The ultimate accolade for any politician is to have an airport named in your honour, although to be quite honest if an airport was named after one or two of the modern politicians I would prefer to fly elsewhere, as the naming of the airport indicates the political feelings of the city.
These, of course, change over time. If you follow such matters you will know that Jan Smuts International in Johannesburg is now called Oliver Tambo International.
In a world where little history is studied, kids probably don’t know much about John F Kennedy, but they will travel through JFK, they might also know CDG, without knowing the first thing about Charles de Gaulle. It’s the same with Napoleon Bonaparte Airport in Ajaccio, Ben Gurion in Tel Aviv and so on.
Montreal’s principal airport, once known as Dorval, is now known as Pierre Elliott Trudeau International, a former Prime Minister of Canada, and father of the current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
It needs work…
I used to love the place because it was the entry point to a city that I have always enjoyed, although I have never been in the winter – and do not wish to do so. Why? Because in the winter Montreal is cold. It is so cold, in fact, that the mighty St Lawrence River freezes over, which is hard to imagine in the summer months. The extreme cold is why Montreal boasts “La Ville Souterraine”, the world’s largest underground city. This consists of 20 miles of tunnel in a five square mile area. From this network one can access bus, train and metro stations, apartment blocks, hotels, offices, universities, shopping malls, concert halls, cinemas, the Bell Centre arena and, of course, cavernous parking lots. The underground city provides access to 80 percent of the city’s office space and every day in the winter around half a million troglodyte souls traverse these passageways.
If it is pouring with rain in the summer it is very useful because you can get across town without getting wet, although you need good navigational skills not to get lost in the maze. The good news is that unlike the multi-level railway stations in Tokyo, where even Marco Polo would get lost, there are people in Montreal who speak English and French, although their accents can make them utterly incomprehensible.
Generally-speaking I have a rule not to write too much about the stresses or strains of international travel, because people don’t really want to know, but sometimes these stories are worth telling, in order to get the airline or airport involved to get its act together, by hearing things said publicly they do not wish to hear. The litany of incompetence during this year’s trip to Montreal was the worst I have seen anywhere in the world in 39 years of non-stop travelling. And the same kind of disaster befell many other people. All three partners in our e-magazine GP+, travelling on entirely different itineraries, suffered serious multiple delays (more than eight hours) getting into Montreal – and all three lost our luggage (including cameras). The lost luggage service was there in name alone and after waiting the whole weekend for my bags, which had been promised within 24 hours, we went to the airport on Monday, hoping to see if any progress had been made because it was impossible to get any other information. On the off-chance it seemed sensible to take a look in the baggage hall rather than believing the people there and, sure enough, there it was, standing out from the crowd of black bags as it always has done. Clearly no-one had even tried to look for it.
Suffice to say, by the end of the weekend we had all sworn never to do business again with Air Canada and while we may not be able to avoid the airports (although it had been at least 15 years since my last visit to Toronto, when similar incompetence led to the decision to avoid the place at all costs), this took the pleasant edge off what is usually a joyful weekend.
If you asked a cross-section of the F1 Paddock to list their favourite races, the vast majority would include Montreal. It is a quirky and cosmopolitan city and it has always felt like a big party, with everyone staying in the downtown area and enjoying life a little bit more than usual. It helps, of course, that the Grand Prix coincides with the annual graduation ceremonies and proms. It is a joyful time. It is also Canada’s biggest annual party with as many as 450,000 people coming to town, although only a third of them attend the race. The rest are there to party, to drink, to dance and to canoodle. It is the most important weekend of the year for the city’s entrepreneurs. Hotels are fully booked and prices are up to 10 times normal rates. The problem with this is that there comes a point at which even F1 people decide that there must be better choices, which means that the circus disperses more widely, rents cars which means that everyone is more constrained in what they can do, and the sense of community disappears.
And of course the weather does not help because if it rains at the circuit team people stay inside their hospitality units.
So gossip was thin on the ground. The race attracted a three-day cumulative crowd of 338,000, which was a decent score, and the US TV audience averaged 1.7 million viewers, up 50.6 percent compared to 2019, the last time the race was held. Most exciting was the fact that F1 blitzed all other forms of motorsport in the 18-49 age group in the US and that it was the most-watched Canadian GP in American TV history. This is important as negotiations continue for the Formula 1 TV rights for the United States market. The word in Montreal was that a decision is now close and that there are three serious bidders Disney (which owns ESPN and ABC), Comcast’s NBC, and the TV streaming service Amazon Prime Video. The deal will go to one company, rather than being split up as NASCAR does, although there is a possibility that a small part of the rights may be carved out of the main deal, to provide non-live highlights to other audiences and thus push up the numbers still further.
F1 growth is very exciting at the moment, but for those who are hoping to see a 2023 calendar, there is going to be a bit of a wait, with an announcement not expected until the end of July. There will be some changes compared to this season and it seems that at the moment there are two different drafts of the 2023 calendar: one with 23 races, the other with 24. At the moment both drafts include the Monaco Grand Prix, although it is by no means certain that this will still be there. The difference in calendars appears to be the Chinese Grand Prix, as it is hard to know what the Chinese are going to do because of their attitude towards the COVID pandemic. One of the draft calendars includes a Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, the other does not, but this obviously impacts on other dates. Both drafts apparently include a South African GP, underlining F1’s desire to have its first race on the Africa continent since 1993. This will be at Kyalami, near Johannesburg, but there are still questions that need to be answered about the race because of ongoing political problems in the country.
The other new race will be Las Vegas. Obviously if you have a 22-race calendar in 2022 and you add three races (South Africa, China and Las Vegas), you reach a total of 25, and so some of the current events must disappear. Fortunately Russia has taken care of itself.
At the moment, so they say, France and Belgium are not on the 2023 schedule so I’m not quite sure how we would get to 24 races, but I guess this might relate to a notional new race in France. The suggestion made by Stefano Domenicali last week in an interview with the French sports daily L’Equipe is that there might be a French GP in Nice. Domenicali gave no details, but the rumour mill threw up that the idea is to lay out a street track around the Allianz Riviera stadium, in the Saint-Isidore district, in the Var valley to the west of the city, adjacent to the ring road that loops around Nice, en route to Monaco and the Italian border.
It is a relatively new neighbourhood, carved out of what used to be farmland, with the stadium opening in 2013. It is the home of the local soccer team OGC Nice and is used also by the Toulon rugby club. The only link to motorsport is that there is a street named after the late F1 driver Jules Bianchi, who died in 2015, after a crash in Japan in 2014. This would be incorporated into the circuit.
The history of racing in Nice is quite impressive and pre-dates Monaco, as the first Nice Speed Week was held in 1897, and the celebrated Nice-La Turbie hillclimb, one of the biggest early events, ran from 1901 onwards. There were land speed records set on the Promenade des Anglais and there was a Nice Grand Prix in the 1930s and then again post-war. The 1946 race is often said to have been the first event run to Formula 1 rules.
This all sounds rather a good idea, as F1 has decided against continuing with Paul Ricard and it suits the French Grand Prix promotion company, which is not dependent on Ricard and is headed by Christian Estrosi, the Mayor of Nice.
It is also convenient for F1 that the idea has come up as it is in deep negotiation with Monaco. The celebrated street track is just 12 miles to the east of Nice and while the latter cannot put an F1 track through its port and streets, it could (and should) be conceived as a threat to Monaco if F1 cannot get the deal it wants with the Automobile Club de Monaco.
The shape of the 2023 calendar may be a little different to today, but the signs are that it will begin with a big test/F1 launch in Bahrain, followed a week later by the first race. There will then be a weekend off before a race in Saudi Arabia, followed immediately by Australia. It is not clear what will happen after that because this is the time when China would be fitted in, perhaps back-to-back with Baku, or with South Africa slotting in there. It is clear when one tries to piece together the calendar that there are too many question marks to have any definitive answers. What is clear is that it looks like F1 will have to do two Transatlantic trips each spring as Miami is stuck in May and Montreal will not move from its June date. This is inefficient in every respect, but F1 is bound by contracts it agreed – or has to renegotiate… The desire remains to try to regionalise the calendar more than is the case today.
The desire to grow F1 in the Americas is stronger than ever and current team owners are unwilling to sell because they feel that the value of the teams will increase dramatically as the sport grows and all have big dollar signs in their eyes. The logic is that US sports investors come wading to try to make a profit.
If you don’t have at least $1 billion, however, there is not a lot of point in even trying to buy a team at the moment. Having said that, building a new team costs about the same when you take into account all the money needed and, in any case, a new team is unlikely to be as competitive as a well-established one. This is the frustration that currently exists for a number of people keen to become team owners, not least Audi and Michael Andretti, not to mention Hitech Grand Prix and some others still in the shadows.
There is no appetite within the sport at the moment to add new teams because no team wants to reduce its share of the revenues (even if they are increasing) and take on more rivals. Michael Andretti’s only real hope of being granted a new entry would be if he could bring Ford or General Motors into the sport, then the doors would open very quickly and an 11th team could be put together and everyone would see value in adding another manufacturer to F1.
If one cannot buy an existing team and it makes no sense to build a new one, the only way for those with ambition is to invade the sport from within. At any given time, a number of F1 teams are not being run very well, and so there is always potential for outsiders to be offered jobs if the team owners think they could find better management, if indeed the owners recognise that there is a problem – which is not always the case.
If you look back you can see this happening in the last 15 years with the likes of Christian Horner, Eric Boullier and Frederic Vasseur moving up from the junior formulae, with others such as Franz Tost, Jost Capito, Mike Krack, Andreas Seidl and Otmar Szafnauer coming in from manufacturer roles, and Gunther Steiner from running a successful composite business in the US.
There are not many team principals who have come through the ranks, with the obvious exception of Mattia Binotto and Sauber’s previous team principal Monisha Kaltenborn and one can, I suppose, add family members to this, notably Claire Williams, although in the distant past there were also folk like Bob Tyrrell, Ken Tyrrell’s son.
Toto Wolff is unusual in that he is an investor who has moved into management roles.
This is where, perhaps, there is potential for takeovers, with people offering both money and management skills and then gradually gaining ownership of a team from within. That was a route that allowed Ron Dennis to take control of McLaren way back in the early 1980s and how Wolff got into an executive role at Williams. One suspects that Zak Brown may be doing something similar at McLaren but shareholdings do not need to be declared until they reach a certain level, so for the moment there are only whispers that he is a shareholder. Those who bring in big sponsorships can sometimes take shares rather than a big commission…
The other way would be new to F1, but not unusual in the business world where weak companies are targeted by bigger players, who win control by buying up shares and gaining enough influence to oust the original owners. This is, to some extent, what happened when the late Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne won control of Chrysler back in 2014.
It was not unusual in the car industry for investors to kick out the founders of businesses. Henry Ford’s first company, the Detroit Automobile Company, was shut down by investors. His second, known as the Henry Ford Company, saw him ousted and the firm renamed Cadillac, and it was not until his third attempt that the Ford Motor Company emerged.
The same was true of Audi which emerged only because its founder August Horch was ousted from his own company in 1909 and so started a rival business called Audi. Horch in German means listen which translates into Latin as Audi.
Of the current F1 teams Mercedes, Ferrari, Aston Martin and Alpine all belong to listed companies, while there is now talk of McLaren being listed on the stock exchange at some point in the future.
It might not be easy but one can imagine someone seeing an opportunity to buy control of Aston Martin in this way in order to get control of the brand. Mercedes owns 20 percent of Aston Martin shares and, if it wished to offload these, a buyer could acquire them and then hoover up smaller shareholders (which make up more than 50 percent) by buying shares at a premium. Under current rules a purchaser would not have to declare a significant interest until they have 25 percent of the business, but there are all kinds of ways to gain control with, for example, debt-equity exchanges, in which debts are acquired and turned into shares, thus diluting the share value but making the company more solid. The devil is in the detail, but weak companies are exposed and disgruntled shareholders are prime targets.
There seemed to be little new on the driver front in Canada, although some of the known deals did get confirmed with AlphaTauri’s Franz Tost saying that Pierre Gasly will stay on in 2023. The other key point was that Montreal Otmar Szafnauer, Alpine’s team principal, said that that Oscar Piastri will be racing in F1 in 2023. This is no surprise as Alpine will lose control of the Australian if he does not have a race drive next year. There is presumably a date by which a deal must done by Alpine or Piastri can go to market as a free agent. Thus there is some pressure on Alpine to find him a seat.
The only obvious choice for him at the moment is Williams, where Nicholas Latifi will lose his drive at the end of the year, if things do not pick up. This has led to suggestions that Williams might change engines, but that makes little sense because it is too late for 2023 and that would mean only two years to get up to speed with the current engines in 2024 and 2025. It is probably better for Alpine and Williams to talk engine deals from 2026 and beyond. This is not a bad move for Williams as the team would become the second Renault team, rather than the fourth Mercedes operation.
It would also give Williams an impressive driver line-up and provide the team with time to develop its own young driver Logan Sargeant, who needs more time in Formula 2.
That aside there was little gossip in Montreal, although there were some interesting faces on the grid, including some people from Melbourne who had dropped in to look at the pit facility at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, as they need to start work on upgrading the facilities in Albert Park, which are now 25 years old and outdated. In much the same way, Steve Hill, the CEO and President of Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) was in Montreal to see how the Canadians run a Grand Prix. Las Vegas is making rapid progress in preparation for its first race in 2023 with the aim being to build a permanent three-storey pit facility similar to the one in Miami, with garages on the ground floor, hospitality on the second and on the roof, with Race Control and other necessary facilities integrated into it. This would be turned over to other uses for the rest of the year when F1 is not in town.
By Sunday night, everyone was keen to get home, although there were the delights of the airport and the flights home still to come. You know that tiresome moment at an airport when you (and your hand luggage) have to go through a security check. Working security is not an easy job – because people are in a hurry and do not like queuing. Things are bad at the moment and Montreal has adopted Disney-like policies of hiding queues. While one does not expect the security folk to be Rhodes Scholars, it is a job that can be done with grace or humour. It’s dull work, explaining why one cannot carry a whole tube of toothpaste, and confiscating nail scissors because they are lethal weapons…
With all the paraphernalia required by itinerant F1 journalists, it is not unusual to be stopped, but normally the security people quickly see that nothing is amiss and off you go to find the gate.
Alas, with a shortage of staff since the pandemic (the primary problem for all the troubles at the moment), there are new folk employed who do not have much experience. The security girl I encountered insisted that I had “a multi-tool” somewhere in my multi-pocketed bag.
“There isn’t,” I said, with as much patience as I could muster. No professional traveller carries a multi-tool. It is plain stupid. I’m not saying that she should instantly believe everything, but after 25 minutes going through my bag (no exaggeration), it all felt a bit too much, particularly as others were queued up behind waiting to have their bags inspected.
“You’ve already looked there,” I said, politely, on several occasions. She got excited when she found some pen refills, but could not figure out how these might be deemed to be murderous devices, although I was on the verge of showing her by that point. To be honest, I’ve known dogs that were smarter than this person, but finally there came a moment when she had to admit defeat. I was not a professional assassin, nor an international terrorist. She would not get promoted for finding my hidden weaponry. She shoved the plastic tray at me gracelessly, leaving the bag unpacked, as she did not have the mental capacity required to put it all back together again so it fitted. There was no “Sorry, I was wrong”, nor a “Sorry, I have wasted your time because I am incompetent”. With Air Canada at the moment there was no need for “Sorry, I’ve caused you to miss the flight”, because I doubt the airline managed to get a single flight out of Montreal on time last week.
As I walked away from this experience, I chuckled. There was one pocket that she never did find – even if it didn’t have a multi-tool in it…
Still, with every cloud there is a silver lining. The barman at least was good at his job…