For the first time in a while, the ball appears to be back in Montreal's court regarding the future of the much-missed Canadian Grand Prix – with race organisers adamant that there will be no progress in negotiations until the damaging FIA/FOTA civil war is resolved one way or another.
The Canadian Grand Prix dropped off the F1 calendar this year after promoter Normand Legault and the top flight's commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone fell out over unpaid revenues that the latter claimed were owed to him from previous years. What's more, the Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive was believed to be demanding a fee of some $175 million CDN for a new five-year contract, a figure the organisers were insistent was simply unviable.
With no financial agreement able to be found, the event was axed for 2009 – to the evident frustration of the sport's drivers, for whom the iconic Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on the Île Notre-Dame is one of the most popular and enjoyable of the season, and teams, with the North American market a significant one for the five manufacturers involved, who are pushing hard for a return.
It was not lost on those same drivers and teams – nor on Ecclestone – that the Turkish Grand Prix in Istanbul, which took Montreal's traditional early-June slot this year, was attended by just 36,000 spectators on race day, when the Canadian Grand Prix was regularly capable of attracting weekend crowds of nigh-on 300,000. The weekend also brought an estimated $100 million CDN to the city annually in terms of economic spin-offs and benefits and global exposure.
In recent weeks, however, Ecclestone has begun to make moves towards getting the grand prix re-instated, initiating conversations with François Dumontier with a view to engaging the track's NASCAR race organiser as the new promoter. The federal and provincial governments are understood to be prepared to contribute $5 million CDN financially to help seal the deal, with a similar amount coming from the City of Montreal by way of a hotel tax.
However, Montreal mayor Gerald Tremblay is adamant that there can be no agreement for as long as there is uncertainty regarding what 'F1' will actually be in 2010, with the general belief that any series without star names like Ferrari, McLaren, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso will lack the value and prestige of the current grid. A new deal is likely to come with the strict proviso that the 'big teams will be in Montreal'.
“It's important to us that the grand prix returns to Montreal,” Tremblay told The Canadian Press
, “and I think the teams want to come back. Ecclestone phoned me [in December], and said we want to meet with you because we want to come back to Montreal.
“There's a lot of things happening in the Formula 1 world presently, and we have to have strong commitments about the teams that are going to be here and the drivers that are going to be here. We'll see how it goes in the coming weeks and the coming months. They'll solve their problems, but when we sign a contract with someone, we want to ensure that they are in control of the situation.”