webber-canada © Paul Gilham/Getty Images

In his latest blog, F1 journalist Matt Youson takes issue with the protestors' claim that Formula One is an elitist sport...

There tends to be a touch of wincing in the F1 paddock when racing travels to Montreal. For anyone paying their own way, grand prix weekends to be eye-wateringly expensive. Usually venues double their hotel prices for the duration, but Montreal goes above and beyond. It even makes Monaco look cheap.

But that’s pretty much the only criticism of the city, which is otherwise a magnificent venue for F1. It has an exhilarating track, which always produces exciting races; it pulls in a huge and vociferous crowd (which is how it gets away with the hotel prices); and hurls itself into the swing of things by blocking off roads for massive F1-themed street parties. It has more nightlife than you can shake your smartest diamante-encrusted trousers at. Montreal is great for F1.

But there are those in town who don’t agree. In the background narrative of the weekend, we’ve had student protests targeting their ire on the race. The larger protest, in objection to a tuition fee hike, has been going on for a while and their opposition to F1 is an adjunct to that: Quebec can afford to pay for its annual dose of high-speed entertainment but claims poverty when asked to fund higher education. I’ll concede that there probably is a valid point in that. 

null© Matt Youson

What I don’t like is the declaration from one student group that their opposition to F1 is based on it being "elitist, sexist and turbo-capitalism." There is some sexism around, though it’s diminishing, and I’m not entirely sure what turbo-capitalism is, but elitist? I can’t think of many places that are more egalitarian than the F1 pitlane.

Like anything else, there are people who got here because of who, rather than what, they know, or because of the influence of their chequebook, but at the sharp end there’s no hiding. Today’s top three were Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso: none of them from affluent backgrounds. As children they had a talent that was spotted, and they were lucky enough to have that talent nurtured. That process requires a lot of money but show me a world-class sport where that isn’t the case. The engineers behind them are there because they’re smart, not because they’re part of some exclusive cabal.

I suspect the students might be referring to team bosses, but even then, among the billionaires we have teams owned and run by former mechanics, a grocery salesman, an electrician and a milling-machine operator. There’s also a couple of racing drivers and engineers thrown into the mix. Many of them have benefited from a good education, but if that's a sign of elitism then there’s a degree of circular logic going on.

That aside, we’re all doing our bit for the city coffers by spending a fearful amount of money this week. If the state wants to spend that on education, education and education, then that’d be just fine.

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