Monaco Grand Prix. It’s one I’d always wanted to do, but had always thought was prohibitively expensive to do properly, and had therefore put off…However, it remained firmly on the list, and when we decided to “go for it” back in October last year, it was GA tickets that were purchased.
As you will see, by the end of the weekend, I ended up experiencing the full “yin and yang” of an F1 weekend! From Monte-Carlo mud, to Fairmont frivolity!
We flew into Nice Airport and took the 110 tourist coach into Monaco, a journey time of around 40 minutes (you can also get a bus to Nice station and get a train as another option, or grab a taxi). We caught our first glimpse of the typical harbour view as the bus passed through, winding its way down to deposit us at the Tourist Information office. We were staying in Beausoleil – originally we had decided on accommodation in Nice, fully knowing that it might curtail some partying as the latest trains back to Nice depart at around 11pm. However, nearer the time, another Bobblehat joined our travels, and we were lucky to find a last minute cancellation apartment that had been released. It was a basic basement flat with no view and certainly no bells and whistles, but a well situated base for our adventures.
Beausoleil is about as close to Monaco as you can be without actually being in Monaco; a 10-15 minute walk to the station. Google Maps told me that we were a 12 minute walk from the apartment, so off we trundled, avec wheelie suitcases…it was soon after this that the perhaps obvious thing about Monaco actually hit me; it was MUCH hillier and steeper than it looks on TV! Suddenly, we found ourselves facing some steps to ascend to the street on the next strata above, but whereas I’d perhaps expected a little slope or a few steps, in Monaco, you seem to go up 6-8 flights in one go! I admit to uttering an expletive and looking for a Sherpa as I dragged my suitcase behind me…!
After a Thursday rain shower and a quick unpack, we headed back into the centre of Monaco. Walking along, the next thing that hit me was that there really are indeed Ferrari’s, Lamborghini’s and similar everywhere you turn. Suddenly my Audi felt like the Flintstone’s car by comparison!
We walked through the station and down the steps to Sainte-Dévote, the chapel that sits upon the famous corner named after it. There was a crowd gathered by the Automobile Club de Monaco shop, and we were lucky enough to see Prince Albert emerge at that moment with his police escort. He seemed to have the best number plate in Monaco, as you might expect – MC01!
The shop is a great place to buy what I would class as better quality F1 souvenirs than you would normally find at a race, and I am a connoisseur of F1 tat! I bought myself a spark plug F1 car model, as well as some key rings, and a T-Shirt and postcard with the image from this year’s race programmes and posters upon. There are also various merchandise stalls in the streets, at the F1 village, and every corner shop seems to sell an F1 fridge magnet or even a snow globe!
A big draw for us was the Red Bull Energy Station, which could be found along from Rascasse corner, by the fences of the paddock. Alas we didn’t get to go onboard (I say this as it is built on a floating pontoon here), but we did see Craig Slater doing a live link for Sky Sports F1. He was more than happy to do one for Badger GP too! It was also a good lurking place to see the drivers come and go as night fell, and an excellent Bobblehat meeting place!
After running completes each day, the Marshalls remove some of the strategically placed crash barriers, and the track is opened up for public access. The local bars then instantly wheel out extra tables, and pop-up bars appear on the track in what is quite a speedy transformation. This really is the place to be in the evenings, a buzzing atmosphere from Rascasse along the track, with the pit lane lit up above you, but don’t expect it to be refined! I ended up have my drink splashed all over the place when making my way through the crowds, and let’s just say it’s a good job they clean the track before running starts the next day….! It’s an odd experience as a first time visitor to Monaco when you realise where you are, and that you are walking on fresh marbles where the cars had been earlier, looking at girls on stilts, podium dancers, and the hourly fake snow that La Rascasse emits!
When in Monaco, it’s compulsory for a Bobblehat to visit Stars N Bars, a motorsport themed sports bar along from Rascasse, and behind the temporary fencing of the paddock on a race weekend. There are oodles of memorabilia items all around the walls, and if Mika Häkkinen ever wonders where he may have misplaced his MP4/15 from 2000, I’ve found it hanging on the wall here! It is also a reasonable priced and convenient place to grab a table and catch up with all your buddies, and to line your stomach before the next logical step – back to the track for more beers! I can however testify that it is a long walk homewards through the tunnel after you’ve called it a night and realise you have been up for nearly 24 hours!
On a Friday, something that is unique to Monaco, is that there is no F1 running, but there are some support races in the morning. We watched the GP2 race from Ste. Devote before it was time to head for the pit walk. There was a large queue at the gates waiting for the track to be opened, and this happened later than scheduled leading to huge crowds. There was a bottleneck at the pit lane as officials were checking tickets closely, and people with GA Sunday only tickets were turned away.
Once we had got past this, we walked along the pit lane, and past the swimming pool. This pit walk was slightly different to others I’ve been to as you are kept behind a barrier on the far side of the pit lane and not so close to the garages. However, we still had a good vantage point to see pit stop practices and meet a driver or two! It’s also very interesting to see all of the tyres stacked up out front due to the general lack of space the teams have to deal with here, as well as the track below where you’ve been frequenting the bars on the previous evening.
After the pit walk, we had seen on a TV screen that the SKY Sports F1 Show was being broadcast from the Randstad Amsterdam boat in the harbour, so we headed the for a look. We could see Simon Lazenby climbing the rigging with a brave cameraman in tow! I truly didn’t envy them that experience, as with every little breeze, the boat was rocking! We also met Alex Lynn and Alex Wurz, who had been on the programme launching the Grand Prix Drivers Association Fan Survey. Not filled it in yet? Follow @GPDA_ on Twitter, and go to GPDA.Motorsport.com and get your voice heard! We also had our normal catch-up with the lovely Johnny Herbert, and had an #ArrivebeneSelfie with the very polite and accommodating Ferrari Team Principal!
It’s great to wander around the boats in the evening, and spot a few celebs, as well as walk through Casino Square. On our travels, we spied the Jenson Button Trust boat, newlyweds Geri and Christian Horner, and some exceedingly sexy cars!
For FP3 and Quali, we were lucky enough to have been invited to view from the balcony of the Fairmont Hotel with the swimming pool behind us, so this was definitely a day for looking slightly more refined and not one for wearing full Bobblehat gear! It was truly magical watching the cars round the iconic hairpin – you really can see the gradient here much more than I had previously ever noticed watching on TV. We saw Kimi’s car brought back on a transporter after FP3 finished. I also couldn’t contain my excitement as bumping into the legend that is George Lucas when coming out of a lift, although he looked slightly less impressed about it than I did! He did humour me however, allowed me to sit next to him for a photo, and told us he was supporting Lewis for the weekend.
Whilst at the hotel, we viewed the amazing artwork of Armin Flossdorf, which was on display there. I’d not seen them in person before, and Armin’s work has a real energy about it – I felt privileged to be able to chat to him whilst there about how he goes about his work, and some of the live painting sessions he had been doing for people at various hospitality areas over the weekend. Take a look at www.f1arts.com to see more.
We also saw fans doing a lap of the circuit on an open top buss, as well as some cars on hot laps going sideways around the hairpin, looking like the passenger might have needed a change of underwear! We took in the GP2 race, and they didn’t disappoint, coming around the hairpin three cars abreast! Inevitably, we got to see the skills of the Monaco marshalls in action as the crane was deployed to speedily remove a car under the yellow flags.
Celeb of the weekend for me? Chris Evans! He was in Monaco entertaining those who had bid for a trip to the race weekend as part of Children In Need. We saw him at various points during the weekend and he was always smiling!
Race day came round fast, and we walked through the Fan Village to make our way up to our GA position on Rocher. We (literally) dug in once we found a gap. People do camp on the hill for days in advance, and arise very early on race day to get a spot, but we still found a patch of earth arriving 30 minutes before the driver parade. Highly recommended for this would be a foam seat pad and a bin liner, plus all the food and drink you need so that you don’t need to move! What’s the view like? We had a good view of the pit entry, so I could clearly see a moment when the Tag Heuer grid boys lined up for both Sky and BBC coverage. We could also see the top of the cars approaching Rascasse, and later when we adjusted our place, we could see the Safety Car leading all the cars up the straight. It was all about avoiding the trees and hanging on tight!
After the race, we had a mad rush for the airport – do NOT underestimate the queues you might get caught in trying to walk back across towards the station. The police keep closing streets due to overcrowding, but ironically they seemed to make it worse by doing so! However, the Sunday night flight home proved to be worth it as it also featured some of the F1 circus. We saw Jolyon Palmer, Alex Lynn, Bob Fearnly, Andy Cowell, Ted Kravitz, Johnny Herbert…we all seemed to be heading for the same Easyjet flights home!
So, Monaco was a blast, you really should do it, even if it’s just the once! Here’s my top tips for you:
- Don’t eat on the main street up in the town – the tables outside look lovely and it’s a great area but the restaurants bring out F1 Weekend menus with greatly inflated prices on them, and don’t list soft drink costs, which are highly inflated. Walk a few minutes away from this area, and you’ll find more normal prices. Make sure you do Stars N Bars!
- Wear comfortable footwear (or have a spare pair in your bag) as you mustn’t underestimate the walking or the steps!
- It is easy to lurk by the Paddock gates here, there’s no trick to it other than patience and commitment, and we saw lots of the drivers and team, although it’s worth noting we didn’t see Seb, JB, Kimi or Nando.
- Although La Rascasse is expensive for drinks, go there once so you can say you have, then walk further along the track and you’ll find beer on tap on the track for 5 Euros.
- Rocher may not be glamorous but it IS an experience!
Next up for me is Silverstone – the British Grand Prix. Hopefully see you there and let’s pray for good weather!