Christian Tortora – journalist covering Formula One for over 30 years is our last guest of the evening. (Being an F1 fan, I was looking forward to this.)
Torto is here to help promote a new direct-to-DVD documentary that he participated in: Ecclestone’s Formula (Ecclestone: La formule du pouvoir). Torto had this to say about Formula One’s über-boss: Bernie’s a maniacal obsessive. He’s got all the money in the world and he’ll still check the journalists’ bathrooms to make sure they have the right toilet paper. He loves power, not money to the point of not even knowing the value of it within his sport; a new team wants in and he’ll simply quote a number, like $200M, which would get paid without hesitation. Next year will see TV stations re-negotiate their agreements with F1 in order to lower costs. It’s not that F1 is not profitable; it’s just that they must lower costs in order to continue down the right path.
After thirty-plus years in the paddocks, Tortora now works the races from home, in Provence. He’s got a nice set-up with multiple monitors and camera views and is able to do the races live on RDS. Torto doesn’t miss the paddocks so much anymore – his friends are gone and in the past few years, the pilots have become less and less accessible. There was a time where a driver would step out of his car at the end of the race and be immediately swarmed by journalists.
Asked about the 2013 race in New York (it’s actually New Jersey, but no one correct Guy A. they fear him I suppose) he doesn’t believe it will compete with Canada’s GP. The Canadian race is the second-largest event in the calendar by attendance, attracting approximately 150,000 people to the race.
Minister James Moore is asked about this and he makes a comparison to the Olympics: it’s not in our best interest to lose this event; it makes too much money.
Torto reminisces briefly about a most painful moment for him – May 8, 1982 at Zolder (Belgian Grand Prix), when Gilles Villeneuve, father of Jacques Villeneuve, crashed and died. He didn’t sleep for three days after the event as he was kept busy. He acted as spokesman for Joann (Villeneuve père’s wife) representing her to the media; there were so many tape-recorders at the hospital, they lined a whole wall. In the end, after having to speak with prime minister P.E. Trudeau, Villeneuve was given military escort to the airport and by plane back to Canada. Sleep came soon after.
Although the vroom-vroom interview segment is later, the speed at which questions are asked and answered is impressive, so I’ll use that here on in:
- Most memorable moment? Jacques Villeneuve’s 1997 World Championship win
- Why did JV not succeed more? Bad advice from his manager. ‘nuff said.
(Villeneuve fils was in Paul Arcand’s movie – he tested some of the modified cars for performance. He’s a great guy apparently.)
- Favourite course: Spa (Spa-Francorchamps, site of the Belgian Grand Prix for most of the 20th century, with breaks in-between due to safety concerns. It’s a crazy track!)
- Least favourite course: Monaco
- Favourite city: Montreal, of course!
- Least favourite city: Spa
- Most missed race: Argentina
- Course that should never have existed: Abu Dhabi
- Fastest driver: Tie between Prost and Senna
- Driver that could have profited from a better car: JV
- Least friendly driver: Michael Schumacher
- Most bastardly (salaud) driver: Schumi again.
- Most feared current driver: Alonso
- Biggest rivalry: Prost/Senna
- Biggest gaffe in career: during preparations for the 1981 Belgian Grand Prix (at Zolder, not Spa-F), Torto was called to Rome to cover the assassination attempt on Pope Jean Paul II. Upon arriving in Rome he was counselled by friends and colleagues to just go back and call a few times a day for info. Sadly, during a call in to his home network, listeners were greeted with the sound of speeding F1 cars as he delivered his report “live from Rome”.
Why this matters
There are positive and negative feelings towards F1 in Montreal so I’ll let you decide if it matters or not. In the end, it’s entertainment and therefore only matters to folks who gain from it – one way or another. I still like Torto a lot and I’m happy we’ve had his perspective tonight.
- The Canadian Grand Prix is a costly event to hold, but it's a worthwhile investment. Radio-Canada reported in 2010 that the event costs taxpayers $15mil. to hold (from municipal, provincial and federal investments). But the flip-side of that is a $89mil. windfall to the Montreal economy, especially the tourism, hospitality, retail and accommodation sectors. That's bang for your buck!
- That investment money was at the root of Montreal losing the Formula One event in 2009 as Ecclestone and the governments couldn't agree on how much to pay.
- Not everyeone thinks we should have it: last year the event was met with a protest, saying F1 encourages a lifestyle of overconsumption.