The 2021 Canadian Grand Prix is scheduled for June 13, and with a spike in COVID-19 cases in the country it’s all but certain the race will be held without spectators. Well, so long as Canada pays Formula 1 for its lost ticket sales.
On Tuesday CBC News reported that F1 was appealing to “various levels of government” — from the city of Montreal to the Quebec province to federal officials — for a $6 million payout as compensation for the lack of fans. Not only that, F1 is asking Canada to disregard the national 14-day quarantine protocol for the visiting teams because the Azerbaijan Grand Prix is penciled in the weekend immediately before the Montreal race.
Quebec public health is reportedly on board with a fan-free event, though it’s still working through the logistics of how to carry it out without quarantining crews and drivers. Perhaps if F1 wasn’t dead set on shoehorning a record-long 23 races into a season still beset by a global pandemic, this wouldn’t be an issue. But here we are.
In fact, Canada would seemingly much rather skip the grand prix again this year, if not for the fact that it invested heavily in renovating facilities at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve as part of a contract with F1 that is due to expire after 2029. From CBC’s report:
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante has made it clear that the city can’t invest. Premier François Legault said “nothing is settled” on Tuesday.
“We are told that because there will be no spectators, there should be compensation from the government, when we have already given a lot,” he said.
If it weren’t for the concern over the 2022-2029 agreement with F1, Legault said, “I don’t see why we need this — the Grand Prix — here this year.”
So F1 is twisting Canada’s arm here, which really is nothing new in terms of the relationships the sport shares with its host venues. What differentiates this particular case is that we’re still in a pandemic — as desperate as some people are to pretend otherwise — and that F1's arm-twisting is tantamount to punishment for Montreal doing right by its people and refusing to endanger anyone.
It’s the safe move, pure and simple. And it’s not like the organizers aren’t also hurt by the lost ticket sales, or the city isn’t forgoing all of the other ways an international sporting event of F1's caliber stimulates the local economy:
Legault said the Grand Prix is an important event with real economic benefits “because it is money that comes from abroad and is spent here in Quebec.”
At least F1 gets paid for broadcasting and sponsorship whether fans are present or not. And speaking of fans, some of them still haven’t been refunded for tickets purchased ahead of last year’s canceled Canadian Grand Prix by the event’s promoter, Octane Racing Group.
Neither F1 nor that promoter nor Canada are gaining anything financially by not holding a full-capacity race. But it’s something you endure for a year or two because people’s lives matter more. And if F1 ultimately decides to walk from Montreal, it’s not like it’ll be a huge loss for owners Liberty Media; it already has Istanbul lined up as an alternative, anyway.