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World of Formula 1 comes to life in new Toronto exhibition | CBC News

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Formula 1 is coming to Toronto this week, but it’s not in the form of a race down the Lakeshore or a permanent race track set up in the city. The racing series is opening its very own multi-week exhibition in Toronto.

F1 Exhibition opens Friday at the Lighthouse Artspace near the city’s waterfront, in partnership with immersive experiences production company Round Room Live. It’s billed as a groundbreaking show that gives fans an inside look at the sport’s greatest stories.

“It’s been a very well received show,” said show curator Tim Harvey. “We’ve had a lot of critical acclaim and very strong reviews and I think fans love the authentic approach that we’ve taken.” 

The 20,000 square-foot space features six specially designed rooms with artifacts from 1887 to 2023. Eight Formula 1 teams contributed to the exhibition, which features 39 past winners’ trophies, 97 helmets, five race suits and four F1 race cars.

Attention to detail was important for show curators, who say everything from the catchfences lining the walls to the red and white lights on the floor is intentional.

“It’s been five years in the making,” Harvey said. “There has been a huge amount of time and effort. We wanted to create a show that really transported you into the story of the sport.” 

The ‘Drivers and Jewels’ room at the F1 Exhibition displays close to 100 race helmets, lit by red and white fluorescent lights to imitate a curbed hairpin on a race track. (Tyson Lautenschlager/CBC)

F1 Exhibition has already debuted in Vienna and Madrid, but Toronto was handpicked as the first North American city to play host to the experience.

“Many of the stories that exist in the exhibition touch on some of the great races that have happened in Montreal and indeed in Ontario before that,” said Harvey.

Canada hosts a Formula 1 race each season in Montreal at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, the track named after the late Canadian who won the first Canadian Grand Prix held in Montreal in 1978. Before that, the races were held in alternating years at what’s now known as Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, a 3.9-kilometre road course in Bowmanville, Ont., an hour east of Toronto, and the Circuit Mont-Tremblant in Quebec.

The city also hosts an IndyCar race each summer that speeds down the Lakeshore. It’s that history that show producer Jonathan Linden says makes Toronto the perfect spot for F1’s expansion in North America.

“Toronto is an amazing entertainment city and an amazing sports city,” he said. “It’s got a diverse population that are great sports fans, well informed about a variety of different sports, including F1.”

“We were eager and anxious [to launch here].”

Local connections

Linden is from Toronto and has been a part of the F1 Exhibition since it was just an idea, and was also part of the European launch in both Madrid and Vienna. But he isn’t the only Toronto connection to this show.

Toronto car collector William Halkiw acquired the last Lotus F1 race car driven by the late Formula 1 legend Ayrton Senna in 1987. The car is on loan to show curators and is a Toronto exclusive.

“The fact that we could bring this car and show it to F1 fans for the first time is really exciting,” he said.

Ayrton Senna's 1987 Lotus 99T was loaned to the F1 Exhibition by a Toronto man who now owns the piece of Formula 1 history.
Ayrton Senna’s 1987 Lotus 99T was loaned to the F1 Exhibition by a Toronto man, who now owns the piece of Formula 1 history. (Laura Pedersen/CBC)

Senna was killed in a crash during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. It was one of the deadliest weekends in Formula 1 history. Another driver, Roland Ratzenberger, was killed in a practice crash the day before. 

Honouring some of its fallen heroes is a big part of the exhibition, curators say, but so is celebrating the sport’s safety improvements.

One of the rooms in the exhibition is dedicated to Romain Grosjean’s harrowing 2019 crash in Bahrain, which saw his car nearly split in half and engulfed in a big fireball. The crash left Grosjean with severe burns and nearly took his life.

The remnants of Romain Grosjean's fiery and near fatal 2019 crash in Bahrain is displayed in the exhibition's 'Survival' room.
The remnants of Romain Grosjean’s fiery and near fatal 2019 crash in Bahrain is displayed in the exhibition’s ‘Survival’ room. (Laura Pedersen/CBC)

“The story of Formula 1 is unlike other sports,” said Harvey. “There’s a real jeopardy to it. It is a competition that pushes its contestants to the very edge, and it has not always had a happy outcome.”

“When we first opened up that stillage to reveal the remains of that crash, it was spine-tingling then and it’s still pretty spine-tingling now,” he said.

The show’s producers say they hope to launch in other cities across North America in the future, but haven’t determined any locations yet. The Toronto exhibition runs until mid-July.

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