The view from Grandstand 33 (Section 2, Row S, Seat 25) at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal.

A Fan Guide to the Canadian Grand Prix

After countless NASCAR, IndyCar, NHRA and MotoGP races, I finally attended my first Formula 1 race in June, the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal. Here’s what I learned, specifically about the fan experience:

Tickets

When it comes to buying tickets for the race, know that you have options. You can, of course, go through official channels, and that will save you a fair amount of time and perhaps a headache.

However, if you want to save a few bucks and don’t mind putting in a couple extra hours of work, you can try the secondary market. There are plenty of racegoers who have tickets for all three days, yet only go to the track on Sunday and try to unload the other tickets at less than face value.

The most active secondary market for this race is Kijiji — the Craigslist-like site owned by eBay. If you’re coming from elsewhere in Canada, don’t limit your search on the site to just your home region. The most tickets can be found by navigating to Quebec -> Grand Montreal and searching “grand prix” from there. But because tickets can be transferred from one party to the other electronically, feel free to look around. I actually bought both of mine from people located near Toronto.

A couple notes on ticket buying:

  • When buying from Kijiji, Craigslist, etc., do as much as you can to identify the person selling the tickets. I went out of my way to meet one of my ticket sellers, before leaving Toronto from Montreal, so we could do a cash transaction face to face. The other seller I talked to on the phone, and she emailed me her contact info, including her home address, before I paid her through an online bank transfer. Not foolproof, of course, but I was confident I wasn’t dealing with a scammer. Montreal sellers will also be willing to meet you once you arrive. The best advice is not to move forward with anyone you don’t feel completely comfortable with.
  • Don’t be afraid to buy a Groupon voucher from someone, but know that the voucher isn’t a ticket itself, despite the barcode. You need to redeem the voucher at the ticket window, right outside the Jean-Drapeau metro station.

Perhaps the most difficult choice is what kind of ticket to buy, but this is one race where I’d advise spending the extra money and getting a seat in a grandstand, rather than just buying a general admission ticket. Unlike some other tracks, there are no GA grandstands, and the views of the track from ground level aren’t very good.

I can’t offer a comprehensive review of every grandstand; however, I couldn’t have been more pleased with my seat in Grandstand 33. Not a lot of passing in this section of the track — you see the cars come out of Turn 5 and go through Turn 7 — but there’s plenty of breaking into Turn 6, and the big screen keeps you posted on the action around the rest of the track. For qualifying on Saturday, I bought a $65 ticket in Section 2, Row S, for $50. (The seller was also willing to throw in Friday’s practice ticket, but I couldn’t make it to Montreal that early.)

Grandstand 31, not far from 33, seemed to offer similar types racing views.

If you do decide to buy a general admission ticket:

  • There are some sections of the track that are restricted. In fact, you won’t be able to get to anything between Turns 13 and 5, which includes the start/finish line and paddock, without a ticket for those grandstands.
  • You best bet might be the area right next to Grandstand 33, which offers views of the same corners as 33, just at ground level. This area isn’t even indicated as a GA area in the track program, but it was the best GA space I could find. Based on what I saw, I’d get there early on Sunday (at least 30 minutes before the gates open, if not earlier), bring a lawn chair and get as close to the fence as you can.
  • You should be able to get a Sunday ticket for as cheap as $50.

Of course, there are scalpers buying and selling outside the track, but I didn’t bother to engage them.

The Sunday crowd in the General Admission area next to Grandstand 33.

Transportation

Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is on an island (Île Notre Dame), and the most efficient way to get there is to take the metro to the Jean-Drapeau station, which is on Île Sainte-Hélène, and then follow the crowd walking across the bridge to the track.

Take the metro to the Jean-Drapeau station to get to the track.

There are no vehicles allowed on Île Notre Dame, but there is limited parking on Île Sainte-Hélène, and you can walk from there.

One note about the metro: The Jean-Drapeau station will be absolutely overrun with fans trying to exit after the race on Sunday. Some people report waiting an hour or two just to get on the metro.

However, you can circumvent all that madness. When you exit the track, continue to walk west across Île Sainte-Hélène and find the ferry, which will take you across and drop you off in the old port section of the city, on the mainland. There’s no wait, the tickets are just $4 and it’s more scenic than the metro. The ferry ride is about 10 minutes, and when you get off, you can walk explore the vieux port de Montréal, find a cafe for a café and walk to the nearest metro station.

Lodging

Hotels jack up their rates for the grand prix weekend, so if you’re on a budget, head to Laval, the suburb just north of Montreal. Transport to and from the track is still practical if you stay close to the metro, which can take you directly to the track.

I rented a room in Laval, through Airbnb, right next to the last stop on the line, for just $25/night. (Orange line, Montmorency station). Roundtrip fare on the metro is $6, and with one transfer, you can be at the track in about 45 minutes.

Food and Drink

Prices for food and drink at the track are what you’d expect at an event like this. (The only real surprise was McDonald’s, which was giving away free coffee!)

However, you can bring your own food and drink to the track. If you have just a bag or backpack, you can get into the track unchecked. You can also bring a cooler, but you’ll go through a separate line at the entrance and it will be checked. No glass allowed.

Other practical info

  • Bring a hat and sunscreen. You may also want to bring earplugs, but I didn’t and didn’t miss them. The IndyCar race in Toronto the following weekend was louder.
  • Île Notre Dame is actually one big park surrounded by the race track (and a casino), so don’t be afraid to take a break from the racing and find some shade under a tree or near the water. One more reason to bring your own food and drink: The track is actually the perfect setting for a picnic.