Montreal dropped from F1 calendar

The Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal was removed from the 2009 F1 season, the International Automobile Federation announced on Tuesday.

The Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal was removed from the 2009 F1 season, the International Automobile Federation (FIA) announced on Tuesday.

Next season will be the first since 1987 that Canada will not be hosting a Formula One race.

With three races remaining in this year's 18-race schedule, the sports governing body released a calendar for 2009, moving the Turkish Grand Prix from August to June 7 to replace the Montreal race. The decision allows the teams a summer break between the Hungarian GP on July 26 and the European GP at Valencia, Spain, on Aug. 23.

Organizers have added the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as part of its schedule for November 2009.

It's believed contractual problems among officials from the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and commercial rights holder of F1 management contributed to the removal of Montreal race.

Officials of the Canadian Grand Prix said in a statement they had only learned of F1's decision through the media.

"Consequently, we will not release any comment until we've spoken to the interested parties, both Formula One Management and the Fédération International de l'Automobile," the statement said.

A Canadian GP spokesman told the Canadian Press in an e-mail that he expects to meet with reporters on Wednesday in Montreal.

The move means there will be no F1 race in North America in 2009. The U.S. Grand Prix in Indianapolis was also removed this year.

Losing the Grand Prix is an "enormous" economic blow for Montreal, Mayor Gérald Tremblay told Radio-Canada, CBC's French-language service. 

The event generates more than $75 million in tourism and creates "important economic spinoffs," he added. 

Tremblay also said the Grand Prix puts Montreal on the international map.

"There are more than 300 million people who watch the Grand Prix, so Montreal's notoriety is important in that event."

Tremblay indicated he plans to speak with Normand Legault, president of Grand Prix Canada, later on Tuesday to discuss the city's options.

Track conditions have been a contentious issue for drivers during recent years. The asphalt at the island park across from downtown Montreal has been ripped loose by tires, creating slick and dangerous driving conditions.

Officials even feared drivers would boycott the Montreal race in June, but organizers were able to repair the track overnight. The race went on without any major problems.

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'F1 goes where the money is because it is the most expensive sport in the world. Is it any surprise that we're seeing more Asian races while North America falls by the wayside?'

— Alberta Wolf

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Merchants along Montreal's renowned Crescent Street say they thrive because of the Grand Prix, and losing the event would hurt business.

For the past 10 years, the Crescent Street Merchants Association has hosted the Grand Prix Festival.

The three-day event rakes in money for bars and restaurants, said association spokeswoman Sandy Greene.

"For the past Grand Prix this year, we had a record-breaking attendance of 500,000 people come on the street," he said.

"That makes for at least 2½ times what our merchants would make on any very good weekend. For a lot of the smaller merchants, it could make or break their year." 

The race was first held in 1967 at Mosport Park in Bowmanville, Ont., where it was staged for most of the next decade before finding a permanent home in Montreal in 1978. The Canadian race was forced into a one-year hiatus 21 years ago when local organizers and F1 quarrelled over sponsorship.

This isn't the first time the Canadian event has faced removal from the F1 schedule. Five years ago, F1 head Bernie Ecclestone said the race would be dropped in 2004 because of looming legislation to stop tobacco advertising.

However, event officials were able to raise the necessary funds to keep the race alive.

The FIA gave president Max Mosley the authority to negotiate with F1Teams regarding the reduction of costs in half by 2010 at a World Council meeting.

If negotiations with the 10 teams fail, the FIA can then "enforce the necessary measures to achieve this goal."

The Montreal race has included several great moments, but none more memorable than the 1978 version, when Quebec native Gilles Villeneuve took the checkered flag.

Born in Richelieu, Que., Villeneuve, who died during a qualifying session for the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix, remains the only Canadian to win the event.