The Way It Is: An open letter to Bernie and Max.

Dear Bernie and Max,

Sorry we won't see either of your charming faces anyplace in North America next year. I know you guys have much bigger fish to fry in today's fast-changing world than messing around in the United States, least of all Canada.

Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley
Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley
© Crash Dot Net Ltd

Dear Bernie and Max,

Sorry we won't see either of your charming faces anyplace in North America next year. I know you guys have much bigger fish to fry in today's fast-changing world than messing around in the United States, least of all Canada.

I mean, if any country is less relevant than the United States to the forward thinkers of F1, it must be Canada. Surely, the great white north is too milquetoast, too remote, too much a part of yesterday's world. After all, would you run an F1 race in Sweden or Finland? Of course not.

Also, Canada has always been the butt of jokes in the United States and I know some F1 people found Montreal a bit on the quaint side, if not entirely provincial. So you must be relieved to move on.

I've got to give it to you guys for the great success you've had with the global expansion of F1 into Malaysia, Bahrain, Turkey, Shanghai, Singapore and Abu Dhabi too in '09. If I read my world map correctly you've established four races in Asia washed by the North and East China Seas and two more races on the Persian Gulf plus Istanbul where F1 will be racing next June 7 rather than Montreal.

You guys have correctly got your eyes fixed on the markets that are booming or seem ripe for growth, even in today's bleak economic times. Russia and India remain as two nuts you need to crack, but I'm sure you're working on both.

Surely, you are the Masters of the Universe when it comes to big-time sport. You guys make the International Olympic Committee look like a bunch of amateurs and Chris Pook hit the nail on the head after his visit last month to the Italian GP at Monza.

"The paddock is really impressive," Pook remarked. "The hospitality and the level of presentation has risen to an amazing height. They're pulling in investment from around the world - China, Russia, the Arabian countries. It's staggering and it just doesn't stop. It's the premier global series, without any doubt, and I was staggered as well by the number of Americans there were at Monza."

It was ironically amusing that Pook pointed to Montreal's Canadian Grand Prix as a fine example that F1 can be successful in America.

"Look at Canada. Normand (Legault) pulls 115,000 people there for each of the three days. So it can be done. You've got to have the proper venue and proper track."

Of course, everyone knows it's all about the money. Forget the fans, the crowds and the enthusiasm. Forget the sport's history and any respect for the value and excitement those things add to a race like Montreal's Canadian Grand Prix.

It turns out it doesn't mean anything that promoter Normand Legault was able to pull almost 100,000 people onto Ile Notre Dame for each of the three days. Many of them were locals, but a large portion were out-of-towners, many from the north-eastern United States and quite a few from countries all around the world. It was a very popular race, one the best on the F1 calendar, but again, who cares about Canada when you can be in Singapore or Abu Dhabi? You guys are looking forward, not backward.

After all, why race at a track with an evocative name, le Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, and a fan base driven by the man's legendary passion for racing. Why worry about deserting the track that bears his name just because Villeneuve lives in the hearts and minds of so many race fans around the world as one of the true greats of the sport, driven by a love for racing and life as a whole?

Gilles won the first Canadian GP in Montreal thirty years ago of course. It was the first GP win of his blooming career and he stood proudly on the podium that cold, autumn day in 1978 with Canada's prime minister Pierre-Elliott Trudeau. Except for 1987 when there was a dispute over money (what else?), the race has run every year through 2008. Before the race in Montreal, the Canadian GP ran at Mosport and St. Jovite alternatively from 1967-'70, then exclusively at Mosport from 1971-'77.

I was at Mosport for the first Canadian GP in '67 and was also in Montreal for the first race on Ile Notre Dame in '78. So I'm particularly happy that I went to Montreal a number of times in recent years for both the F1 and Champ Car races and also for the lone Champ Car race at St. Jovite in '07. At Montreal this year it was a pleasure to watch the latest, traction control-free F1 cars driven hard as they accelerated up the hill out of the turn one/turn two complex before packed grandstands of cheering fans.

But there will be no more of that. A province that has been one of the most enthusiastic supporters of open-wheel racing over the last forty years seems destined to lose that tradition to become another corner of NASCAR country. To me, it seems inevitable that NASCAR will run its first Cup race outside the United States in Montreal in a year or two. Le Circuit Gilles Villleneuve has already run two successful Nationwide races and if it's to survive as a professional race track it must run a major race each year. In this day and age with F1 spurning the place, there's nothing else but NASCAR.

It's sobering to realise, too, that the disappearance of American drivers from the worldwide single-seater scene is being repeated in Canada. Player's cigarettes operated a very successful Canadian driver development programme for many years which brought us Jacques Villeneuve, Patrick Carpentier and Alex Tagliani. Paul Tracy and the Forsythe team were sponsored by Players for a handful of years in CART and Champ Car but with the demise of the Player's programme Canada suddenly finds itself without any top class drivers.

A few years ago Andrew Ranger looked like becoming the next big Canadian open-wheel star but today Ranger is leading the drift to NASCAR as the first champion of the new NASCAR Canada series. If Montreal ends up settling in for the long term with NASCAR we should expect Canada's young drivers to go down the same path to the further detriment of open-wheel racing in North America.

As you guys know, recent historical events in the USA and around the world has led to a lot of greed-bashing and demands for limits on the pay of corporate executives. Greed isn't in very good odor these days. But for the truly successful proponents of greed, who cares? It's for the little people to whine. The guys who have it are ahead of the game. Who cares about public opinion?

History, perhaps. The recent passing of Paul Newman showed that goodness, humility and grace have tremendous value. Newman has been roundly recognised as one of the world's finest and most complete human beings. As a highly-accomplished actor and director and as a philanthropist committed to improving the lives of seriously ill children around the world Newman is assured a grand place in history at the opposite end of the scale to the great practitioners of greed. Newman's considerable achievements as a driver and team owner are mere sidebars to the meat of his life as a man who gave pleasure and hope to millions of people.

But Newman's way of living is not familiar to most people involved in F1 and I guess we can only hope that Chris Pook is successful in creating a new United States GP for the 21st century. I've heard suggestions that there could be an announcement as early as December, in which case I'll have to eat my words, proving yet again who the smartest boys in the room are.

Meanwhile, look what you guys have done. You've made me write more of this rubbish about Pook possibly recapturing F1 in America which surely will upset Tony George once again. As bright fellows like you know only too well, sometimes a guy just can't win.

Good luck on your global mission. We can only watch and wonder.

Your friend in sport,

Gordon Kirby.

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