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Circuit Gilles Villeneuve facilities to get $48-million upgrade by 2019

Circuit Gilles Villeneuve facilities to get $48-million upgrade by 2019
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A view of the paddocks and garages during the first practice session for the Formula One Canadian Grand Prix at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal on Friday, June 10, 2016. Dario Ayala / Montreal Gazette

Already two years behind schedule, the long awaited renovation to upgrade the aging facilities at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve seems to be moving again, albeit much more slowly than a Formula One car.

Originally slated to be done by the time the drivers hit the track in Montreal this year, plans to modernize the garage and paddock areas and make them a bit more roomy got stuck in neutral almost as soon as the 2017 completion date was announced two years ago. Along the way, the price tag for the work has jumped from around $30 million to $48 million.

As the 2017 race approaches, the city of Montreal said things are back on track after a technical and functional plan was presented to Formula One officials in March.

“The Formula One World Championship asked for changes to that plan,” said Noémie Brière-Marquez, a spokesperson for Mayor Denis Coderre.

“The plan was therefore reworked and the budget was modified accordingly to $48 million. We anticipate that the Quebec government will assume the additional costs of $18 million.”

Former Formula One Management (FOM) boss Bernie Ecclestone insisted upon upgrades to the control tower, garages, medical centre and paddock as a condition of a 10-year extension to the Canadian Grand Prix signed in 2014. While the teams love visiting Circuit Gilles Villeneuve because of the way the city embraces the Grand Prix, they have long complained about the close quarters and safety of its aging infrastructure.

After much wrangling between the promoter, the city and FOM over the delays, things should get moving once the teams pack up next year, Octane Racing Group president François Dumontier said.

“We are planning to have it ready in 2019,” said Dumontier, the Canadian Grand Prix promoter since 2011.

“It’s been secured with the city and we are working on plans and drawings. After the 2018 race, we will start construction to deliver in the actual buildings.”

In addition to the planned paddock upgrades, several one-time changes were completed before this year’s race. The price tag for these was about $4 million, with $1.7 million spent on the hospitality zone and another $2.3 million going to security upgrades.

The paddock in Montreal is squeezed between the garage areas behind the pit lane and the Olympic rowing basin, leaving the teams and drivers little elbow room as they go about their business.

Concrete extensions over the Olympic basin installed many years ago did add a bit space, but Montreal’s paddock easily remains one of the most cramped. In most venues, the teams can drive their tractor trailers right into the paddock areas, where they set up large hospitality centres for personnel and guests. Most venues also have modern media centres, whereas F1 journalists in Montreal are housed in a temporary tent structure that floats on the basin next to the paddock entry.

Ecclestone warned last year that the race may be in jeopardy if the renovations were not completed by 2017 and then punctuated that threat when this year’s provisional F1 calendar was published last September with Montreal listed, but with an asterisk beside its name.

The contract for the race itself was subsequently renegotiated, with five years tacked on to the deal, securing the Canadian Grand Prix to 2029, which included an agreement between the promoter, the city and FOM to delay the renovations by two years.

The previous deal to 2024 committed the municipal, provincial, and federal governments to pitch in a combined $187 million to host the race in Montreal — an average $18.7 million per year — plus the renovations that were to be completed by 2017.

Reported said that the city was slapped with a $4-million fine for missing the deadline for completing the work, but Coderre has denied there are any hidden costs beyond the revised price tag of $48 million.

What remains unclear is whether the five-year contract extension modifies the average $18.7 million in annual hosting fees. Terms of the revised deal have not been announced.

“At this point, we cannot give any more details concerning the revised contract as it has yet to be signed by all parties and made public,” Brière-Marquez said.

“The hosting fees will be made public at the same time as the contract.”

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