Just recently, the new mayor of Montréal, Valérie Plante, declared that her new administration would not stage the FIA Formula E race this season. Here is the local view of why that happened…
Mrs. Plante and most Montrealers have nothing personal against the Formula E Championship, but she decided to break the contract with FE and cancel the 2018 and 2019 races for a significant reason in her eyes.
Her reasoning was the complete lack of transparency from the former city administration and the chaos the staging of the race caused to the citizens in 2017.
In other words, she said ‘yes’ to a Formula E race, but not at any costs.
The idea of staging a Formula E race on the streets of Montréal came from the former mayor, Denis Coderre. For him, Montréal was one of the most innovative cities in the world for the promotion of zero-emission vehicles and clean ways of transportation.
Mr. Coderre attended the Formula E race in Miami in March 2015 and managed to add the city to the schedule during its third season.
His administration then created a non-profit organisation named ‘Montréal, c’est électrique’ to be the organiser of the race. And then, it was a total blackout. No news. Nothing. We, as journalists, couldn’t get any information about the event.
For months, residents who lived near the area of the future street circuit had to endure the constant noise of construction 24 hours a day seven days a week and horrific traffic jams.
That generated a lot of frustration from the local population. For months, the only news about the ePrix was negative and really was Formula E bashing at its most vocal.
Montrealers and Quebecers normally are passionate race fans. However, the date of the maiden ePrix caused problems. Scheduled at the end of July, it was during the big two-week holidays, a few weeks after the F1 Grand Prix and a week prior to the Grand Prix de Trois-Rivières.
Another problem was the absence of support races (local fans are used to attend very busy race meetings) and the lack of a local driver. The presence of a Patrick Carpentier or a Jacques Villeneuve to cheer for would have helped draw more spectators, undoubtedly.
The double-header and championship-decider was held in front of grandstands that were only half full. It became public news months later that several thousands of tickets had been given away, for free, to make up the numbers. Instead of being an entertaining event, the race turned into a major irritation for a good part of the population.
During the mayoral election campaign, Mrs. Plante (who was running against Mr. Coderre), repeated that she didn’t want to stage another race on the streets of downtown Montréal, and the bill needed to be paid by private investors. The maiden ePrix had been heavily subsidised by the money of the taxpayers.
After her election as the new mayor, she faced a large budget deficit, and began to think like an accountant. If the race was to continue, it had to be moved to a new location.
The Gilles Villeneuve circuit was out of the equation, as construction of the new pit building will start early July of next year. Relocating the race somewhere else in Montréal was feasible, but “would have cost between 30 and 35 million dollars”, she claimed.
The third solution was to skip 2018 and reinstate the race in 2019 – “but that doesn’t solve the problem of the deficit and the lack of private investors and sponsors,” she added.
The reality is that Mrs. Plante had a golden opportunity to completely dissociate her administration from the previous cabinet of Mr. Coderre.
The latter is more of a right-wing man while Mrs. Plante is more left-wing, and intends to keep costs of running Montréal under strict control. For her and her colleagues, to stage an ePrix that costs more money than the F1 Grand Prix, attracts a lot less spectators and causes major commotion in the city for weeks was nonsense.
Maybe one day the Formula E circus will be back in Montréal, but it will unquestionably be to a new location and under the terms of a new contract.