to shed some light on what to expect at a GP and how to do it right, and cost effectively.

Tip number one on the weekend: Do NOT plan a trip last minute. I decided to go to the Canadian Grand Prix just two days before the event. I had an amazing time, and being spontaneous is fun, however, you can save a lot of money if you book in advance. Fortunately I was able to cash in on some frequent flyer points, and didn't pay a cent for lodging. Had it not been for this though, the only hotel less than $100/night was 40 miles away from the race. The city takes the GP very seriously and staying downtown becomes a $500/night affair. Hostels are in the range of $30/night and a good option if you are traveling in a group, but they're almost exclusively 3-night minimum rental, so plan for that. Definitely book on Expedia and maybe they'll mess up and give a free upgrade to here...

Second: Buy general admission tickets. Well sure, if you have the money buy grandstand seats, over by Virage Senna being the best to watch overtaking. For the rest of us, a 3-day GA pass costs $110, which is cheaper than a single day in the stands. You will have to get to the track early to secure an un-obscured spot on the infield, but it will be worth it -there are other races while you wait. If you heed the advice from tip two then you will also need to follow tip 2a: BUY EARPLUGS. We sat about 15 feet from the cars mid-straight and I thought my ears were going to bleed.

Number three: BYOR (bring your own radio). Being at a Formula 1 race is kind of like observing a golf tournament from the 9th hole. Unless you can cover a lot of ground really quickly (~200mph), or are willing to shell out hundreds for seats you will have no idea what's going on. Alternatively you can camp out by a screen but you will be hard-pressed to do so unless you get there seriously early. No matter what time you arrive, you will be able to see the action, though. The earlier the less likely you will be looking through a tree.

Final tip: Pick your transportation wisely. Having a car is essentially useless because there is nowhere to park and there is a metro stop which lets you out right at the front gates of the track. I say this with somewhat of a bias after my car suffered a freak break-down, costing me a couple thousand dollars more than I had planned to spend in one weekend. Even still, there are metro stops scattered all around town and buses to take you to the stations, if you can catch them. Busing up is definitely the most reasonable way to go, $75 one-way from Boston at least, which is currently what you would pay in gas anyways.

Even if you do not follow Formula 1 going to a race is an incredible experience. The sounds of howling V8s revving to 18,000rpm and the brutal shotgun-esque downshifts alone are worth the price of admission. It truly is a symphony but watching the race unfold you realize that this sport does not exist solely for our entertainment. It is a business and a showcase of modern engineering for the companies who sponsor the teams. The cars have presence, they command your respect. Watching the drivers chase down the car in front of them is like watching a really loud game of chess. As was the case with Sebastian Vettel the simplest mental error can lose you a race. The Montreal atmosphere is great too, the locals get really into it and appreciate every ounce of heroic late-braking and high-speed overtaking. I highly recommend the Canadian Grand Prix to anyone and will certainly be back next year, definitely smarter, hopefully dryer.