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Grand Prix poised to return to Montreal, Ecclestone says Add to ...

The high-pitched whine of Grand Prix engines, and the estimated $100-million in economic activity they bring, could be back in Montreal next year.

So says Formula One ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone, who promised yesterday that the race would be included on the 2010 calendar after skipping this year due to a contractual dispute.

Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay declined to comment. His spokesman, Darren Becker, said nothing has changed in negotiations to bring the race back to Montreal.

"There are discussions ongoing with the city, Quebec and Ottawa, and we're not going to discuss the framework publicly, other than to say it respects the offer that was previously put forward," Becker said.

"We want the return of the Grand Prix to Montreal, but not at any price."

Ecclestone told German magazine Motorsport aktuell: "We will return to Canada in 2010. I know everyone connected with Formula One loves this Grand Prix."

Last year, Ecclestone cancelled the Montreal race in a dispute over financial arrangements with former race promoter Normand Legault.

Local officials led an effort to revive the event, but failed when they could not meet Ecclestone's demands.

A source who did not want to be identified said Canadian officials were in London two weeks ago to offer a new deal to Ecclestone.

Apparently the proposal was about $75-million over five years, much less than the offer rejected by Ecclestone last November. It is also thought the deal included a promise to pay Ecclestone the money he was owed under the previous arrangement.

Last November, the city offered Ecclestone a five-year package for $110-million in sanctioning fees as well as 75 per cent of the first $10-million in profit and 25 per cent of the rest. In addition, the estimated $20-million from the race's advertising and luxury box revenue would have gone to Ecclestone. His counteroffer of a guaranteed $175-million over five years to keep Montreal on the F1 calendar was too steep for the city and the race was pulled.

But with today's economic downturn and the F1 manufacturers pushing hard for the sport to return to the North American market, maybe $15-million annually looks good to Ecclestone if it also helps placate the sport's car makers: Ferrari, Mercedes, Renault and Toyota.

With Honda having already jumped ship and BMW bailing from the series at the end of the season, Ecclestone may take the money and run if it means making the manufacturers happier. Although both deny the rumours, Renault and Toyota are also thought to be seriously considering an exit from F1.

The manufacturers have said previously that a successful race in Montreal helps to increase the sport's fan base in the United States and can serve as a springboard for a return to that lucrative market.

Ecclestone's decision to axe the Canadian Grand Prix also came under fire from many in the paddock after the poorly attended Turkish Grand Prix, which took Montreal's spot on the calendar. With only a handful of fans turning up in Istanbul, organizers covered grandstands with asphalt-coloured tarpaulins to disguise the empty seats. Estimates put the Istanbul crowd at about 35,000 for the entire weekend. Montreal usually sells out weeks before the event and roughly 300,000 people head to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve over the three-day race weekend.

The return of F1 to Montreal would be good news for Canada's only F1 world champion, Jacques Villeneuve, who has attended several Grands Prix in the past few months looking for a ride in the series.

A race at home would help his cause as he looks for backers.

"That's amazing news," Villeneuve said. "It's the biggest event of the year. It was a little dull [without the GP]and financially, it helps everyone."

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