F1 Canadian Grand Prix: 7 things I learned attending the race in 2024

MONTREAL — Having just returned from a lovely trip to Quebec in order to witness the 2024 Canadian Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on Notre Dame Island, I couldn't help but compare and contrast this experience with my last in Formula 1 at the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix. The differences between the two events are as stark as those between the two cities that hosted them. The driver who crossed the finish line in first place may have been the same, but how we got to that point was very different. Here are seven things I learned, along with some thoughts on the future of the long-running Grand Prix.

The on-track action was spectacular

First and foremost, Formula 1 is about racing and the results on the track. And this season, the race did not disappoint. We’ll touch on the weather in this recap, but suffice it to say it added to the intrigue. Numerous lead changes throughout the 70-lap race, two safety car periods, pit stop strategy and tire choice all played a role, as, of course, did driver skill and vehicle performance.

In the end, Max Verstappen won the event for the third straight year. But a podium that includes three different teams from three different constructors is a recipe for fun.

Weather makes for more challenges, more risks and more rewards

On to the weather. Yes, it rained. Quite a bit, and quite hard at times. I got caught in a freak hailstorm that ended up flooding some team hospitality tents, and then several times more over the course of the weekend’s festivities.

But while rain can cause headaches for organizers and attendees alike, it also adds a lot of strategies for teams to consider. Get most things right, as did Red Bull Racing and Max Verstappen — with the notable exception of a decision to have Sergio Perez drive an unsafe car on the track in an effort to protect Verstappen’s position, leading to a three-position penalty at the upcoming Spanish Grand Prix — and you end up atop the podium.

The locals seem okay with the event

As the second-largest metro area in Canada and the 10th largest in North America, Montreal is far from the biggest city to host a Formula 1 race in 2024. But the local residents are seemingly very accustomed to the yearly event. Compared to the Las Vegas Grand Prix that I attended last season, which was the first running of that particular race, the Canadian Grand Prix felt like a well-oiled machine.

The city and its residents seem eager to please race attendees with lots of events tailored to the incoming clientele. When we flew out (which we did first thing the next morning in an attempt to beat the rush), the airport was packed, but we didn’t hear many complaints.

Here are some fun facts:

  • Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton are tied at the top of the leaderboard with 7 wins each in Montreal.

  • Nelson Piquet and Verstappen are next with 3 wins each

  • Ferrari leads the overall constructors board with 14 wins, followed by McLaren with 13, Williams with 7 and Red Bull with 5

  • Ford, perhaps surprisingly to those who only recently became fans of the series, Ford’s 12 victories as an engine supplier is only 2 down from the leader, Ferrari

  • The “Wall of Champions” is so named because of its propensity to be the area where top championship-winning drivers crash. Victims include such storied drivers as Schumacher, Damon Hill, Sebastian Vettel and Jacques Villeneuve.

But the event is showing some cracks

The track layout is generally appreciated by drivers, it’s pretty tight with close barriers in many sections. And while the overall look and feel of the complex is crisp and clean, it’s also getting pretty old. But a much bigger issue one of smallness. Notre Dame Island isn’t all that big, and basically every square meter is taken up by the track and its related facilities. That means parking is basically non-existent, leading to long lines for pedestrians and shuttles alike.

The main connection to the island crosses a bridge that is the source of many traffic delays. A climate-related protest snarled the flow of vehicles for over an hour, and while that didn’t actually affect any on-track action, it did mean plenty of fans were kept out. We’re not going to use this space to comment on the environmental friendliness of racing, other than to say it isn’t friendly at all, but traffic jams and blockages that lead to additional idling aren’t either.

This years cracks stood out like a sore thumb

Massive queues, general congestion, muddy parking lots and poor communication from race organizers were all problems at the 2024 Canadian Grand Prix. But more bad headlines also surrounded the fans attending the event.

American musician Pitbull canceled an event on Saturday, leaving fans standing in the rain with no entertainment to make it feel worthwhile. “Due to transportation issues, we weren’t able to make it tonight, and those are things that are out of our control,” he said.

Worse (due to its inherent safety implications), fans ran onto the track after the winners crossed the finish line but before every other car had done so. Human beings don’t stand a chance against 200-mile-per-hour pointy bits of carbon fiber and aluminum, naturally, so this is a significant problem. FIA stewards issued the following:

“A large group of spectators managed to break the security lines and accessed the track in several areas while the race was finishing and cars were still on track. The security measures and/or security officers and/or equipment which were expected to be in place for the Event were not either enforced or were not sufficient resulting in an unsafe environment for the spectators and drivers.

“The Promoter stated, in mitigation, that they would conduct a thorough investigation and take steps to remediate in time for the next event in Canada. They also expressed their disappointment as they had already invested significant resources in improving the safety measures, but apparently this did not have the desired effect.”

Octane Racing Group, the official name of the race promotion group, has until September 30, 2024, to “present a formal remediation plan to the FIA that adequately addresses the serious concerns above.”

It’s a staple of the calendar

The Canadian Grand Prix been going on since 1961 and has been located at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve since 1978. The track’s current 2.71-mile configuration has been constant since 2002, and a fast lap is in the 1:13-range.

It’s been run in mid-June since the early 1980s, which provides generally warm weather, but it’s also known to be affected by rain like it was in 2024. A claimed record attendance of 350,000 spectators indicates that the event is more popular today than ever.

Despite the aforementioned issues and the remediation plan to improve safety, an agreement between the circuit and F1 to operate the Canadian Grand Prix runs through 2031.

Will it be moved to a different week?

There’s plenty of scuttlebutt floating around regarding a potential shuffling of the schedule so that teams don’t have to travel across the Atlantic Ocean quite as often as they do now. Remember what we said about the environmental friendliness of racing in general? Well, it’s not cheap to move locations and ship cars, gear, computers, people and everything else back and forth either.

It seems like it would make more sense to bundle Montreal with some other North American races, of which there are a growing number. Might the Canadian Grand Prix run the week before or after the Miami Grand Prix? Our Magic 8 Balls say … stay tuned.

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