Montreal’s Formula 1 drama rivals Netflix’s ‘Drive to Survive’

You know you’re at the Montreal Grand Prix when the queue for the toilets, outside the premium lounges, is about 40 men, while the women are just passing through.

Gender revenge!

You know you’re at the Grand Prix where a particular man, who looks like a Jerry Garcia look-alike, and/or a billionaire in a Hawaiian shirt who escaped from Panama, corners you at some point inside the showroom. home of Mercedes-Benz Canada, to show you the Mercedes-AMG tattoo on his forearm. “I love my cars. My first love. Well, I love my wife too,” he rambles in a woodsy French accent.


You know you’re at the Grand Prix – well, I was the other week – when I get most excited when someone alerts me that Dude With Sign (the guy behind the instagram handle with 8.1 million followers) sits a few rows away from us as the race rages on. In Montreal, I’m told, to cheer on his friend, automotive superstar Lewis Hamilton…because, well…of course, Lewis is friends with Dude with Sign.

“We always get up.” What the IG influencer blew up – via the sign, of course – after the ever-stylish, seven-time world champion Lewis finished third on the podium, after what was a period of ups and downs for him lately in the Formula 1 election campaign.

The noise. The purr. Extreme motor coordination and elite aerodynamics. The mirage of more than 300,000 fans in the stands, after two years of calm. The pepper steak (they feed you well Chez Mercedes). The pure emotion of the anthem wrung out in twirling English and French at the start of the competition. The enigmatic crowd of VIPs I was in also included men who looked like ‘Die Hard’ villains, handsome guys in their going out Zara shirts and women with hurried smiles that you absolutely don’t want, 100% ever f — with. WelcomeDrivers.

As someone who is not fluent in F1-ese (far from it), and whose body of knowledge relating to the sport consists mostly of knowing facts like Ashley Judd was once married to a professional driver, I surprised myself -even after spending a few days in Montreal — going to a deluge of social functions — that I casually dropped references to “G-force” (force of gravity, duh) into my chatter. I pick up quickly.

As an emigrant in this world, I was fascinated to hear people take an interest in engines and find out, for example, that F1 drivers can experience vertical accelerations of up to 3G, similar to what an astronaut experiences during a space launch. Or that it can get so hot in these metal speed machines that the heat released can cause riders to lose up to 5% of their total body fluids during a race.

Life mimicking Netflix mimicking life: that’s another thing I discerned during my Grand Prix immersion. Because of the streaming reality series, “Drive to Survive” – ​​released with a lot of punch in 2019, and now four seasons long – the sport has broken through in a bigger way than ever on this side of the pond. (even though Montreal has long been an enthusiastic hub for her). The series, and the minutiae that have been gleaned from it, have come up repeatedly on my travels, proof of what a recent New Yorker article summed up when describing its appeal (show and sport): a buffet of “international playboys, Machiavellian billionaires, humble heroes, racing royalty, overachieving underdogs, aging has-beens…”

In other words: according to The Guardian, the ratings for real Formula 1 in 2021 have increased by more than 40%. Not only was it the most-watched F1 season in the United States, but in particular the sport attracted an estimated 73 million fans worldwide.

The dynastic factor of motor racing added to the high stakes and higher drama, which the show also latched onto. There’s an inordinate amount of it (something he shares with both Hollywood and the world of politics). As evidenced, even, the name of our surroundings in Montreal: Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve. Named after a local hero and enduring F1 icon, whose death in an F1 crash in Belgium in 1982 eventually gave way to the rise of his son, Jacques, who quickly became a sensation in his own right ( and the only Canadian to ever win a championship, in 1997).

A darker father-son shadow at play at this particular race, reinforced by the fact that this Grand Prix falls on Father’s Day. The presence of Mick Schumacher, 23, on the track. His pop, Michael – generally regarded as one of the most successful F1 drivers of all time, with a career spanning over 20 years – is also known for the tragedy that befell him in 2013 when he suffered a serious head injury while skiing in the Alps. Last year, in a documentary, Mick said he would “give up everything” so he could talk to her again. “I think Dad and I would understand each other in a different way now.”

Tragedy and debauchery. Both in the F1 storybook, and both on display in Montreal. With a social circuit in high gear, there was a pre-pandemic thrill in play, that’s for sure. In fact, a hip PR device told me expressly that one night was nothing less than an official reboot of the party scene in Canada’s second-largest city: that black-tie night at the Ritz-Carlton hotel, which was held, as it is traditionally, on the Friday of the Grand Prix. I stopped, and it was a loud, swelling affair, bigger than ever – taking over the prestigious Palm Court of the great lady hotel (which turned into an hour-long dance party), covering both the Oval Room and the Oval Terrace, as well as various lounges set up on the second floor, including the Loubi Piano Lounge sotto voce, courtesy of Christian Louboutin and lit in brothel red.

“Did you know that more people moved from Ontario to Quebec than vice versa, for the first time in 50 years, last year? a Jeff Goldman look-alike told me near the poutine station sometime during the night. Aye Aye sir.

The official Mercedes party, held at Griffintown hotspot Le Richmond, with wailing seafood spins and maniacal drummers from Tonga, was also quite lively. Off the hook: what happened when Lewis Hamilton himself stopped. A drive-by, if you will. Sprinkling the love room, the face of F1 these days (certainly one who has deftly crossed the worlds of fashion and pop culture), has also made the news putting to rest some of the ongoing rumors. on an upcoming retirement.

Seemingly willing to persevere, the 37-year-old said at the party: “I still plan to race a bit longer. We still have time ahead of us. »

Shinan Govani is a Toronto-based freelance columnist covering culture and society. Follow him on Twitter: @shinangovani


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