Canada wildfires
This aerial image, courtesy of the Nova Scotia Government in Canada, shows the magnitude of the fire in Shelburne County on May 31, 2023 Nova Scotia Government via AFP

The 2023 Formula One season was originally poised to have up to 24 race weekends, but it is now in danger of possibly seeing a third race cancelled. There have been some concerns about the raging wildfires in Canada, which have the potential of affecting the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal.

Why is the Canadian Grand Prix facing risks?

The Grand Prix weekend at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is scheduled to take place next week from June 16-18. It will be the seventh race of the season, but concerns about the possibility of cancellation were born due to over a hundred fires that have been burning through a vast area in the Quebec region where Montreal is also located. The fires are located north east of the venue, but the smog has already travelled far longer distances.

Over the past few days, New York City further down south in the United States has been blanketed in an eerie orange glow created by the smog that has been carried down from the fires. People living in cities in the east coast of the United States have been forced to wear face masks to protect themselves from the smog. Air quality warnings have also been issued in the area. Residents in affected areas have also been warned to limit outdoor activities in order to avoid exposure to the polluted air. People with heart or lung disease, older adults, children and teens were particularly deemed to be vulnerable.

Over 15,000 Quebec residents have already been evacuated in order to stay safe from the wildfires, which the Canadian government has been struggling to put under control. Some people have already reported experiencing health issues such as pain in the throat and stinging in the eyes.

While the location of the Montreal street circuit is currently safe, a change in wind direction could potentially send smog in its direction. This could hamper visibility in the area, apart from the hazards brought by the air pollution.

Formula 1 eases concerns

Amid the growing concerns, F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali is reportedly monitoring the situation. F1 has since released a statement to address the situation: "The event is not at risk, and we have been assured by all the relevant information that the situation in Montreal is different to other parts of the country and northern US."

Close to 10 million acres have already been burned in Canada's east coast, with the fire showing no signs of letting up. Apart from New York, the smoke has already reached as far west as Chicago.

Two cancellations so far this year

Before the season even began, F1 confirmed the cancellation of the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai due to the ongoing issues surrounding the novel coronavirus pandemic. This reduced the race calendar to only 23 weekends, which is still a record number of events for a single season in F1.

However last month, the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix was cancelled after the northern Italian region was hammered by heavy rains that caused flooding. The Imola Circuit was evacuated just days before the Grand Prix, and F1 was eventually forced to cancel the race in order to prioritise the safety of the participants and attendees. At that time, F1 officials also stated that they did not wish to put further strain on local emergency services who were already busy with the rescue operations.

Now, another race is hanging in the balance. While F1 seems convinced that the race will push through as scheduled, the unpredictability of nature may still offer some surprises. Ticket holders are particularly concerned, especially as many of them have already made travel arrangements to flock to Montreal to enjoy the event in person.

F1 will hold out for as long as possible in order to avoid another cancellation, but when public safety becomes a concern, then they will have to once again make the tough decision.

The Statue of Liberty is shrouded in smog caused by wildfires in Canada
The Statue of Liberty is shrouded in smog caused by wildfires in Canada AFP News