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Back in November of 2010, I had a friend offer me his extra ticket for the Montreal Grand Prix Formula 1 race. I had no idea how I was going to pay for it or how I was going to get there but I just knew that I had to find a way, and I'm glad I did! Finally after all of the waiting, saving, planning, and waiting some more, I boarded my flight to Montreal and made the short flight, not really knowing what to expect during my first Formula 1 weekend.
I arrived in Montreal around 5PM on Thursday and took a short cab ride to my friend Dan's house where I'd be staying for the weekend. After settling in and doing a bit of unpacking, Dan, his girlfriend Karen, and myself headed to downtown Montreal for dinner. During F1 weekend Montreal just goes crazy. There were several streets blocked off for various car clubs and displays, concerts, and vendors throughout the weekend. This was also a great time to do some exotic car spotting as most of the cars that come out for F1 weekend aren't really seen any other time during the year.
After Dan showed me around a little bit, it was time to head back to his place to get some sleep. The first day of F1 practice started on Friday morning and I wanted to make sure to be there for it.
I woke up early on Friday and Dan was kind enough to drop me off at the train station on his way to the office so I could get to the track. A well established commuter train is one thing that Minneapolis is really missing, in my opinion. It's cheap, easy, and much more efficient for getting around than having a car would've been. I arrived at the track around 9AM and worked my way towards my grand stand overlooking the Start/Finish line, Turn 1, and Turn 2 which offered some of the most exciting views of the racing action all weekend long. When I got to the track, they had just started practice for the Ferrari Challenge which consisted of Ferrari F430 and 458 Italia Challenge race cars. They both looked and sounded amazing while screaming around the track!
This driver didn't quite nail the perfect line into Turn 1 and overshot the entrance to Turn 2.
After about an hour or so of the Ferraris running the track, the Formula 1 cars made their way onto the track for their first practice session of the day.
I was sitting with my friend Dana (right) who sold me (left) his extra ticket and our friend Randy (middle) came over from his section in the grand stands to sit with us for practice. It was nice to catch up a bit and watch the race together.
After the first round of practice for the Formula 1 cars, the historic Formula 1 cars came out on track for a few practice laps to prepare for their race the following day.
As the Historic Formula 1 cars drove back into the pits, you could hear the modern Formula 1 cars revving up their engines in anticipation of their second practice session of the day.
After Formula 1 practice was over for the day, the GT3 Cup cars came out for their practice session but I ended up leaving with Randy to grab a drink downtown and unwind until dinner. It was pretty late when I got the call that I should meet up with everyone for dinner but I made some good exotic car spots downtown as I walked to the great Chinese restaurant.
This guy was having a rough night...
Dan was nice enough to give me a ride home since he was already out with some buddies when I found him. His Porsche 996 Turbo is as beautiful as they come and he's taken great care of it. I must say that it's a bit cramped in the back seat, which I don't think is designed for someone my size.
We finally made it home and I collapsed, full and exhausted. Saturday morning sure came early but I knew it was going to be great to watch Formula 1 qualifying because this is would be the first real chance to see the cars really pushing it to the max around the track. It was a grey, overcast day with lingering clouds as far as the eye could see. This was fine by me as I had gotten pretty horribly sunburned the day before!
When I arrived at the track, the GT3 Cup cars were running some qualifying laps of their own and would later be racing once the Formula 1 circus wrapped up for the day.
I wasn't watching for long before the Formula 1 cars came out on track to start qualifying. The sound these cars make is simply electrifying! It's an incredibly high-pitched shriek that shakes you to your core. I could feel it more than I could hear it as the cars go flying by but maybe that's just because it's so loud that my ear drums had already ruptured from how loud they are.
It ended up being a pretty predictable session with Sebastien Vettel piloting his Red Bull to his 6th pole position in 7 races. Luckily the race the next day turned out to be anything but predictible!
I awoke on Sunday morning to an overcast and rainy day. I made sure to pack a rain jacket and a waterproof sleeve for my camera as well as a towel to dry off my seat in the grand stands. It wasn't more than a light rain as I took the train to the track and it had stopped completely by the time I got to my seat. This turned out not to be so bad as I watched the Austin Healeys go by for the drivers parade about 2 hours before the start of the race.
The rain started to pick up as the flag girls made their journey around the track but it still wasn't coming down too badly.
About 45 minutes before the race was to start, the announcers came on over the loudspeakers and announced that the race would begin behind the safety car. This meant that we'd miss seeing all of the cars flying into the first couple of turns all bunched up which is where the most action in the race usually occurs. This was not a good start to my first F1 race and I was more than a little upset about the call. As I sat there grumbling to Dana about how the cars should just put on the wet compound tires for the start of the race, the clouds began dumping more water. Maybe starting the race behind the safety car wasn't such a bad idea after all...
The drivers came out and made a few laps around the track to assess the conditions and most of them quickly returned to the pits to switch from Intermediate tires to full rain compound tires with deep grooves to channel the rain away. This would be the first wet race of the season and all of the cars were running new Pirelli rain tires that hadn't been tested in a race yet.
After about 10 minutes, the cars all lined up on the starting grid and at precisely 1:00 PM, the safety car, a specially built Mercedes SLS AMG, set off around the track with a long line of rather bored looking Formula 1 drivers following behind.
The rain began to let up and after 4 laps behind the safety car, the Mercedes pulled into the pits and the green lights came on to signal the start of the race! Vettel was able to get a pretty good jump on the competition but there was plenty of chaos behind him as the spray of water left in his wake essentially blinded the rest of the drivers going into Turn 1 and Lewis Hamilton made contact with Mark Webber, spinning the Red Bull on the outside of the Turn 2! Only 2 laps later, Hamilton now trailing his team mate Jenson Button, gets bumped into the pit wall by his Button and skates right in front of me with his rear wheel hanging off the car and bits of carbon fiber flying off the car in all directions!
As Hamilton's car comes to a stop on the track, the safety car comes back out and begins yet another parade of race cars, their drivers bored and frustrated.
It took a few laps to get the debri left by Hamilton's car cleared off the track but by lap 13, the stewards give the go-ahead for the restart and the cars again roar around the track! By lap 20, the rain has picked up again and visibility drops to dangerous levels. The safety car again pulls out and guides the cars around the track for a few more laps before the race is red flagged on lap 25 and all of the cars pull into the Start/Finish straight and stop until the rain dies down.
Meanwhile, those of us in the grand stands are getting soaked as rain unlike anything I've ever seen before starts coming down. The deluge of water that comes down in a matter of minutes immediately floods the track, requiring the track crews to come out with big industrial vaccuum trucks and sweepers to try to remove the water as quickly as they can!
Periodically, several of the Mercedes AMG safety cars buzz around the track on recon missions to see how much water they still have to deal with.
Finally after nearly 2 hours of sitting in the rain, wondering if they would restart the race at all, the clouds begin to let up and the announcers give us the 10 minute warning until the race will restart, again behind the safety car. The crowd, once furious that the race was started behind the safey car, erupts in cheers that the race will be restarted at all. Eventually the drivers made it back to their cars and the race was restarted. What happened next was one of the most exciting races I've ever witnessed!
Between the cars being bunched up after running for so long behind the safety car, and the quickly changing conditions of the race track as the rain let up, we saw many passes, spins, and crashes as the drivers struggled to find the driest line and the stickiest tires. At one point, perhaps while trying to mimic the incident between the McLarens earlier in the race, the two Force India cars made contact with each other, smashing up their front wings. Meanwhile, Button who had gotten into his team mate on lap 8 was struggling to find the right tire for the job, making a number of pit stops and ending up at the back of the pack, fighting to get by cars that were significantly slower than his own.
Meanwhile, a relative rookie to F1, Kamui Kobayashi was fighting for a surprising 2nd place! Additionally, the 7-time world champion winner, Michael Schumacher, was showing his skill in the rain as he was battling with his former Ferrari team mate Felipe Massa for 3rd place.
Amongst all of the action, Jenson Button had quietly been weaving his McLaren around the majority of the field and had caught up with the leaders. It wasn't long until he was chasing down Sebastien Vettel for the lead!
On the last few laps, Vettel's lap times began to fall off the pace as Button bared down on him. Then, on the last lap with Button right on his tail, putting everything they had into keeping the cars on the greasy track, Vettel made a mistake and spun out in a chicane, allowing Button to just sneak by him to take the win! It was an incredibly exciting finish to what had been such a frustrating and miserable race only a few hours before! Despite being cold, wet, and generally feeling as if I'd been soaking in a swamp for the last week, I joined the crowd of fans that rushed the guards at the fence and sprinted down the track to the podium to watch the awards ceremony and celebration.
After the drivers went into the conference room for their post-race remarks, I mulled around the start finish line and watched the teams pack up their pit boxes before meeting up with Dana and his son to walk the track before finally being ushered out of the area by some rather gruff security guards.
When I got back to Dan's house, I collapsed onto his couch, my bed for the weekend. It had been a fantastic weekend and I was dreading my 5:00 AM wakeup call to board my flight back to Minneapolis. Hopefully I'll be able to make it to the US Grand Prix in Austin, TX in 2012 for more great Formula 1 action! If I do, I'll make sure to share my experiences here.
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