MONTREAL – Throngs of race-loving glitterati and the roar of Formula One cars seem poised to return to Montreal with reports of a deal being struck between Canadian Grand Prix organizers and F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone.
City officials aren’t talking about any plans to reinstate the race, which is a cash cow for Montreal businesses and city, federal and provincial tax coffers but Ecclestone has said a deal appears to be approaching the finish line.
Ecclestone told the latest edition of Motorsport Aktuell magazine that “we’ll be driving in Montreal again in 2010.”
Montreal was dropped from the 2009 F1 calendar after negotiations with race organizers collapsed. F1 wanted $175 million to keep the Montreal race on the 2009 schedule but organizers and government balked.
It was the first time in more than 20 years that F1 cars had not speeded around a Montreal track, leaving stores and bar patios bereft of the crowds of tourists that flock to the race. Many businesses moaned they had lost their most lucrative period of the year.
News that Ecclestone and F1 are looking favourably on Montreal was greeted excitedly by former F1 champ Jacques Villeneuve.
“That’s amazing news,” Villeneuve told The Canadian Press. “It’s the biggest event of the year. It was a little dull (without the Grand Prix) and financially it helps everyone.”
He said Montreal was “a fun weekend, a party weekend” for F1 drivers and teams.
“And the race was always exciting.”
Villeneuve said he wants to return to Formula One, adding “there is nothing on tap now, but it takes time.”
Alain Creton, head of the Peel Street Merchants’ Association, said the official silence likely means negotiations are in the home stretch and a dollar figure is still being worked out.
“He probably wants to get more money from them,” Creton said of Ecclestone, suggesting the F1 head’s pronouncement is probably a negotiating tactic to push bargaining to a quick conclusion.
He noted Ecclestone is well aware of the support for the race in Montreal and how much the city wants it back. Creton added that Ecclestone is also smarting from the loss of BMW from the F1 circuit and that also makes reinstating the lucrative Montreal race more attractive.
Creton said the loss of the race hit merchants hard, especially in his downtown area which is dotted with stores, bars and restaurants favoured by the well-heeled F1 crowd.
“It’s a lot of money for everybody in Montreal,” he said, pointing out that the loss of the race meant fewer jobs and the loss of about $80 million in revenues, a good chunk of that landing in city, provincial and federal tax coffers.
“The impact was more severe this year than any other years first because there’s a recession and . . . on top of that the weather is up and down.”