Financial Musings About My Trip To The Formula One Race In Montreal

Last weekend I made my annual pilgrimage to Montreal to pay homage to the gods of motor racing. Formula 1 is considered by many to be the pinnacle of motorsports, although I suspect some NASCAR fans would object. Certainly, it is a subjective preference and I’ll leave it at that. The point of this post is to discuss the financial aspects of going to the Formula 1 race – because there is a lot to consider!

Tickets

First off, I think the prices are absurd. A pair of Gold tickets (best you can get outside of the executive suites and passes) are $990, or $495 each. Settle for a pair of Bronzes and you’re looking at $450 (or $225 each). General admission entitles you to sit on the lawn, usually with a partially obstructed or cramped view and this can be had for a mere $200 (or $100 each) for access on all three days.

Don’t Go For All Three Days

Here’s my advice. Don’t go for all three days – go for one. Generally I only go on the Saturday which is the qualifying day and I get my ticket from a scalper. In fact, I imagine almost a third of people going get their tickets from a scalper – they are everywhere. I don’t care about not being there for the race since you can get a better sense of the race on TV – if you are at the track all you see is one corner. Plus – it’s bloody deafening. You should only subject yourself to one day of the noise otherwise you will probably end up with some minor hearing damage (not joking).

The best part of only going for one day is that you have the rest of the weekend to enjoy Montreal properly, instead of recovering from minor heat stroke all three days. Plus you get to leave early on Sunday and avoid the massive traffic.

Scalpers

As I said, the scalpers are everywhere. Transactions are not allowed to be made in front of the cops, who know who the scalpers are and don’t really try to get in their way either. As soon as you get out of the metro station you will see about 20 guys selling tickets. You will negotiate first, and then walk out of sight to “make the exchange”. As with any scalped tickets, make sure you are buying for the right day and that the seats are next to each other before agreeing to anything! :)

The face value is right on the ticket so you immediately have a reference as to what you should be paying. I generally round up to the nearest multiple of $20. So for example, I bought a pair of Silver tickets which had a single day face value of $88. I paid $100 for each for a total of $200. First they offered a price of $250, to which I said “I only have $200″. No back and forth after that – he agreed and we made the exchange. Stick firm to what you want to pay and be willing to walk away – there are tonnes of other scalpers. I lucked out this time in that this guy was not very good, but most play hardball. If you are not a good negotiator or have a hard time saying no, you may not get such a great deal. They will throw out all the regular stuff: 1) Almost sold out, 2) Someone else will pay that much, 3) These are better than other seats at the same ticket level…etc.

Hotel

Book about a year in advance if you want to stay somewhere affordable but decent. Normally I stay with friends, and this year I had free use of a condo whose owner was on vacation. We had pre-arranged for her to leave the keys with the neighbour who knew I was coming. Regular hotel rates get jacked up for this weekend if you don’t have someone to stay with, and my best advice is to get a room at the Y! Yes, the Y. You still need to book early, maybe 2 months ahead of time at the latest, otherwise you’ll end up with a room on a floor with a communal bathroom. But if you get a fancy room with your own bathroom, you are looking at $125/night if I remember correctly. There is also a minimum 2 night stay which is pretty much city-wide for that weekend.

Travel

I live in Ajax so the total round trip was about 1,000km which equated to about $100 in gas. Certainly higher that prior years and I’ll tell you, on the way back the highway was empty! Even passing the 35/115 and towards Toronto the cottage traffic was markedly less than normal. Now I usually leave around noon on Sunday to avoid the race fan traffic on the way back, but even then the traffic slows down. Not this year. I would guess that traffic was less than half of what it normally is.

Montreal

The city is beautiful and there is no shortage of things to do. Beer and pizza is cheap and plentiful, and if you go on Grand Prix weekend you have to check out the street parties. Blocks upon blocks of city streets are cordoned off to make way for exotic car shows, outdoor fashion shows, bars and cultural activities. People travel from all over the world and most of them end up partying on Crescent Street and St. Catherine’s street as well. There is such a unique vibe that it can only be understood by going and experiencing it for yourself.

If you prefer to explore the city, you can visit Old Montreal and find many caf├ęs to have some nice wine and cheese if you prefer. You may also want to visit some of the famous smoked meat shops and bagel shops too.

Total Costs

If you go all out, it’s ridiculously expensive. Travel from Toronto, a hotel for 3 nights, 3 day Gold tickets and fancy meals could easily run a couple $2500 for the weekend. Compare this to my average trip where I spend about $400 and have a much more pleasant experience (less sun, more nightlife, more relaxed, less traffic). If you don’t have friends to stay with, than you should still be able to manage the weekend for $650 and have a fantastic time. (There’s nothing wrong with the Y!)

Preet Banerjee
Preet Banerjee
...is an independent consultant to the financial services industry and a personal finance commentator. You can learn more about Preet at his personal website and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.
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  • Michael James

    I was at the Grand Prix in Montreal with some friends. We went Saturday and Sunday. We managed to get free accommodations as well. One cost you didn’t mention was the $6 ice cream bars and $7 cold drinks to prevent heat stroke. We brought a backpack full of ice packs and bottled water. Without that, we could easily have spent $20 per person each day just trying to stay cool and hydrated. Fortunately, ear plugs were sold by many people for only a dollar.

    If I go again, I would want some sort of technology to combine an audio feed of race coverage with ear protection. It was exciting to watch pit row and the red light accident, but it was difficult to keep track of what was going on in the race.

  • Preet

    I think taking the plunge for the Kangaroo TV units ($80/day) between a few people might be worthwhile. You can hear the pit-driver communications, split times, follow the action much more clearly.

    But your comment about it being difficult to keep track of the action is precisely why I watch the race on TV, and go for only the Friday or Saturday for the visceral experience of it all. There’s nothing like seeing it live.

    Plus after having driven a few races and practically living at the track for a few years, I can only take it for a day at a time these days (unless I was driving, which probably won’t be for another 5 years before I hop back on the saddle).

    Do you ever head up to Mosport?

  • Michael James

    No, I’ve never been to Mosport. I was really into watching car racing as a teenager, but there was a fatality one race and it shook me badly. I couldn’t understand how the race could continue after someone had died. It’s only relatively recently that I’ve shaken off this experience and begun to enjoy races again. It sounds like you know much more about racing than I do.

  • Preet

    It was a big part of my life. I worked in a garage during university, raced Solo II, some Solo I then took the plunge and trained at the Bridgestone Racing Academy for 9 months full time in their race driver/mechanic program. Made it up to a form of Formula 2000, then took a desk job as the operations manager of the Academy for two years.

    Actually – here is an article with pictures of the cars (although when I was racing I drove a slightly older version of that car).

    http://www.advisor.ca/images/other/ae/ae_0508_advisorconfidential.pdf

  • Cash Instinct

    Going to the Grand Prix is easy, you take the metro and you’re there… oh, right, being from Montreal helps!!! ;)

    I am happy that you enjoy the city.

  • Preet

    I absolutely love Montreal – so much character and so many things to do. I love the seemingly endless festivals and big events like Just for Laughs, the Jazz festival and of course the strong racing culture. :)

  • TKO from Ontario

    Ladies and Gentlemen,

    The above is how a proper review gets done, great job PB.
    Your first person account reads better than Frommer’s or Travel Guide and is more entertaining too. Massive Respekt!

    That Advisor Confidential article was really cool too. I especially enjoyed the reference to the movie The Last King of Scottland. If that doesn’t amazingly illustrates the diverse cultural make up of Canada, I don’t know what does. I too am an immigrant and love this country.

  • Preet

    @TKO – happy to oblige and thanks for the comment! :)

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