Let’s start with the sights. The race is run in Monte Carlo, around the consistently sunny, Port Hercules. It’s enveloped by the Ligurian Sea. The scenery is breathtaking – a killer for the racer if he looks up – because every ounce of concentration has to be on the toughest course ever, but if that racer did look up he’d be mesmerized. At the palms, at the white, grey, and beige apartments – some balconied, some terraced, some tiered (and all coveted by old money and the nouveau riche alike) - at the classically constructed Casino and the artfully built Hotel De Paris, at the spectators in their multicolored-lettered caps, at the bright bunting, and at the boats afloat - super yachts in a port-moat of such wealth…that an owner’s wrist watch can cost a swollen million Euros.
And that driver would conclude, if beauty were a beast, that the visuals here are a Tyrannosaurus Rex that would chew the scenery at the Indy 500, say.
Some of the boats - a respectable one will set you back 50 million - are bigger than walkups – that’s another thing that amazes about this elite “Jewel in the Crown” Formula One race. That, and the dappled water and dimpled chins, the beautiful bodies (both cars and citizenry) and the clean streets. The latter are scrubbed every morning.
Now, for the sounds.
They’re electric and eclectic. High-speed airguns whirring, engines idling, rumbling, revving, screaming, whistles tooting, loudspeakers ‘splaining – and, no, that’s not just the effects of too much champagne on one’s noggin, it’s the ceremony of cacophony’s effects, before the big race gets underway, on one’s ears.
The crashes at Monaco are eye openers (hardly startling, as the route features elevations, dips, a hairpin, a tunnel, and, yes, that harbor) - especially the ones before 1969, when guard rails were introduced. Cars careened into businesses, into stands, one, Alberto Ascari’s, somersaulted into the drink. Yet, hard as it is to believe, the racers don’t drive much faster than do teenagers left with the car when the folks are out of town - for Monaco’s course is so tight, so unforgiving, so tricky, and with no “straights” to boot, that Brazil’s racing great Nelson Piquet likened it to “riding a bicycle around your living room.” Top speeds come in at relatively sedate, nowhere near supersonic, 155mph!
And because this route is so rare , so unique, so special, so other-worldly (pit stop crews in their outfits resemble spacemen, for heaven’s sake) the length doesn’t have to meet the FIA standard of a 190 mile minimum race distance. There are rules, and then there are rules, you know?!
But this race will give you the gears, literally. This mind-bending drive – makes it a driver’s day – not a car’s day. Only the best dominate Monaco: Ayrton Senna, Graham Hill, Michael Schumacher. In each lap the drivers change gears about 54 times! (The gears are behind the steering wheel and are electrically operated.) In fact they change gears almost as often as do the glitter-and-gloss gallant guys and gorgeous girls, aboard the yachts, putting the make on each other. Pole position takes on a whole new meaning here...Speaking of pole position, only 26 of those have won in the 59 races...
So you want to be here. Go for the gold. From £2995.00 pp you can spend five nights in an elegant hotel – and watch the Thursday practice runs from a super yacht, sipping or guzzling all the champagne or booze you want. And if the cars and race scenery still leaves your eye-candy quotient a bit low – take in the heralded Amber Lounge Fashion Show. Or simply dream of watching the goings on from your four bedroom duplex apartment terrace with a “directed to the south view” (value: 60 million pounds.)
Apart from the thrill of speed, and the eminent danger that lurks with each turn, or overtake attempt, you gotta give it to these F1 drivers: they know how to cool down their engines, and rev up their libidos, for they get invited to the coolest parties, like, for example, this bash on tycoon, Vijay Mallya’s yacht.
It’s hard to imagine a sport like squash giving off such rites where royally rich rascals’ roger about and helicopters hover, before landing on these ships of swank. Who knew that at these parties, the men wear more scarves than do women, are prettier, and all wear deep pockets: about 2,000 millionaires and 50 billionaires live here.
Unfortunately, despite the glamour of Tax-haven Monaco/Monte Carlo, and its Grand Prix, an oil slick is forming on the track of Formula One racing health – and that slick is this: many, including mainstays like Team Ferrari, feel F1 is getting too rigid and boring and bureaucratic – and most important for the fans, OUT OF TOUCH. Ouch. Sam Smith of WIRED details what insiders suspected: Ferrari is more than a tad upset with F1, and their new “Concept” car proves it.
But Ferrari wouldn’t dream of missing this race where each car is simultaneously a bull and matador, where carnage and damage go hand in hand with strawberries and cream.
Befitting its singularity of style and shape, the Monaco Grand Prix has no podium. Instead, the winner walks to the Royal Box for the trophy. And while that winner will be thrilled to meet royalty, they’ll be touched more so to know that in winning Monaco, they’ll be the best racing driver (helped, a wee bit, by the car’s 150 sensors, thunder bolting information 1,000 times per second, to the team’s $50 million supercomputer) - on the planet.
Or until the 2016 Monaco Grand Prix revs up.