There’s something about this place, something at once both old-school and ultra-modern. The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve at race time in early June is a unique venue for an F1 race.
Sure, I know you know the circuit winds its way around a man-made island in the Saint Lawrence River, bizarre ‘vision-of-the-future’ Expo ’67 buildings dotted here and there alongside the crumbling, weather-beaten concrete of oh-so-70s-looking grandstands sitting empty, monuments to the financially ruinous Summer Olympics of 1976 – but, if you haven’t been fortunate enough to attend, what you may not appreciate is the special and distinctive atmosphere of this popular street-circuit grand prix.
Happy smiling faces, a buzz in the air, the smell of barbecued food, older fans wearing vintage F1 kit, often with their sons and daughters resplendent in the latest team apparel, all of them excited and expectant. Travelling to Montreal from all over Canada and the United States this is a knowledgeable crowd, many of them steeped in a generational appreciation of race cars that don’t simply turn left.
As the cars take to the track – more often than not under bright blue skies – clapping, cheering and the obligatory North American whooping can be heard. There’s a distinct atmosphere that is infectious in its vibe.
Of course you probably won’t have read about any of this from my press room colleagues. Hunkered down over their housebrick-like PCs they tap doom-laden prognostications upon their grubby keyboards. Revelling in an air of negativity, foretelling the imminent demise of a sport that serves them so well.
Of course I know that Formula 1 is in a tricky place right now. After 27 years of photographing the sport I’m fully aware that things need fixing. The sport’s direction, attitude, geriatric mindset, marketing uselessness, heads stuck in the sand (or should that be trough), etc, etc, all need a major overhaul – and, seriously, whoever put the squabbling teams in charge of the future of F1 really does need their head read.
Constructive criticism and sensible suggestions – a reintroduction of mid-race refuelling not being one of them – can help, but the one thing that is guaranteed to bring the whole party crashing down is to constantly talk it down.
It’s a sad state of affairs when the biggest smiles I saw on most journalists’ faces in Montreal came following Fernando Alonso’s (understandable) mid-race radio rant dismissing his team’s fuel-saving request. All those pre-planned ‘Civil war at McLaren’ headlines could be gleefully input.
It’s a shame that some of my press room colleagues don’t get out a little more. One session spent at the nearest corner to the Monaco paddock doesn’t really cut it if one is to get a true appreciation of F1 2015.
Trackside at Turns Two, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine and Ten it’s a different story. Fans who’ve waited a year to see their heroes race their gorgeous and technologically fantastic machines are revelling in the sights, sounds, smell and spectacle of thoroughbred F1 cars, and are having a great weekend.
Imagine their disappointment when they return home full of F1 fever only to read that what they’ve actually just witnessed was just about the dullest day out anyone could ever have (not) hoped for…
Overly positive and confident of the sport’s ability to endure, maybe it’s me who’s wrong and F1 is indeed heading for the scrap heap. But I hope not.
Perhaps the guys laid back on the grass at Turn Two with ten laps to go on Sunday afternoon had the right idea. Beer can in one hand, reefa in the other, F1 seen through a blue-grey fog of sweet-smelling marijuana smoke making everything appear positive.