Formula One Canadian Grand Prix promoter Francois Dumontier photographed in front of a poster in the hallway of his Montreal office. Dumontier is in his 20th year of involvement in F1 in Montreal. For profile to run during F1 race weekend.
Photograph by: Marie-France Coallier, The Gazette
MONTREAL — When the Formula One cars roar to life this weekend on Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, it will be the culmination of a long year of hard work for François Dumontier and his team at Octane Management.
Since pretty much the moment Lewis Hamilton won the 2012 Canadian Grand Prix, preparations for this year’s race have been in full swing. And for Dumontier, who has been involved in F1 in Montreal since 1993 and has been the head organizer since the 2010 race, it is a labour of love.
Dumontier sat down with The Gazette ahead of the 2013 Canadian Grand Prix to discuss its planning, the challenges his team face and what is in store for the future of the longest-running F1 race outside of Europe.
What is the biggest challenge you face each year when organizing this event?
“It is to make sure that the satisfaction of clients, the fans on site and the teams — that all the satisfaction of those people involved is met. This is a challenge. Of course, every year we need to start over again the process of erecting the site. And trying to innovate and bring new things is part of what we try to do for each year.”
What is the best memory from all the races you have been involved in?
“It’s a good memory, but it was not a fun one at the time. It was in 1995 when Jean Alesi won his only victory in Formula One, in a Ferrari. It was the day of his birthday and the crowd was so enthusiastic that they climbed over the fence and ran all over the track when the race wasn’t done. So back then, it was a freak-out moment. But when you think about it, it was a cool moment at the same time.”
Who is your favourite F1 driver of all time?
“It would be easy to say Jacques Villeneuve because he is from Quebec. But I need to say it is Michael Schumacher because of the seven world titles that he won.”
Did you ever meet him?
“Yes, it was in 2011 when he attended the Grand Evening. He was sitting next to me and I was expecting someone that was cold and that he would be there for half an hour and then he would run away. But he stayed there all night and he was really nice to talk to.”
What’s best part of your job?
“It’s not necessarily the best part, but the best moment — there’s two actually. Friday morning of a race weekend, when the first car goes on track, that means that all the work that we have been doing all year — this is what it was all for. The second one is, during a weekend, is at the start of the race. After that, there is nothing you can do. It’s kind of a big relief for us.”
What’s worst part?
“When it’s over, Sunday night, and everybody is gone. You have been working so hard for just three days. You do everything for a year for a race that lasts one hour and 20 minutes. It’s not a worst moment, but it’s a little downer.”
What do you remember about the first F1 race you attended?
“I was not a big fan of race cars before my first race (1994). I was like most young boys in Quebec, hockey was my sport. But when you see a race live, the first thing is the real speed of the car and the sound of the car. The sound is amazing. This is what you remember most.”
Of all the F1 races, where do you rank Montreal’s in terms of importance and how it is perceived by the drivers?
“Somebody will say that I am chauvinistic, but I would like to say that it is No. 1. I think it is really important in the championship; the first thing being it is the oldest race outside the European continent. We have been there for a long time and before 1978, F1 was in Mosport and Mont-Tremblant, so I think there is an important place there. And you saw it in 2009 when we lost the Grand Prix, it was a world championship without North America and I remember teams telling me they were very sad about it. When we came back in 2010, they circled the date because they knew they were coming back. There are a lot of nice races, but I love mine.”
Have there been any modifications to the track or on-site facilities for fans this year?
“Apart from paving a gravel trap on Turn 8 and 9, the track is the same. We are negotiating an extension to the current contract, and there is major work planned in there. For the fans, we are introducing Wi-Fi this year, on the western half of the track. It is a two-year process, with the whole track getting Wi-Fi next year. Also this year, when you buy your ticket, you can also buy your lunch in advance. In previous years, you could buy your métro ticket and program. Now, you go through the website and order your ticket and you can pick up you lunch at a designated spot so you don’t have to do the lineup. This is a new thing we are trying.”
What are you most excited about for this year’s race?
“Well, I think that Montreal always has an exciting race because that race track is tough. It is only used once a year, so the teams don’t practice here, don’t test here. The track is used because it is a park, so the track is kind of dirty. So it is always spectacular. Like always, we are expecting a good race and hopefully weather will be on our side.”
The benefit gala was introduced a few years ago. How important has that event become to the entire weekend?
“It is really important, and it is part of the weekend now. We are lucky that the drivers attend it, the team principles attend it and not only like they go there and say hi. They stay and they are really into it.”
Has the addition of the U.S. Grand Prix had any impact on the Montreal race?
“It has been there only for one year and we haven’t seen any impact yet. Not sure that it will have an impact because, geographically, Texas is pretty far away. I am happy, actually, to have a second race in North America because it doubles the visibility and the awareness of our sport here. We should work together to promote that, but I don’t think Texas will have an impact.”
Do you see any issue relating to the addition of the Grand Prix of America in 2014 if it goes ahead as planned?
“It’s funny because when a lot of people talk to me about that race, they talk about it like a threat. Of course, we have a certain number of clients that are coming from the U.S. side, along the border. But personally, I don’t think that the race is a threat to us. I think that we will need to work together and be very complimentary, on both sides of the border. But again, it would bring more visibility, it would be a huge market. And I think we can benefit from it.”
Is there any news on a new agreement on the 10-year extension for the Canadian Grand Prix?
“What I can say now is that we are still in discussion and they are progressing. Every party around the table is going in the same direction and it is just a matter of time before it gets done. But I am optimistic. We are working for 2015-2024.”
How is it negotiating with Bernie Ecclestone?
“At first, it is intimidating. He built Formula One, so obviously he knows what he wants. So I often say that when you know what you want, we are finding the common ground on it. But he is a tough one. He is negotiating with 19 different races, plus the ones who want a race. Usually, it is pretty quick, we don’t waste time.”
Have they made specifics demands for the Montreal race?
“What they asked for was to invest some money in the infrastructure at the track. Meaning, it could be the garage itself, the track hospital, the track itself. But that would happen in the new agreement. There is no specific date for it. But the basics of the deal are the same as the one we currently have.”
BY THE NUMBERS
10 - The length, in years, for the contract extension being negotiated that would secure the Canadian Grand Prix for Montreal from 2015-2024.
7 - World titles won by Michael Schumacher, François Dumontier's favourite Formula One driver of all time.
2009 - The year Montreal lost the Canadian Grand Prix because of a contract dispute between promoters and F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone.
2010 - The first race organized by Dumontier and his Octane Management group.
20 - The number of years Dumontier has been involved in the Canadian Grand Prix.
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