Red hot Formula One a hotter ticket than ever

F1 is among the fastest growing sports with 77% of new fans under age 35

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The Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal has been one of the best summer parties for decades, so imagine what the weekend is like now that your hockey buddies, your girlfriend and all her friends have become Formula One junkies.

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The quickest, loudest and glitziest sport around is also among the fastest growing with F1 races now reaching a billion people and with 77% of new fans under the age of 35, according to Nielsen’s data.

Much of that growth can be attributed to the Netflix docu-series Drive to Survive, which has brilliantly packaged the sport’s speed, technology and athleticism, mixed it with glitz, glamour and egos, and rolled it all up in a package of beautiful people debating whether Monaco or the Alps has better espresso before jumping in the cockpit and racing at more than 350 km/h.

When I was invited by Amex Canada to attend this year’s race weekend, my first thought was yes, my second thought was why?

Having attended a half-dozen races as a fan in the late ’90s and early aughts during Michael Schumacher’s glory years, I was very interested to see how the race had evolved. As to why Amex would be interested in inviting a sports journalist, the company has recently partnered with Formula One to become the official payments partner for races in the Americas. Aside from Montreal, Amex has partnered with F1 for races in Las Vegas, Miami, Austin, Mexico City and São Paulo.

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Golf fans are used to seeing the Amex name as a title sponsor on the PGA Tour, but F1 is the first new sport American Express has struck a deal with in more than a decade.

In these days of social media, it seems every trip, every game, everything people leave the house for, has to be an experience. These aren’t your dad’s road trips, and a Formula One race is perfect for all of this. The three-day event is split between nights at restaurants and hotels in Montreal’s downtown, and days across the bridge at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

Valtteri Bottas
Valtteri Bottas of Finland driving the (77) Kick Sauber C44 Ferrari on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Canada at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 7, 2024 in Montreal. Photo by Chris Graythen /Getty Images

“The F1 fan base and viewership has grown exponentially over the past several years among Millennials and Gen Zs, our fastest-growing consumer cardmember cohort, which makes our involvement in the sport a natural fit for Amex,” said Shiz Suzuki, vice-president of global brand sponsorships for Amex.

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“Experiences are at the heart of what Millennials and Gen Z care about. Think about the cardmember who gets tickets to an F1 race and then being on site to have access to the best view of the starting grid and a premium view of the podium at the Amex Trackside Lounge – that’s what matters to this generation.”

Even back in the days when Schumacher’s red Ferrari was winning every race, a trip to Montreal for the Grand Prix was quite an experience — it was part sports, part summer festival, part fine dining, and even then it required a fair bit of logistics.

These days, the competition off the track is as fierce as ever. With a record 350,000 through the gates over the weekend, Montreal was booming, and so were all its restaurants, bars and hotels. And this is where an Amex card can come in quite handy.

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Gone are the days of collecting loyalty points to exchange for toasters and trinkets. Amex members have access to travel perks through the company’s hotel collection, as well as dining perks including the ability to secure reservations at some of the finest restaurants in Canada’s best cities.

And during F1 week in Montreal, all of that was just the start of it.

Twenty years ago the hottest restaurant during Grand Prix week was Jacques Villeneuve’s Newtown. In 2024, that building was transformed into Amex House, a two-storey lounge for premium American Express cardholders.

The tiny ear-piece radios Amex supplied for spectators to hear the commentary over the roaring sound of engines. Photo by Jon McCarthy /Toronto Sun

Shopping for official Formula One merchandise with your Amex card instantly saved you 10% on your purchases. Cardholders also had access to the Trackside Lounge and the Amex Fan Experience at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Amex also supplied the tiny ear-piece radios for spectators to hear the commentary over the roaring sound of engines.

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In the end, the Montreal Grand Prix proved to be one of the best races of the year. We saw the sport’s second-ever dead heat in qualifying as George Russell and Max Verstappen tied right down to the thousandth of a second, and a day later we saw three race leaders before Verstappen took the checkered flag for the third year in a row.

I saw Schumacher win five times in Montreal, and now I’ve watched this era’s dominant driver win the Canadian Grand Prix. Decades later the experience is still awe-inspiring, the weekend still exhausting, and the trip even more recommended now that the card in your wallet is good for much more than toasters.

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