Ever since my first Grand Prix in 1991, the F1 weekend in Montreal has been the biggest event of the year for me. Over the years, my fanaticism for Ferrari and F1 rubbed off on people and infected them with the same illness. Grand Prix weekend evolved into a huge celebration for friends and family. I have friends and family come in from out of town to rejoice in the madness of Montreal during the Grand Prix. The whole city goes mad for F1, cars, excess and glamour. The weekend, for me, is a celebration of summer and…a celebration of life. My passion for watches began with F1, cars and racing. Fast forward many years and I find myself being a watch blogger in Montreal. So it was natural for WatchPaper to do Grand Prix specials, like the time we interviewed David Coulthard. For the first time in over 25 years, I found myself without Grand Prix tickets this year. Well, our friends at Oris decided to remedy the situation. For Adam, it was an initiation to F1. For me, it was an opportunity to bring my wife to watch qualifying from the absolute best view of the circuit.
Friday has always been my favourite day of the F1 weekend. This year, Adam and I were able to bring our wives to the circuit to take in the atmosphere. Unlike most other F1 venues, people come in huge numbers to watch Friday’s free practice sessions in Montreal. Nevertheless, Friday is a very casual day for fans because practice times don’t mean very much. Friday is a great time to take pictures, hang out, and enjoy all the stuff going on around the circuit. Our F1 foursome walked around the circuit, watching the cars from various vantage points. We checked out the Monster energy drink’s area with extreme dirt bike stunts and an on-site barber. We even hit the casino! We had drinks at the Heineken beer garden. We then watched most of the afternoon practice session before hitting downtown for the glitz, glamour and festivities. Here, I should mention that Oris had supplied us with watches for the weekend. For me, it was the Big Crown ProPilot that I reviewed recently. For Adam, it was a Williams Carbon Fibre Extreme Chronograph. Well, we weren’t going to just let these beauties go home after the day, were we? No. After seeing the F1 street parties downtown (where I actually had my beard lined up by a barber!), we were off to an amazing dinner in Little Burgundy. It was, in retrospect, the PERFECT place to enjoy some fine timepieces and wind down after an exciting day. After all, Little Burgundy is one cool, chill, hipster hangout and it suits fine watches very nicely. So we enjoyed wine, awesome food and great conversation. As always, the conversation turned to watches…
I must let Adam describe his Saturday adventure. It is a very cool story…
Inside the Williams Martini Racing garage
Going to F1 with TimeCaptain ups the entire experience tenfolds. If you are one of our regular readers, you already know that TC is a guy that wears his heart on his sleeve and his passion, be that for watches or the F1, is dangerously contagious. There is no escape. Even my wife who couldn’t care less about “just cars going fast” by the end of the day, Friday, had a completely different opinion about the F1.
If Friday was warm up day for the pilots and for us, Saturday, things got a lot more serious. While Mrs & Mr TimeCaptain were following the qualifications from an amazing spot, I had paddock access (!) and for someone like me, who has never attended an F1 race, it was quite an overwhelming experience. Luckily, here too, I had a fantastic guide from Oris, their Canadian sales manager, who showed me around and explained to me how things work behind the scenes. There is so much regulation, nothing is left to chance, to the smallest detail everything is planned out beforehand and it has to follow stringent rules.
During the morning free practice, I got to follow the pilots from inside the Williams garage, listening in to the conversation between the engineers and the pilots. I did not understand a word but wearing a headset tuned into this conversation felt really amazing. I was following the guys, engineers and mechanics, everyone was so focused, and it struck me, this is a team sport with most of the players invisible to the general public. We celebrate the drivers, and they deserve it, after all, they are the one risking their life every time they get in the F1 car, but there is an entire army of people, mechanics constantly training to improve their skills and engineers pushing the limits of technology the find new solutions within the boundaries of rules imposed by FIA. During the F1 season, the Williams team is moving more than 70 peoples around the world every two weeks, these are people who dedicate their lives to the race.
Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take pictures from where I was standing — they have their dearly guarded secrets, but after the free practice we could go out to the pit lane and here, photography was OK. We even got take a close look at the steering wheel.
After a gourmet lunch, it was time to go back to the garage to see the pilots preparing for the qualifying race. All tires were already warmed up, the engine was idling and wroom, they would zoom out from the garage.
Being there at the 50th anniversary of the Canadian GP, inside the garage of a Canadian pilot, it was a day I will always remember.
Back to TimeCaptain
Knowing that I had babysitting available for the weekend and that I wanted to share the F1 experience with Mrs TimeCaptain, Oris offered me two tickets for Saturday in Grandstand 15. Although far from the circuit, grandstand 15 provides the absolute best view of Circuit Gilles Villeneuve as you see the entire hairpin. We slept in on Saturday morning and enjoyed a leisurely start to the day as our little girl was staying with Nana and Granddad. We arrived at the circuit just in time for the start of the morning free practice and WOW- what amazing seats! I was pretty excited by now. The Oris on my wrist was not perfectly suited to a scorching day with its leather strap. But the grey dial just gleamed in the bright sun and made for great photography. The plain, legible Oris proved to be a worthy F1 companion and indicated that we had a couple of hours to spare between free practice and qualifying. My wife and I went shopping for merchandise and have lunch before watching some more extreme bike stunts.
Let’s push “pause” here and consider the situation. I grew up completely obsessed with F1. Years later, I became completely obsessed with watches. Now, here I was — a watch blogger in Montreal attending a Grand Prix as a guest of a luxury watch company. And I was wearing one of their watches. Oris, as you know, has been a sponsor of the Williams F1 team since 2003 and Williams is a legendary name in F1. At this moment, just prior to Saturday’s tense qualifying session, the whole context of the situation began to sink in. I must say, I was living a dream. One of my passions earned me an invitation to my other passion. I was on site in the middle of the premier motor racing event of North America- I could not have wanted to be anywhere else in the world. I was with my wife. We were enjoying great watches. And an epic battle for pole position was about to begin.
The qualifying session lived up to the hype, although my favourites did not end up on top. It was a gorgeous day and we had a sensational view of the circuit. After qualifying, we met up with Adam and our man from Oris for a few drinks. We discussed our day and we discussed all the watches we had seen around the circuit. We had a blast and getting to know people from Oris on a personal level really enhanced our image of the brand. You know the slogan — real watches for real people. Adam and I were already fans of Oris. Getting to “know” the company, however, adds another dimension to our understanding of the company and its culture. Thinking about it now, I cannot imagine a better day. Spending some quality time with my wife and my friends while enjoying F1 and luxury watches is pretty much how I would design any fantasy day — regardless of who got pole position.
On Sunday, I did something for race day that I had not done in more than 20 years — I watched the race on TV with my dad. I was happy to do this after two big days at the circuit. It was over 30 C on Sunday, so my dad’s air conditioned basement and big screen TV seemed like good complements for a Grand Prix. It was an eventful race, as is usually the case in Montreal. And when it was over, it felt like the end of a vacation. You know the feeling — you’re really happy with yourself, but you’re so sad that it’s over after all the anticipation. It was a memorable Grand Prix weekend, that’s for sure. Thanks to Oris and WatchPaper.