Like cilantro or modern dance, the Formula One Montreal Grand Prix tends to be one of those things that you love or love to hate. I know people who plan their vacation around the Grand Prix weekend (taking place June 10 to 12 this year), who can’t wait to spend days at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve watching impossibly expensive high-tech fast cars go around and around and around while they burn to a lovely golden crisp in the stands.
To them, the Grand Prix is the biggest summer party in town, when glitz and glamour are celebrated, and where high rollers with deep pockets come into town to play — and spend. Adrenaline-filled days and nights, loud engines, celebrity sightings, beautiful people popping bottles and millions and millions of dollars injected into the city’s economy.
Others, however, go out of their way to leave the city to avoid the noise, the tacky display of grid girls and pit babes in tight dresses next to souped-up flashy cars, and the obnoxiously loud tourists invading the city’s downtown core, all the while having serious misgivings about the event’s close association to the sex industry and the polluting overconsumption of fossil fuels.
Whatever financial gains it might bring the city, there is no denying the Grand Prix is often nothing more than a crass celebration of hypermasculinity, sexism, anti-environmentalism in an age of global warming, and elitist economic principles that do not reflect the values or interests of many. Meanwhile the event benefits from the financial support of all.
Though a lot of ink is spilled extolling its financial benefits, we should remember that the Grand Prix currently runs with the help of $62.4 million from the federal government, $62.4 million from Montreal Tourism, $49.9 million from the province and $12.4 million from the City of Montreal. A 10-year deal clinched in 2014 also means the City spent an additional $32.6 million to renovate the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve racetrack, bringing the total expenses to $219 million.
The Grand Prix is still a money maker for Montreal, however. It is estimated to have $90 million in economic spinoffs a year, so one can easily argue that it’s an investment that reaps dividends each year, along with continuing to keep the city in the public eye as a coveted tourist destination.
Anti-capitalist groups have in the past described the Grand Prix as an “orgy of cash that symbolizes turbo-capitalism.” While the characterization may seem harsh to many people of humble means who thoroughly enjoy the sport and the spectacle (and yes, it’s a sport and a spectacle, no matter what those who don’t enjoy it may think of it), there is so much about the Grand Prix to be justifiably critical of — starting with the owner and manager, Bernie Ecclestone.
On top of being a ruthless businessperson, Ecclestone is also an outdated chauvinist whose male and class privilege has allowed him to utter nonsense in public with no real consequences for himself or his business model.
The man who entered two Grand Prix races as a driver, but failed to qualify for either of them, felt justified in commenting in 2004 on the most successful woman in U.S. open-wheel racing, IndyCar driver Danica Patrick, that “women should be dressed in white like all the other domestic appliances.”
And age hasn’t mellowed him. Only a few months ago, he stated during a panel discussion that he believed that women in F1 couldn’t be taken seriously because they lacked the physical strength to drive a sports car quickly, despite no scientific evidence showing that women cannot equal men in the sport. Plus this is a sport where being lighter and smaller is actually an advantage. After all, nothing requires more brute strength than pressing down on the accelerator, right, Bernie?
Sexist dinosaurs aside, the Grand Prix may bring lots of money to the city, but there are questionable aspects to the festivities that consumers shouldn’t turn a blind eye to.
Despite Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre promising to crack down on massage parlours and sex tourism in 2013, few measures have been taken by the city to ensure women are not in danger and not exploited during the Grand Prix festival. While I would never advocate for the criminalization of an industry that involves consenting adults, it’s essential that it is well regulated and that the working women are protected. It is important that any signs of human trafficking or illegal sexual exploitation be squashed immediately, and it’s vital that the city and its police force remain vigilant.
To Grand Prix lovers who may be calling me a party pooper right about now, I say have your party and enjoy the noisy engines, the paddocks, and the influx of cash-spending tourists, but be aware of the underbelly of an industry that doesn’t promote anything forward-thinking or progressive.
This event is running on the exhaust fumes of gas-guzzling overconsumption, female objectification, and testosterone-filled hypermasculinity. One hopes that as the world evolves, the sport will evolve with it to appeal to a wider fan base. Otherwise, Formula One’s popularity, which has been in a downslide since 2008, as Ecclestone seems intent on disregarding classic (and more exciting) racing circuits for international venues that are willing to fork over more cash, will continue to decline. And I, for one, won’t be the least bit heartbroken.