The sights of Monte Carloare burned into the minds of every racing fan. Whether it is the features of the race track, such as Casino Square or the tunnel, or the glamour of the harbour front the decades of racing through the streets of the tiny principality have left a mark on the very fabric of Formula 1.Monacois the only time during the season where the star of the show is the setting rather than the drivers.
In the past I had been to Monaco while on holidays but never during the Grand Prix weekend. The sheer volume of people during the Grand Prix weekend is obviously much greater than on a normal weekend but it never proved a hindrance with most restaurants not overrun with customers and short wait times.
The only issue over the course of the weekend was the train strike throughout Francewhich made it very difficult to get intoMonaco. With theCannesfilm festival on the same week maybe it was inevitable that the train staff would take this week as their target to air their grievances but it made it exceptionally difficult to travel within the region. To put this into perspective it took me eight hours to get to my apartment following qualifying!
The challenge of racing around the tight and twisty confines of the streets is well known to race fans but until you see the action up close it very difficult to appreciate just how difficult a task the drivers actually face.
The TV camera does a tremendous job of flattening the road surface and making Monaco appear to lack much by means of elevation changes but in reality it is very different. The drive from Sainte Devote towards the Casino features a very steep drag up the hill while it’s all the way down hill towards the tunnel.
The road changes throughout the circuit were also surprising with the crown of the road very pronounced in some places, while almost non existent at other points of the track. The entrance towards Mirabeau was the most startling of these. With the racing line taking drivers away from the bump in the road they are forced to cross the crown twice in quick succession including as they enter the braking zone. This makes it very easy to lock up the inside front wheel before pitching the car towards the apex and the rain gully that runs down the inside of the track.
Apart from the differences between the track as it appears on television and in actually the biggest surprise from the weekend was just how amazing a Formula 1 car is to witness at such close proximity.
Standing trackside for F1 or any racing series is always a thrill butMonacoreally showed me the talent that the drivers have and just how aggressive they can be. As they hustle a car between the metal barriers with every mistake ready to be pounced on you get a great understanding of who has the most confidence in their car….and themselves.
The Swimming Pool was my first port of call on Thursday during the opening moments of FP1 and Nico Rosberg was the first driver that I saw coming towards me. The flash of his yellow helmet had been and gone in an instant, almost before it even registered with me.
As the session progressed and the track was cleaned you could see the drivers attacking more and more. They pinched an inch here and there, whether it was brushing against the guardrail on entry or bouncing over the kerbing at the apex, the line through the corner changed immensely and it was the same everywhere.
One of the advantages of being accredited atMonacowas the access granted by it. You are able to go to numerous places which are, by and large, off limits during the weekend. The tunnel is the prime example of this and the first place that many head to during the weekend. Usually on a race weekend you are filled with hustle and bustle with a packed paddock and fans filling the grandstand. The tunnel however is very different. You are isolated, you are alone.
It’s just you, the track and the best drivers in the world. It’s a great feeling but even this was different to what I expected. The noise was tremendous but it was the ground shaking that took me by surprise. As the car came to pass the sound reverberated off the walls and the sheer power of the Formula 1 cars made the ground shake. It was truly amazing to witness this sensation.
The loneliness of the tunnel is in stark contrast to the paddock. Located in the harbour space is obviously a limited quantity and the motor-homes are packed on top of one another with little to no space between them.
Whereas the paddocks I have visited in the past have generally been quite open and with enough space to roamMonacowas in stark contrast. There was barely room to swing a car and it reminded me of the Qatar MotoGP paddock where teams operate as a fly away basis and work out of shells in the paddock.
The limited space was such that the Red Bull “floater-home” is located outside the cordoned off paddock with the majority of fans congregating on the jetty walkway outside of it and the paddock entrance as they seek a glimpse of the drivers and celebrities.
The celebs play an integral role inMonacoand with theCannesfilm festival taking place on the same week the paddock was awash with movie stars with Cuba Gooding Jr and Will Smith both present during the weekend as well as a host of their peers.
All in all Monaco lived up to my expectations in many ways and exceeding them in many others. I’ve spent a lifetime hearing about the atmosphere of this race but also have been used to seeing it not really translate to the screen.
Being there in person however I was able to witness this atmosphere and feel a part of it and it truly is a one of a kind race….and one that I cant wait to get back to in the future!