A polluting Grand Prix in a Montreal that calls itself green

The grand prix and the praise of its big cars are a thing of the past in a city that aspires to be as green as Montreal, say environmentalists.

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“F1 is nothing more than a big advertising campaign for the automobile,” summarizes Blaise Rémillard of Montreal’s Regional Council for the Environment.

“And that’s totally inconsistent and inconsistent with our ambitions to be a city that, like Montreal, demonstrates environmental leadership.” »

Mayor Valérie Plante’s office declined our urgent request for an interview.

“It’s up to the organizers to explain how they intend to contribute to the ecological transition effort,” we limited ourselves to replying.

However, Projet Montréal was selected on the basis of ambitious environmental commitments.

His latest electoral platform pledged to make Montreal a leader in responsible tourism and offer “specific support” for festivals to become carbon neutral by 2025.

Unenviable record

In addition to the contradictory image associated with hosting such an event in the city, many point to the high carbon footprint.

However, the organization of the Grand Prix in Canada refused to reveal this protocol how high its emissions were.

For its part, its international equivalent is estimated at 256,551 tonnes of CO2 its results for the 2018 season at all circuits, ie the consumption of 53,000 cars for one year. Visitor travel is not included in this figure.

Preparations for the race, like here on Monday at the Gilles-Villeneuve circuit in Montreal, have a high environmental cost.

Photo Martin Chevalier

Preparations for the race, like here on Monday at the Gilles-Villeneuve circuit in Montreal, have a high environmental cost.

Aware of its footprint, Formula 1 has adopted a “zero emissions” plan by 2030 that relies heavily on carbon offsets.

Aside from the fact that “the idea that we can continue to pollute under the pretext that there is compensation and tree planting is a huge delusion”, criticizes Patrick Bonin of Greenpeace Canada, who sees this as an excuse the “right” to buy further pollute.

Better without him

Given this record, many are arguing for the complete abolition of the Grand Prix in Montreal, even if the agreement with the city does not expire until 2031.

“Events like this don’t fit anymore. In the current situation, not a drop of oil should be wasted,” says Mr. Bonin.

Racing driver Bertrand Godin counters this idea by saying that if a Grand Prix didn’t take place here, it would take place somewhere else anyway.

“There are many other countries that dream of hosting a Grand Prix,” recalls the sports commentator.

However, environmentalists believe the time is ticking for the cult of motorsport as we know it.

“I hope that one day we will see it the way we see it now in a circus with tigers or elephants. A bit of an aberration from another time,” says Émile Boisseau-Bouvier, analyst for Équiterre.


The majority of emissions from Formula 1 do not come from the fuel burned during competition but from the transport of race cars and organization staff.

  • logistics 45%
  • Business trip 28%
  • plants and facilities 19%
  • organization of the event 7%
  • fuel for racing cars 0.7%

Source: ESG Report, Formula 1, 2019, for the 2018 season

Public money, but at what cost?

An organization from Quebec believes it is high time that public funding for major events such as the Grand Prix be tied to minimum environmental requirements.

“It would be a way to protect funders’ reputations from being tarnished by an organization’s bad practices,” said Caroline Voyer, general manager of the Quebec Council of Eco-Responsible Events.

She believes such conditions should apply to the $18.7 million-a-year subsidized Canadian Grand Prix, despite a heavily criticized carbon footprint.

“Since they get bad press, it would be even more important that they show their credentials,” she continues.

“At the moment we are seeing efforts, but Formula 1 is very, very, very behind. If it doesn’t adapt, governments will no longer want to be associated with this event,” predicts Blaise Rémillard, director of transport and urban planning at Montreal’s Regional Council for the Environment.


The “eco-conditionalities” proposed by the Council can take various forms.

These include the implementation of alternatives to driving alone, the presence of vegetarian options on the menu and the ban on printed advertising material or plastic water bottles on the website.

The newspaper tried – ​​without success – to find out whether the subsidies from the various levels of government for the Grand Prix were accompanied by environmental regulations.

Canada Economic Development would not confirm this for confidentiality reasons.

The provincial tourism ministry simply replied that it was working with the Grand Prix to “accommodate the various issues it is facing”.

The City of Montreal did not respond to our questions on the matter.

Far too timid attempts


Photo archive, Ben Pelosse

Formula 1’s attempts to green its image are numerous, but they fail to convince environmentalists of the seriousness of its approach to reducing its environmental impact. “Yes, there is effort, but is it big? Finally, the Grand Prix helps to downplay the impact of solo car use,” believes Greenpeace Canada’s Patrick Bonin. In the same way, here is an overview of the measures proposed by F1 – and the reservations expressed by several environmental organizations.


The international Formula 1 organization relies heavily on the development and use of biofuels in its plan to achieve CO2 neutrality by 2030.

“However, when F1 talks about sustainable fuels, their credibility goes up in smoke,” sighs Patrick Bonin of Greenpeace Canada.

“Improving biofuels goes against the whole electrification strategy. It’s a plea for keeping gas-powered cars alive because gas is being improved in one way or another,” adds Blaise Rémillard of the Montreal Regional Council for the Environment.

In any case, the fuel burned in the circuit’s car races represents less than 1% of the total emissions, it is pointed out.


During the last edition, 12,793 meals or 3838 kg of food were donated to the Tablee des Chefs to avoid waste, we read on the Grand Prix du Canada website.

“That’s what scared me the most when I read about their actions,” admits Caroline Voyer, executive director of the Quebec Council for Eco-Responsible Events.

She misunderstands how such a large amount of food could even be ordered.

“Giving back to an organization is very good, but the best waste is what doesn’t exist,” she often reminds her clients.


The Gilles-Villeneuve circuit is located in the enchanting and natural setting of the Île Notre-Dame, an aspect that, according to the Grand Prix, benefits the “fans’ well-being”.

The location is also fully in line with F1’s climate neutrality plan, which envisages natural racetracks.

However, as a direct result of the event, Montreal residents will be denied access to this large park for weeks.

“That means we’re using one of the jewels of the metropolis, one of the most interesting public spaces we have, to promote gas-powered cars,” deplored Blaise Rémillard of the Greater Montreal Regional Council.

“We would never do that with Mount Royal,” adds Patrick Bonin of Greenpeace Canada. “Once again, the car interferes with nature. »


The Grand Prix may claim to want to reduce the carbon footprint of its spectators, but environmentalists are still trying to figure out how.

“We say we encourage fans to travel responsibly, but to my knowledge we’re still trying to attract visitors from around the world…” notes Caroline Voyer of the Quebec Council for Eco-Responsible Events.

Canada Economic Development estimates that 117,000 spectators attended the last races held at the Gilles-Villeneuve circuit in 2019, including 52% tourists from outside Quebec and 32% foreign tourists.

These trips are associated with large greenhouse gas emissions, especially if they take the plane.

“It’s the movements of the public that we need to address, that’s the number one problem! calls m.me See.

However, Bertrand Godin, racing driver and sports commentator, brings a downside to this observation.

“The environmental footprint of transport can be applied to any event, even the Tour de France. »


Waste management at the Grand Prix has changed a lot in recent years.

Meals are now served in reusable containers and tickets are electronic only. A brigade of 120 people are patrolling Île Notre-Dame over the weekend to make sure rubbish ends up in the right place.

“From a waste and recycling perspective, they seem to have made a significant effort,” admits Émile Boisseau-Bouvier, climate policy analyst at Équiterre.

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