There will not
be a Canadian Grand Prix in 2009, after those attempting to resurrect the event in the face of financial problems decided that they could not meet the demands being made of them.
Despite having been a fixture since 1987, and with a history stretching back to the 1970s, Canada was dropped from the 2009 schedule after Bernie Ecclestone claimed that the event had fallen behind on the payments required for a spot on the calendar. The reported extent of the shortfall was denied by the organisers, although they admitted that there was an amount owing that had arisen from 'a contractual dispute' between Normand Legault, the executive director of promoter GPF1, and Ecclestone over the 2008 race.
Although talks had taken place between various levels of government and several parties that had expressed an interest in taking on the event - including, it was reported, the head of the famed Cirque du Soleil - officials have now given up on their attempts to save the race, blaming Ecclestone's 'unreasonable demands' - which required any future promoter to put up a government or bank guarantee of around $175m over the next five years - for the failure.
“We were constantly guided in our negotiations by principles of responsible management [but], despite our endeavours and those of the business community, the unreasonable demands of Formula One exceeded the taxpayer's ability to pay," Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay wrote in a joint statement issued on the official Ville de Montreal website.
"I would like to thank my colleagues from the federal and provincial governments and members of the business community who joined forces in an attempt to save the grand prix. Their concerted efforts attest to Montréal's vitality and could prove an opportunity for creating a development fund for new events of all kinds that would stimulate the economy, tourism and employment.”
Government ministers Raymond Bachand and Christian Paradis joined Tremblay in lamenting the loss of the grand prix, but agreed that Ecclestone's demands had put salvation beyond their means.
“Whenever the Grand Prix of Canada needed help from the government of Québec, we were there," Bachand pointed out, "We worked very hard over the past few weeks to ensure there would be a grand prix in Montréal, while staying fiscally responsible. We cannot meet Mr Ecclestone's unworkable demands. Unless he eases his requirements and adopts a different approach, there will be no grand prix in Montréal in 2009.”
Legault's retirement had left the government seeking a reputable promoter, experienced in organising major events and with 'the financial capacity to sustain grand prix operations' to take his place, but none was forthcoming, considering the limited revenue generated by the event insufficient to warrant the financial risk involved.
That prompted government representatives to consider setting up a non-profit organisation to take the place of a promoter, funded by the government and the local tourist industry, with weekend reports suggesting that the addition of 'one per cent GP tax' on hotel rooms could generate as much as $5 million a year, a figure which would be supplemented by $2.5m from both the Québec and Canadian federal governments to produce $10m.
Ecclestone, however, is demanding three times that amount and his unwillingness to reduce his demands - particularly with regard to the length of the contract and its financial guarantees - finally prompted those attempting a rescue to decide that the situation was unworkable.
“This is a loss for greater Montréal and for all Canadians," Paradis concluded, "The grand prix was a window on the world for Montréal and for the rest of Canada, and I would like to salute my predecessor, the Honourable Michael Fortier, for his efforts to save this event - efforts that were unfortunately unable to meet the unrealistic demands of Mr Ecclestone. As I recently said... 'yes to a grand prix, but not at any price'.”