It's time to put the fun back in F1. Formula One's new owners are hoping to dial down some of the intensity of the high-power and high-pressure racing circuit this season, swapping the paddock for paddling at the Canadian Grand Prix this month with the return of the Great Montreal Raft Race. Just hours before strapping rock star drivers into multimillion-dollar cars traveling at more than 200 mph, team crews - and executives - traded their firesuits for life preservers in a beer-soaked beach party on the erstwhile Olympic rowing venue next to the Circuit Giles Villeneuve. There were no protests, no post-race inspections, no constructor points.
Just a few dozen team members - from mechanics to principals - soaked but smiling as they paddled their hastily assembled crafts across the murky lagoon with nothing at stake except bragging rights.
"We take Formula One very seriously; that doesn't mean we should take ourselves seriously," said Sean Bratches, F1's managing director of commercial operations.
"We let our hair down a little bit - or let our hair get wet today," he said after toweling off and taking a swig from a beer bottle to wash the taste of the lagoon from his mouth. "And it was quite enjoyable."
Since taking over Formula One this year, new owner Liberty Media has said it wants to liven up race week with a more American - meaning fun - approach to the events. (Executives were also careful to stress that they want to maintain the cachet that makes the races popular with its European base.)
So when the traveling circuit returned to Canada this month, so did the raft race.
A staple of the Canadian Grand Prix until the late 1990s, the raft race fizzled out when the demands on the mechanics increased and they became too busy to design and build their own crafts. Before it was discontinued, the "rafts" grew increasingly complicated; in 1990, for example, Ferrari brought in a one-man craft with an outboard engine .
To eliminate the technological arms race and maintain the focus on fun, this year's competitors were each given a couple of wooden pallets for the structure and some empty plastic water jugs for flotation. They had 45 minutes.
"Please build with the spirit of the event in mind," teams were told. "Utilization of that secret America's Cup project file you have tucked away on your laptop will be frowned upon."