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Le Grand Soir celebrates Montreal's F1 return 11 Jun 2010

Canadian Grand Prix promoter Francois Dumontier with Formula One Group CEO Bernie Ecclestone and Michael Fortier and a charity cheque for $500,000.  Le Grand Soir, Montreal, Canada, 10 June 2010 Gerald Tremblay, the Mayor of Montreal. Le Grand Soir, Montreal, Canada, 10 June 2010 Guests at Le Grand Soir, Montreal, Canada, 10 June 2010 Formula One drivers at Le Grand Soir, Montreal, Canada, 10 June 2010 Former F1 world champion, Jacques Villeneuve. Le Grand Soir, Montreal, Canada, 10 June 2010

Montreal hosted ‘Le Grand Soir’ or ‘Grand Evening’ on Thursday to welcome Formula One racing back to the Canadian city after a one-year absence. The spectacular event, staged in the old Windsor train station, saw one of the biggest ever gatherings of drivers and team principals outside of the F1 paddock, with numerous other luminaries, including Bernie Ecclestone, also in attendance.

Under the patronage of Gerard Tremblay, Montreal’s Mayor, Michael Fortier, Strategic Counsel for Ogilvy Renault and Morgan Stanley, and Francois Dumontier, Canadian Grand Prix promoter, the evening began with the obligatory red carpet and a fleet of Mercedes cars delivering the famous guests. Awaiting them were hordes of cheering fans, eager with cameras and pens, ready to request photos and autographs from their heroes.

Among the first to show up was McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, whose arrival created near frenzy among the onlookers. Then came Red Bull team boss Christian Horner and his ‘let’s be buddies again’ drivers Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber; Mercedes GP’s Nico Rosberg with his bosses Ross Brawn and Nick Fry; Renault team principal Eric Boullier and his star driver Robert Kubica; Lotus’s Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli; Toro Rosso’s Sebastian Buemi with his team principal Franz Tost; Nico Hulkenberg and Williams team CEO Adam Parr; Peter Suaber and driver Pedro de la Rosa; Ferrari’s team manager Massimo Rivola; Force India’s deputy team principal Bob Fernley; and HRT team boss Colin Kolles along with Bruno Senna. There were almost too many famous faces to list.

A seemingly touched Bernie Ecclestone said: “It is wonderful to be back in Montreal - and to be honest, we shouldn’t have left in the first place! And to the drivers, I know it is not common that you all turn up in such numbers, so thank you that you did. And turning to (former McLaren team principal) Ron Dennis, who was among the guests: I am happy to see Ron here. Even though he always pretends to be retired, I am sure he is not.”

Francois Dumontier, the man who made it all happen, commented: “I’ve been involved with the organizers of the past Grands Prix, but this time to have managed to make the Canadian race reality again - that is wonderful and from the feedback that I receive from the F1 community everybody feels the same. This race has always been held in high regard by everybody in F1. There was never anybody who didn’t like to fly out for this race - and now it is on again for the next five years.”

Robert Kubica, a man with intense experiences of Montreal after a huge crash and a win here in the past, commented: “This race so far was a black and white experience for me - one year horrible, the next year on the top spot of the podium - so I feel a very deep bond with this place. Let’s hope that it is a good experience again on Sunday!”

And what Montreal memories does Sebastian Vettel carry with him? “The first time I was here my mechanics took me to a very famous bar - I think I don’t have to give more hints - and that was quite an experience for me. I haven’t been there since, but it still lingers in my memory.”

Of course, the evening was not just about celebrity. There was also a good cause behind it. Michael Fortier had the pleasure of handing over a $500,000 cheque to two important local hospitals: the Fondation CHU Sainte-Justine and the Fondation de L’Hopital du Sacre-Cour de Montreal.

The evening showed just how glad Montreal is to have Formula One back - there was a standing ovation for Canada’s only F1 champion, Jacques Villeneuve - and how happy Formula One is to be back in the famous city. It also illustrated how one of the world’s most competitive sports always manages to retain a that human touch.