With the 2021 Formula One season opener set to kick off this weekend in Bahrain, many frustrated fans are still waiting to be refunded for last year's Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal.
Originally scheduled last June, the race was postponed due to COVID-19. Although organizers had hoped to reschedule the event, it was officially cancelled at the end of July.
Eight months later, Aniket Hooda still has no idea when he'll see his refund.
"It just leaves a sour taste in your mouth," said Hooda, who lives in Toronto and is owed approximately $2,900.
Hooda purchased his tickets from the F1 Ticket Store, a third-party reseller. Initially, he was promised a refund by the end of October 2020, but it never materialized.
The company apologized for the delay, but told Hooda it doesn't know when refunds will be issued because it is waiting to be reimbursed by the race's promoter, the Octane Racing Group.
Hooda tried to do a credit card chargeback but it was denied because too many days had passed since the transaction.
Believing the Octane Racing Group still has his money, Hooda sent them a formal demand letter in January, giving them a week to pay him back.
Hooda shared their response with CBC Montreal.
In it, Octane's chief client officer, Dominique McCarthy Fauteux, said the reimbursement of Hooda's purchase must be made through his ticket supplier.
While McCarthy Fauteux agreed it is Octane's responsibility to reimburse the Formula1.com online store for their customers, she couldn't give him a timeline but assured him refunds would be made.
Given the race never happened, Hooda doesn't understand where the money went.
"If this was like a small mom and pop kind of shop and they were going bankrupt or they were under duress, you know, I would understand," said Hooda, who has since filed a small claims court application. "But this is a multi-million dollar organization."
Lawsuit triggers refund
Since CBC first reported on the refund delay last December, it has received several dozen emails and social media messages from people in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom who have yet to get their refunds.
Some bought their tickets from a reseller, others from the race organizers directly.
After getting what he believed was the runaround about his refund, Montrealer Fabrizio Mosconi sued the Octane Racing Group last month.
"My fear at one point was they might just say well, sorry, we have no money, we're going bankrupt," said Mosconi, who bought tickets worth just over $1,400.
A few days after he filed his claim, Octane told him the amount would be reimbursed to his credit card. He got his money back last week and withdrew his lawsuit.
Mosconi said if a business promises customers a refund within a certain timeline, it should be respected.
"It took several emails. It took a formal letter. It took a lawsuit to get them to pay it back," said Mosconi, who had attended the Canadian Grand Prix for 25 years.
"If you have to fight for your money, well so be it. At the end of the day, if you get it, it was worth it. And I think it's the only way to go because these people don't seem to really care."
Ticket sales finance operations
But Professor Moshe Lander, a sports economist at Concordia University, said he isn't surprised some people are still waiting for a refund.
Many sports organizations rely on ticket sales to sustain their operations and expenses.
"You're basically borrowing money from the fans at an interest free rate, right?" said Lander. "The longer you can delay repaying them, [the more] that provides some degree of cash flow."
Although the F1 calendar includes a race in Montreal on June 13 this season, the tickets haven't gone on sale yet.
Lander says the promoter and ticket resellers are likely counting on that revenue to pay back any remaining fans who didn't roll their tickets over to the 2021 race.
But no one knows what the COVID-19 pandemic will look like by the summer or if the border with the United States will reopen. Without fans in the stands, a Canadian Grand Prix would likely not be viable.
"If they file for bankruptcy, and say, 'That's it, we're gone,' you can't get blood from a stone, well, then the fans are out of luck," said Lander.
Complaints and lawsuits
To date, Quebec's Better Business Bureau says fifteen people have filed complaints about the way the Octane Racing Group has managed ticket refunds for the Formula 1 Grand Prix du Canada.
The company did not respond to any of the complaints, which has resulted in an F-rating on the BBB's web site.
"They have no teeth," said Professor Geneviève Saumier, who specializes in consumer law at McGill University.
Quebec's Consumer Protection Office has also received complaints about Octane, but as Saumier points out, the government office is not a mediator.
Instead, it provides consumers with different options, including tools on how to write a formal notice or how to file a small claims court application. Like the BBB, it is more of a reputational body, said Saumier.
Saumier says the time between filing a claim in small claims court and getting a hearing is typically over a year in Montreal. But it's a relatively inexpensive option — a $106 fee for claims under $5,000 — and in Mosconi's case, has proven successful.
Saumier says she's surprised no one has filed a class action lawsuit yet, as it needs only one ticket holder to proceed.
Consumer demands transparency
Since he filed his small claims case, Hooda has tried to draw attention to the long refund delays by writing to Marc Miller, the Liberal member of parliament and to the mayor of Montreal.
The mayor's office told him it does not get involved in legal matters and referred him back to the Octane Racing Group.
"It's not even really about the money at this point," said Hooda. "It's just kind of this sense that you're being taken advantage of."
He'd appreciate better communication with fans to explain why there are delays in the first place. A firm deadline on when ticket holders can expect to see refunds would also relieve some of his frustration.
A spokesperson for the Canadian Grand Prix and Octane Racing Group declined CBC Montreal's request for comment.
Formula One did not respond to multiple emails from CBC.