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Trip Report Montreal Race Weekend - Grand Prix F1

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Didn't find much info/tips for this event weekend so thought I'd post a quick one for future lurkers. DH is a long-time Formula One fan; me not at all but I put this first-time-to-a-race trip together for him.

Most lodgings, even ones on AirBnB, jack their prices three-fold for this weekend. A bit too gouging for my sensitivities. Book as far in advance as possible. We ended up at a B&B that did not gouge and turned out to be eclectic but great: Alacoque B&B - centrally located, very clean room (tho tiny ensuite) and budget-priced.

The Métro (subway stn Jean Drapeau) is definitely the way to travel to the event. It was very crowded but orderly. On Saturday and Sunday, there were a lot of police and transit staff at the station directing the human flow. We bought a three-day pass ($18); there is also a unlimited weekend pass that starts Fri 6pm that is cheaper ($12) but we went with the 3-day pass as we wanted the flexibility to leave earlier on Friday as the dark skies threatened a downpour and we knew we wouldn't want to sit in it all day. Just tap your pass on top of the turnstile - it does not feed into the machine.

From the Métro, there are two bridges available to access the island where the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve is located. The fastest way to get to the Grandstands 1, 2, 11, 12 and 33 is to turn right and take the pathway alongside the basin and the fountains located outside the subway station. You can then take the Concorde Bridge and follow the signs.
To reach the grandstands 15, 21, 22, 24, 31 and 34, turn left after the subway station building, cross the Cosmos Bridge and follow the signs. We weren't sure exactly where we were going but it's very easy - just decide whether you are turning left or right and then follow the crowds. The right path definitely had less people on it.

Race day Sunday was the busiest day of the three. If you are going to use the Concorde Bridge, and you can catch the 777 bus right outside Jean Drapeau, it would cut down about half of the walking. I thought the bus would be packed but when we saw it stop at the casino, it definitely was not!

There is a lot of walking from the Métro to the race track, and to the seating sections. My guess about a mile to mile & a half. Allow plenty of time from downtown to ride the Métro and get to your seats.

On Sunday after the race, spectators can walk along the race track, which DH thought was pretty cool, including seeing the rubber bits that had peeled off of the tires. At the Métro station, it was incredibly busy, with queues well out the doors many people deep. However, there were staff outside the doors to keep order somewhat and to ensure that people had their transit tickets/passes before they arrived at the turnstiles. There were also staff at each turnstile to ensure continuous flow thru them, and a lot of staff on the platforms directing people. Very well done, and despite the throngs, it did not take long as extra trains run to handle the crowds.

We bought a Gold Trio seating pkg that had a different seat for each day: Section 31 near the S-curve, Sec 15 at the hairpin, and Grandstand 1 across from the pitstops and the start/finish line. I like the hairpin action the most, while DH liked Sec 31. It was neat to see the pits area once but would sit elsewhere if we ever go again. During some of the other races, we walked around the track to see what the sightlines would be from different seating sections. We bought online from a European reseller as there appeared to be no more of these types of tickets available. There were tickets available at the track still, tho I'm unsure of where the seats were.

The Grandstands 1 & 2 have plastic seats with fold up backs. The other stands we sat and saw had metal bleacher-type seating. We brought stadium cushions which really helped with cushioning us from the cold and wet seats. I imagine they would be useful on hot days too.

I was unable to find an exact seating chart so only knew what Section we were in. I thought I knew how far up were were but was surprised when we saw that the rows start at AA. In Section 31 it went from AA to KK before Row A. In Section 15, it went from AA to ZZ so if you had Row A, it was actually Row 27. At first I was concerned but then realized all the seats were probably good seats. However, I prefer to be a bit higher up see a greater range of the track, rather than at ground level. The last row seemed very popular with true fans flying their flags up there, and standing to watch.

Event staff checked tickets before allowing spectators into the stands even tho on Fri & Sat practices there were lots of empty seating. On Sat's qualifying F1 race, we had to ask people to leave our seats as there was nothing close by. Other times if someone sat at our seats, we just sat nearby instead.

General admission tickets were blocked from passing a certain point which included the straight back stretch which led to Grandstands 1 & 2. Other than that, GA tix were allowed everywhere and there were lots of people with picnic spreads in certain viewing areas.

Besides the F1 race, there were three other supporting races: Porsche GT3, Ferrari, Formula 1600, and Canadian Touring Car Championship. It seemed like these were amateur racers and there was a lot of wall crashes and run-ins. We watched most of the practices, qualifying and final races and it was entertaining enough but we didn't hesitate to walk around or leave early and miss them either.

Remember to bring ear plugs, sunscreen, ponchos, hat and water. Merchandise was very expensive - least expensive polo shirts were $50 but most were around $90. There were lots of vendors, both general F1 and team-specific.

Spectators are free to bring in their own food and drinks (no glass, and coolers are to fit underneath your seat). There are many food vendors. Seemed like everything started at $5: hotdog, slice of pizza, etc. Mostly it was pretty expensive, like the Belgian waffle we had that was the size of the palm of a small hand ($6). We really enjoyed some "Puffs", fried dough balls smothered in chocolate (or honey or powder or cinnamon sugar) and would have bought more but were sitting too far away the next day.

Overall, I thought the organizers did a very good job with signage, adequate numbers of food vendors, porta-potties, and courteous & friendly staff. Some lines were long but if you kept walking, the next bank of them would have shorter lines. Surprisingly, there were a fair number of real restrooms as part of the island's permanent infrastructure.

When we were tired and hungry on Friday, we decided to go to the casino for dinner. Turned out to be a great move as we avoided the Métro queues and the casino was nearly empty. We got cleaned up in the restrooms, coat-checked our bags, and when we went to the buffet, were seated immediately. The buffet was small but of good quality. Afterwards, the bus (777) from the casino went right to the Métro stn, which saved a 15 min walk back.

Crescent Street had a couple of street parties which seemed lively, and St Laurent also had a closed off section. We only went to check it out on Saturday nite, but wetness and all-day threatening rain seemed to put a damper on the festivities on St Laurent where it just seemed like dressed up folks outside a couple of restaurants, most places had tents set up and lots of empty tables. I did a google search and about.com has a pretty good run down of the events about 10 days out.

We met up with local friends at the Crescent Str party and they suggested we head to Reuben's on St. Catherines for dinner. It was a boisterous atmosphere and they handled the hungry crowd well (40 min wait). The food was good but the delicious looking desserts were a great let down. Their famous amazing looking strawberry cheesecake had no flavour - we usually finish our desserts but left more than half of it. The chocolate cheesecake had a cake crust which was strange. Would return for the food only.

We'd visited Montreal 3 times before and this time found that the stores and locals were much more friendly and patient with Anglophones. I tried to speak French but as soon as it was obvious that I lacked fluency, they switched to English immediately and seemingly without resentment. It seemed like French language laws had been strengthened in the last few years, so I was surprised by this. My local friend said that it is because Montreal businesses are suffering; I noticed quite a few shuttered storefronts as well but of course this is anecdotal.

All in all a successful trip as the goal was for DH to finally have a trip that was for him, and he had a good time. If he wants another F1 experience, I'd agree but would not suggest it again. As for Montreal, we will definitely be back; it was disappointing to just be going to/from the track rather than wandering her neighbourhoods enjoying the streetmosphere and cafés.

Enjoy-la!

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