SPY: PADDOCK UPGRADE

Bonjour, hi race fans, welcome to the best European grand prix from the Americas. It always seems cruel for Monaco to have Montreal up next in the schedule: after another humdrum procession you get this beast of a track with walls and drama and that thing where one car challenges another car for a position and sometimes is able to get ahead of it if the driver is skilful and brave. Happy days indeed.

‘Cos this is a great grand prix. It ticks every box: great city; great circuit in that city; great events in the great city for the great fans. It’s like Mexico – but with moving traffic. Actually, not always moving traffic. There are places we go to that seem to suffer their grand prix; Montreal, on the other hand, firmly embraces it. Chequered flags everywhere, city blocks closed off every evening for a big street party. The feel good vibe is awesome – though Spy probably won’t be thinking that at 2am on Sunday morning, desperately trying to get to sleep with what sounds like everyone from Montreal stumbling and shouting on the street outside. 

The big news this weekend is… well, not what anybody who didn’t work here would call big news. Will the seesaw swing back to Valtteri? Can Ferrari drag themselves out of this slump? Frankly, who cares, we have a shiny new pit building to play with. I’ve mentioned in the past that most people in the paddock have a deep affection for motorsport – but what they like most of all is moaning about motorsport, and motorsport facilities. The cameras are very good at picking up on the speed and the glamour – they don’t really convey the bang coming off the bins and the joys of spending nine months of your year using a chemical loo. 

Montreal, of course, has been a cautionary tale in that regard. Since the pits moved down to their present end of the circuit (‘cos this was an improvement) it’s all been a bit ramshackle; a cargo cult collection of shipping containers, poundshop gazebos, and the evil incarnate that is the portaloo.*

Cargo cult is probably an appropriate description because we’re surround by water. I mean, obviously we are: it’s all island around here. Montreal is an island, with the Île Notre-Dame a little island in the middle of that – but what shapes out the paddock is that the track is crammed between the lake in the middle of that island and the rowing basin behind us, or rather, under us. Thus, we have a paddock that is not so much designed as it is simply heaped into a position where the back isn’t quite wet and the front isn’t quite on the racing line. It comes complete with stacks of what estate agents might call ‘compact urban dwellings perfect for the busy racing executive needing a waterfront pied-a-terre’ and what the rest of us call rusty old portakabins with a bit of fire escape bolted to the side. 

But, no more! Hello shiny new pit building, bonjour modernity, nice to make your acquaintance brick shi…water closet. It truly is Christmas in June. 

Granted, certain compromises have been made to fit everything in. The pitlane is a little narrower – the irony of which, after last week, is not lost on us – and the paddock thoroughfare remains only three wheelie bins wide – though that’s largely something for TV crews to whine about: for everyone else it simply optimises the distance between garage and tea urn – which really is the only piece of technology that really matters in motorsport.

* Nothing wrong with a portaloo – something very wrong with asking 2,000 big blokes on a starchy diet to share four of them.