In Montreal, the natives call the event "the formula." The red lights go off, adrenaline kicks in, streets downtown are closed off to party, and Ferraris appear as though spawning. Fans from everywhere flock to the cathedral of noise, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, on an island in the Saint Lawrence River, drawn there by the high-decibel song that always makes me think of Odysseus and his men lured by the Sirens in The Odyssey. It's a sound both intoxicating and dangerous, one you simply can't ignore. For Montreal's thirtieth Canadian Grand Prix last June, the song of the Sirens was not exclusive to the track. Downtown was rocking, too.
My first night on the scene I wandered around and savored the let-it-all-hang-out spirit of Quebec.
"Sex bomb, sex bomb; you're my sex bomb," a singer belted out from a bandstand on Drummond Street, which was roped off and throbbing. Real sex bombs paraded by, arm-in-arm, Québecois-style. There were guys chatting up women on bikes with flowers in their baskets. French, English, Spanish, and Italian were being spoken. Three leggy brunettes, arms waving, trooped past, mouthing the music: sex bomb, sex bomb. "For those who want to keep on partying," the singer announced, "keep on coming. We'll be partying like Russians 'til Sunday."
It was only Thursday, quarter to midnight.
I'd returned after years of disinterest. Formula 1 has always been about excess: fast cars, leggy babes, big egos, globe-trotting teams, a carbon footprint the size of a small country's air force. But lately, for me, its soul - if motorsport can be granted such a thing - had slipped into hiding. There was too much money, a monopoly mentality imposed from the top down, drivers often so remote or inscrutable that they put me to sleep. Being an F1 fan struck me as an exercise in dissonance: a love of racing lost in a cascade of cash that glorified control and made the races themselves, apart from the wonderful noise, exercises in tedium. But I'd decided to give the premier motorsport another try.
What any disgruntled fan needs, of course, is a new hero to cheer for. For me, that meant a flesh-and-blood driver who connects with the masses, not a robot behind a wheel or a CEO-type who wins race after race. Earlier this night, I'd been pleasantly surprised to find that just such a driver might have, as one veteran Formula 1 fan put it, "dropped out of the sky."