Lack of Interest, Freebies, and Torched Public Dollars Force Montreal to Say 'Non' to Formula E

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

Formula E bid adieu to the 2016-17 season in Montreal on July 30th, but now Montreal is saying goodbye to Formula E.

The host city, which was on track to close out the FIA Formula E Championship next season, closed a big green door on the electric street racing series today. Newly minted mayor Valérie Plante made the decision after reports arose of the extreme cost to the city’s taxpayers, not to mention a distinct lack of interest from those footing the bill.

The series was expected to be held next year and in 2019. Championed by former mayor Denis Coderre, Formula E was seen as a way for the city — where one can easily hail a Tesla taxi cab — to champion green initiatives.

Hold on a minute. A boondoggle involving large quantities of public dollars and the city of Montreal? Surely not…

Jokes aside, the financial impact of the first year of Formula E racing in the Canadian city does conjure up images of a black hole. According to a CBC News report published four days ago, the non-profit set up to organize the race has already blown through most (if not all) of its $10 million line of credit, and also owes Formula E’s European overlords millions of dollars.

The city of Montreal is on the hook for that line of credit. Figures released by the non-profit organizer — Montreal, c’est électrique — shows it sold 25,000 tickets for last summer’s race and gave away another 20,000 to pad audience numbers. One report claims it actually sold just 5,000. Businesses complained after the race, held on the east side of downtown, disrupted commerce by way of detours and street closures.

Once city councilor, Marvin Rotrand, said the financial situation is “worse than I possibly could have even imagined.”

Unlike other locales on last season’s schedule, Montreal agreed to pay for the privilege of hosting the championship’s final two races. In addition to the $10 million line of credit issued to the organizer, the city put up $14 million for the necessary preparation, security, and roadwork needed to pull it off. New York, Hong Kong, Paris, and other host cities did not use public funds.

The city could also face millions of dollars in penalties for breaking the three-year agreement between the organizer and the series. Other public entities, including Quebec’s Municipal Affairs Ministry and title sponsor Hydro-Québec, pitched in a combined $2.35 million for last year’s race. In the aftermath, politicians and journalists sought to discover what the city actually owed.

The city ultimately released financial figures just days before last fall’s municipal election, in which Coderre, facing criticism for his perceived arrogance, was booted from office after a single term.

“Every city has a different business model. The one chosen by Montreal made it possible to maximize the success of the organization of this major event,” Marc-André Gosselin, spokesperson for Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, told CBC in advance of the election. “It shows that Montreal is a great racing metropolis. This is a long-term agreement.”

Plante was a staunch critic of Coderre’s handling of the Formula E file. “It became pretty clear as early as May 2017 that we were heading to a financial fiasco,” she said today.

Speaking before the cancellation, Coun. Rotrand said, “I think you really have to swallow a big story to believe somehow this would cause a revolution of electrification of transport worldwide by having an e-race in Montreal.”

Plante claims the race could stage a comeback, but not without a “serious business case.” Montreal’s annual Formula One race, far less green but far more popular, will return next June.

Formula E, used as a showcase for battery electric technology by numerous automakers, kicked off for the 2014-15 season and has since earned a reputation as a race fans should be interested in, but aren’t. Read racer-turned-analyst Parker Kligerman describe everything that’s wrong with Formula E in this NBC Sports column.

[Image: Wikimedia Commons ( CC BY-SA 4.0)]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • ToddAtlasF1 ToddAtlasF1 on Dec 19, 2017

    A friend who is into shifter karts and owns many special interest cars including a 997 and a 3.0CS went to a Formula-E race. He will probably buy the right electric car if one ever reaches the market, but Formula-E won't be a reason. He thought it was pathetic to witness.

  • Erikstrawn Erikstrawn on Dec 19, 2017

    1) Don't have paid professional drivers. Do it by drawing and any bubba can sign up. 2) Have Mario Kart style powerups on the track. 3) Put some serious fenders on and allow bumping. 4) Put some serious acceleration down, so that racers who can't conserve momentum have to roll into the pits for a battery replacement. 5) Decorate the cars. 6) Put it on TV right after Wipe Out.

    • See 1 previous
    • Erikstrawn Erikstrawn on Dec 20, 2017

      @Hydromatic More like 24 Hours of Lemons, but with actual money. Allowing bumping is just because the YouTube viewers want to see wrecks.

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