It appears the door has not been entirely closed on the possibility of the Canadian Grand Prix returning to the Formula 1 calendar in 2009 - as long as a new race promoter is found.

That was the message delivered by Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay, Qu?bec economic development minister Raymond Bachand and federal minister of international trade Michael Fortier following a meeting with the sport's commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone in London yesterday (Thursday).

Shockwaves were sent through the F1 paddock when the event - held since 1987 around the iconic Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on Montreal's picturesque ?le Notre-Dame - was axed last month when the FIA surprisingly revealed the provisional 2009 calendar without any North American outings for the first time in half a century.

The subsequent disappearance of the French Grand Prix, however, has potentially left a slot free again - and it is a slot the country's politicians are eagerly chasing, subject to the resolution of a financial disagreement between outgoing race promoter Grand Prix du Canada and Ecclestone's Formula One Management Company

"We've had a very good, constructive meeting with Bernie Ecclestone and we have a better understanding of the issues and the challenges we are facing," Tremblay is quoted by international news agency Reuters as having revealed after the meeting.

"We still have a lot of work to do to evaluate all the options, but I think the signs were encouraging and it is still possible to hold the grand prix in Montreal in 2009 and in subsequent years."

The dispute is believed to relate to significant unpaid debts from the 2008 event, though Grand Prix du Canada marketing vice-president Paul Wilson has issued a statement rebuffing any suggestions of the company defaulting on payments in 2006 and 2007.

"It is true that we have a commercial disagreement regarding our monetary obligations," he acknowledged, "but only for 2008. This is the result of an historical difference within the contractual understanding between the two parties.

"We were working hard to resolve the matter in order to meet our 2008 obligations when Mr Ecclestone, without notice, surprised everyone by unilaterally dropping the Canadian Grand Prix from the 2009 FIA schedule on 7 October."

The search is now on to find a new, 'private sector' promoter for the popular event, with Bachand stating that should hotels, restaurants and other businesses be willing to get involved, then so will the various levels of local and national government.

"We must find a promoter, someone to run [it]," he told the Canadian Press, hinting moreover that the race may have to be twinned with other cultural events in the city in the future in order for it to be viable. "We must come up with a responsible financial project that makes sense to Mr Ecclestone and to Montrealers.

"If the [grand prix] survives, who will be the promoter, the organiser?" added Fortier. "That's the question."

Fortier is known to have been in discussions with Cirque du Soleil founder and F1 expert Guy Lalibert? - a link played down by spokeswoman Ren?-Claude Menard.

"The only role that Guy is playing has been as a consultant, that's all," she insisted when pressed on the issue by French-language Canadian news agency La Presse Canadienne. "Right now, we're just keeping a close eye on any subsequent developments."

"[Lalibert?] knows Ecclestone very well and so I got his advice on the racing world," added Fortier. "It was very useful."

It has been suggested that up to $30 million is required to see the race re-instated on the F1 schedule, but it has equally been calculated that the grand prix generates as much as $100 million per year in terms of revenue, tourism income and economic benefits to Montreal.

"It will be a reasonable amount," Bachand told Montreal newspaper The Gazette on the subject of how much public funding needs to be found, "[but] it will be well under the [amount of] cash we, the taxpayers of Qu?bec, get in our pockets when Americans, other Canadians and Europeans come here and spend money for the event."

"Anyone else who is interested should give us a call right away," added Tremblay, who confirmed that he and Bachand have already been contacted by potential business partners and investors.

"Many people have offered to help," confirmed Fortier, "but they are all part of the elements we would need to evaluate in the coming days to determine if the grand prix will survive and who will be the promoter and organiser."

Indeed, the Peel St. Merchants' Association has acknowledged that it is considering contributing to regain the grand prix, with spokesman Alain Creton - who successfully raised $200,000 within 24 hours when the race was previously cancelled back in 2003 - pointing to the ability of hotels to double their room rates when F1 is in town.

"We want the grand prix at all costs, but not at any price," he asserted. "Hosting the grand prix is like having the Grey Cup and the Stanley Cup in the same year. Everyone wants the grand prix back.

"We are telling the mayor we are behind him, and that we'll get the money needed...[but] if we say we can pay Ecclestone $20 million, he will ask for $25 million."

Whilst Ecclestone had suggested that there was no way back for Montreal in 2009 - claiming the teams 'want 17 races, and that's what they've got' - he may yet find himself swayed by the manufacturers' mounting anger that there is no grand prix in North America, for many of them the most crucial market in the world.

"It's the opposite of what we want to see," BMW Motorsport Director Dr Mario Theissen - whose team took its maiden grand prix victory in Montreal earlier this year courtesy of Robert Kubica - is quoted as having said by Reuters. "The intention should be not to step out of this market but just the opposite - to use Montreal as door-opener for a future US race as well."


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