F1, the Pinnacle of Motorsport has races spanning 5 Continents. The Canadian GP is one race that has been a regular feature on the Calendar. The teams make the journey trans-Atlantic post the glamorous Monaco GP to race at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve situated close to the city of Montreal in the State of Quebec.
The circuit is named after Gilles Villeneuve a McLaren and then a Ferrari driver ( father of 1997 F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve ). He enjoyed a close relationship with the Ferrari Supremo Enzo Ferrari. There is also a Bronze Bust of him at Fiorani, Ferrari's test track in Maranello, Italy.
The circuit has produced some memorable races over the years, most notably the 2011 Canadian GP which was the longest race in the history of F1. Who can forget the horrific crash of Robert Kubica in 2007 only for the Polish Driver to return and have his maiden win at the same circuit a year later! Turns like the Senna S, the Hairpin Curve are well known but the most notorious of these is the Wall Of Champions.. just after the last turn which has ended races of so many racers ( champions included ).
Canada might be an ocean apart but its a must-visit for all F1 Fans.
The Circuit sees a lot of visitors over a race weekend coming from all over the world. I had the opportunity to attend the 2019 Canadian GP, well known for the controversy that unfolded after the Stewards handed Sebastian Vettel a time penalty of 5 seconds for dangerously rejoining the track ( while leading the race ) thereby gifting the win to Lewis Hamilton. This circuit has characteristics similar to those at Albert Park in Melbourne ( where the season opener is held ) but offers a lot of overtaking opportunities throughout a lap.
A new Paddock Club building was built in 2019 and its quite a sight to behold!
My Experience over the Weekend is shared here :
The Circuit Layout :
Official Website :
The Circuit is located on an Island on Saint Lawrence River, minutes away from Downtown Montreal. It can house up to 300000 spectators over a weekend and its proximity to a city ensures that there aren't too many challenges with regards to commuting ( more on that later ). Montreal itself becomes a big party destination with events happening all over the city, exotic supercars plying up and down the streets all night, fans socializing at roadside pubs and eateries..it can get quite crowded, even for pedestrians! The police and the local authorities ensure that law and order are maintained throughout and kudos to the locals for being ever so respectful to their visitors. There a few good eateries that tend to shut fairly early in the evening so one must plan for their dinner accordingly!
Closest Airports :
Pierre-Elliot Trudeau International Airport ( YUL ), is a major International Hub with airline connections to Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
Airlines like Emirates, however, don't offer direct flights to Montreal but one can fly into Toronto Pearson International Airport ( YYZ ) and then take a domestic flight to Montreal. Flight Time from there is approximately 75 minutes. Some travellers opt for car hire or train service from Toronto and drive up to Montreal, the journey taking about 5 hours.
Montreal is also well connected to multiple cities in USA with airports in New York, Newark and Washington DC offering the shortest flight time of about 90 minutes. These cities are major hubs for Airlines from the Middle East, the Far East and Down Under. However, do note that Immigration formalities would have to be completed on either side if one opts to fly this route.
I flew Emirates to New York ( JFK ) and then later flew to Montreal ( YUL ) from Newark ( EWR ) on United Airlines.
The Emirates Flight Experience to New York JFK is shared here :
Most Airlines in the Americas charge for check-in bags, so its best to read up on Airline Baggage policies when booking connecting flights.
The shorter flights also have limited cabin space and most of us had to check in our carry-on bags while boarding ( which were returned to us at the aero-bridge while disembarking ), this meant removing laptops, power banks and any other Li-ion powered devices!
Where to Stay :
The proximity of the circuit to Montreal means that accommodation in the city isn't cheap. However, there are a lot of options from Hostels to Luxury Hotels. It is advisable to book well in advance and most are non-refundable rates. The city is well connected by taxis and public transport services so commuting isn't a challenge. It is not uncommon to see F1 Drivers on the streets, often riding bikes!
I chose to stay at Hilton Garden Inn Montreal Centre-Ville which has some good restaurants and cafes in its vicinity. McLaren F1 Team also stay here for the weekend! It is a 20 to 25-minute drive to the circuit from Centre-Ville.
Mount Royal, the name of the hill from where the city gets its name is worth the hike in the mornings. It offers some brilliant views of the city. The area also has some stay options with good places to wine and dine.
I don't think there is a camping facility at the circuit ( I might be wrong here ).
Circuit Access :
The circuit is situated on an island ( as mentioned earlier ) so has limited entry points by road. I had to collect my passes from near the Jean-Drapeau Metro Station on Friday and I hailed a Taxi. It dropped me close to the Biosphere Environmental Museum. There was a lot of traffic and I had to walk for a mile to save time. ( Do Not Use this Option! )
Post Collection of Tickets, there was a Circuit Shuttle to the Casino de Montreal, a Casino on the Island from where the Access to the Paddock Club is another walk. Different shuttles are plying to different parts of the Circuit and there are considerable lines at the stops.
If travelling by taxi, then it is best to ask the driver for a drop-off at Casino de Montreal which is like a hub and then one can walk to the stand or opt for a Shuttle ( if the grandstand is on the other side of the island ). It is one of the easiest places to queue for a cab on the return journey as well. If lucky, one can even bump into F1 reporters, ex drivers and other distinguished guests! For Paddock Club and VIP Guests its a short walk from Casino de Montreal, through an access gate, over the bridge and then into a Paddock Club Shuttle Boat to the Paddock / Paddock Club! It is quite a unique way to check-in at the circuit. Uber is also available in Montreal.
The easiest way to get to the circuit is by Metro, something that a couple of my friends used to get in and out of the Island. Jean-Drapeau Station is situated on the Yellow Line and commutes time can vary between 10 to 40 minutes. Regular Services run throughout the weekend and it can get quite crowded on a Sunday evening post-race, so wait out for a couple of hours at the circuit.
There are one day and multi-day rail passes on offer as well! Once at the Station, Entry Gates to the circuit can be accessed via 2 bridges, either by foot or one can take a shuttle bus that connects to the Casino. The Cosmos Bridge is closer to the stands near the Hairpin Curve, The Concorde Bridge offers access to the other Grand Stands of the circuit..its advisable to have comfortable walking shoes since its quite a trek.
F1 Village, Fan Zones :
This was one track where I couldn't find a designated zone big enough to be termed as an "F1 Village". Merchandising Outlets are scattered all over and the options on offer are limited. The long walks to those outlets can be deal-breakers. The story is pretty similar with regards to food trackside - limited options and exorbitant prices. Thankfully food stands are in the vicinity of the grandstands. I do hope the Organisers have a relook at this.
Fan Experiences :
Three Day Ticketholders are entitled to Track Walks and Pit Lane Walks on Thursday. There is also a Drivers' Autograph session held on Thursday. The Casino which is situated in the middle of the circuit is one of the largest in the world. Fans can spend their evenings there to unwind and wait for the crowds to leave immediately after a session. The Support Race Paddock which houses the Ferrari Challenge Cars and the Porsche Cup cars is a must-visit. It is close to the Hairpin Curve and the cars line up on the service road which runs parallel to the Back Straight. They make their way onto the track through one of the marshalling gates on the straight. It is a great way to capture some shots of these beauties!
F1 Experiences also offer upgrades on tickets with Guided Paddock Tours, Private Podium Visits, Guided Track Truck Tours, Guided Pit Lane Tours, Photo Op with the Race Winning Trophy and the exclusive but expensive Pirelli Hot Laps Experience!
The atmosphere in Montreal over the three days is electric! The streets are crowded with fans socialising late into the night and there is a great vibe to the place. Once the sun rises, the folk flock to the island for their share of racing! There are great sights to visit just outside Montreal as well ( places like Quebec City & Montmorency Falls which is higher than the Niagara Falls ).
There are certain things at the circuit that need re-working on - the merchandising and food options, better connectivity and frequency of the circuit shuttles and I hope the organisers strive to improve the experience for one and all.
I most definitely plan on visiting the circuit again..if not this year then definitely in 2021.