WE’RE PULLING OUT ALL THE STOPS FOR OUR SPECIAL FIFTH ANNIVERSARY EDITION OF THE MAG INCLUDING THE FOLLOWING DIARY EXCLUSIVE WITH CANADIAN GRAND PRIX PRESIDENT AND CEO, FRANÇOIS DUMONTIER, ON ITS 50TH ANNIVERSARY! NOTE THAT THIS ONE’S CLOSE TO THE HEART AS I’VE GOTTEN TO KNOW MOUNTAIN-MOVING FRANÇOIS QUITE WELL VIA ANNUAL COVERAGE OF THEIR SEASON OPENING BENEFIT EVENT LE GRAND SOIR AND HAVE SINCE BECOME A VERY “GRAND” FAN OF ALL THAT HE AND HIS DREAM-TEAM BRING TO OUR FAIR CITYAND COUNTRY. ENJOY … AND POWER ON FRANÇOIS!
F1 Canadian Grand Prix president and CEO of Octane Racing Group François Dumontier got into the Formula One racing business in the most Formula One way possible: someone drove up in a Ferrari and offered him a job.
“I was around 24 or 25 at the time and working for Parc Jean-Drapeau as administrator of the track,” Dumontier recalls. “I was basically the intermediary between the city and the race, who were clients. I still remember clearly how it happened: I was on the track, supervising a team there, and Norman Legault, who was the previous promoter, was driving one of his Ferraris and he stopped in front of me, lowered his window, and asked me point blank if I wanted to meet with him for 15 minutes. He then offered me a job to become the director of operations of the race.”
Amazingly enough, Dumontier didn’t accept right then and there.
“I was working for the city and had a secure job,” he says. The now 50-year-old also wasn’t that big a fan of Formula One at the time (remarkable as that now seems, upon re ection).
“I knew who Gilles Villeneuve was, but can’t say I was passionate about racing then. I am now, though,” he says, before adding: “I love the sport, and love the business around the sport.”
He eventually took the job for the 1995 race, and the rest, as they say, is history. He moved up the Canadian Grand Prix ladder, from operations manager to vice-president to executive vice-president. Then the city of Montreal lost its precious race in 2009 following a contractual dispute between his former boss Legault and then-F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone. When it came time to bring the race back for the 2010 season, Dumontier was in the perfect position to negotiate its return.
THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT IN THE PARTY CITY
Under Dumontier’s care, the race has only grown in stature; they’ve added a stunning opening benefit event called Le Grand Soir, and recently extended the Canadian Grand Prix till 2029 – the longest contract the Montreal race has ever had. The race’s future has never been more secure.
“The race is really important not just to Montreal, but to all of Canada,” Dumontier explains. “It’s the most important tourism event in the country – 57% of our clients come from outside of the province. Formula One has an incredible reach in terms of television audience, and once a year Montreal is the focus for the rest of the world.”
The Canadian Grand Prix recently celebrated a pair of milestones: 50 years of the race in Canada and 40 years at its current home on Île Notre- Dame. Amazingly, things could’ve gone a lot differently had the city’s original idea for a race come to fruition.
“The first plan by Mayor Jean Drapeau looked at having the race inside and outside the Olympic Stadium,” Dumontier says. “But the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) thought the noise from the V12 engines would be too loud in- side the stadium.” Thank goodness for that …
As soon as the race is over, Dumontier and his team begin work on the next season, whole- heartedly dedicated to improving on the race’s already famed fan experience. Formula One is a fast-moving business in more ways than just cars, and with new races popping up in world-class hotspots like Singapore and Abu Dhabi, the pressure is always on to keeps things forward and fresh.
But the more F1 changes, the more Montreal’s unique qualities stand out. There are really only two races on the calendar that have the historical city feel: there’s Monaco, and then there’s Montreal. Fans love that the race is a metro ride away from the downtown festivities in the legendary party city, and drivers love getting a taste of what race week is like away from their cockpits and hotel rooms. (For more on the F1 GP festivities, see this edition’s 2017 coverage.)
One of those drivers is Montreal native Lance Stroll, a 19-year-old rookie who already looks destined to become the rst Canadian world champion since Jacques Villeneuve.
“I don’t think too many people would’ve bet at the start of the season that he would reach a podium, which he did in Azerbaijan,” says Dumontier.
The Montreal race chief has already declared that Stroll has what it takes to become a champion, and after his rst season, Dumontier is ready to double down on that prediction.
“He has the talent and potential to do it one day,” he says.
LE GRAND SOIR
When the race returned to Montreal in 2010, Dumontier knew that if he wanted to recapture people’s imaginations, he had to go big. Montreal’s tourism industry was still smarting after a year in the dark and no one knew if the Canadian Grand Prix was on sure footing. That’s where Le Grand Soir came in, helping to change the landscape.
In fact, Le Grand Soir was positioned as a chance for Montreal Inc. to get reacquainted with Formula One honchos, teams and drivers in a glamorous setting and for a charitable cause, and the event has since become nothing short of the most resplendent soirée on the cultural calendar around race week, and one of the year’s best as well. Money has been raised for a variety of worthy causes and bene ciaries, including Moisson Montréal, the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation and the 2012 Olympic athletes.
“People were so disappointed when the race left,” Dumontier explains. “I wanted an opening party that would bring back that relationship between Montreal and Formula One. And I wanted it to carry a high standard.”
THE REALEST REWARDS
However for Dumontier, being at the top of the race totem pole is a little more like getting dirty with the pit crew than post-race champagne showers (though he does take time out of the action-packed schedule to represent us well at Mo treal F1 GP events with his lovely wife Charlaine).
It’s been awhile since that fateful chat with the man in the Ferrari, but clearly Dumontier is glad he accepted the challenge. And so are we. Big time.
For information on the 2018 Canadian Grand Prix, race to GPCanada.ca.