For nearly 100 years, the gold standard for Grand Prix racing has been the little municipality of Monte Carlo, where a melting pot of tight streets, glamorous celebrities and the 20 World’s best drivers all collide to create an event which is known even by people who regularly lambast the sport as just cars going around in circles.
But times are changing; Liberty Media and the teams are unhappy about how Monte Carlo is being organised with the one-off sponsorship deals with companies such as Tag Heuer, causing further issues with the sport’s bosses.
Throw in growing complaints about the circuit’s lack of overtaking opportunities, the lack of space for the team’s transporters & hospitality units, as well as a rather bizarre broadcasting deal which gives TMC the rights to direct the weekend’s coverage rather than FOM, and it seems that for the first time since the outbreak of the Second World war that the future of the Monaco Grand Prix is under threat.
With this in mind, I felt it was right to head to Monaco to see whether it was true that the sun was coming down on one of motorsport’s crown jewels.
New day, same old nightmare with picking up the pass, as not only isn’t it ready when I get to the centre (second time I tried this), I find out it won’t be ready until the afternoon, effectively ending all chance of me getting into the media sessions.
For a top-level sport such as Formula 1, it is frankly unacceptable and damn right insulting that not only do they give journalists a week’s notice to get ready to head to the track, but when they get there, they find out the pass isn’t ready for another two days.
However, this isn’t an FIA problem; it’s an F1 problem as they now print the passes rather than the sport’s governing body. Surely it would be more sustainable and more effortless for journalists to simply post them to their addresses or give us a number to contact for when it’s expected to be ready for us to plan our day out more efficiently rather than having us run around like rats in a drain.
Even a temporary pass so we can do our work whilst the weekend pass is being prepared would be sufficient, but evidently, clever ideas are typically ignored or discarded in a wall of red tape.
Perish the thought when the flyaways come around…
After six long, tedious hours and a brief shopping trip to the fabulous Formule 1 boutique that is chocked full of vintage F1 merchandise as well as a much-needed ice cream break, my pass finally arrives, and it’s off to the paddock to sort my desk out for the weekend.
In the paddock, I caught up with Australian wunderkind Oscar Piastri who is still very much a busy man in spite of just having testing duties for Alpine and the odd tv punditry gig to do. However, the chances of him getting an F1 birth this year are very slim, so we will probably have to wait until 2023 to see what he can do at the highest echelon of motorsport.
The press room itself is very modern and spacious, even if the tables are relatively close together; plus, with the press conference room just a walkthrough, it’s one of the easiest press rooms to navigate.
After typing up some quotes, I walk back to the train station just as Monte Carlo comes alive with restaurants, bars and merchandise shacks open up to make some extra bucks from passing punters.
With my pass now firmly in tow, I get up early to head straight to the track thinking it would be a straightforward walk to the media centre.
It wasn’t as it turned out as journalists were sent to walk through the city, which I might add is still very busy and full of buzz even with 20 Grand Prix cars flying around. I finally see signs to the media centre located near La Rascasse at the back of the course. Normally, I would complain about the walk, but considering yesterday’s events, I was more than grateful to get there well on time.
After the FIA press conference, where I ask a slew of questions about a variety of topics, including whether Monaco warrants a place on the Formula 1 calendar, which unsurprisingly, the drivers say it does, stating that other tracks such as the Hungaroring and Marina Bay also have a limited amount of overtaking opportunities yet they aren’t threatened with expulsion from the Formula 1 calendar.
The comments from the drivers are music to my ears; as for me, the departure of Monaco from the Formula 1 would also see the end of the sport’s ties with its roots when the likes of Tazio Nuvolari, Rudolf Caracciola and Louis Chiron would race around these streets for over 100 laps in cars that were effectively heavy coffins on wheels. If the drivers like coming here and the fans keep coming from all over the globe to enjoy or endure the splendours of the principality through a well connected public transport system (another tick in Monaco’s favour), then why should we leave? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
In between press conferences and FP1, I head through the tight pitlane to get some shots of the cars in the pits before stopping again to have a casual chat with another member of the late pass brigade as we reflected on what had been a miserable and frankly boring as hell Thursday.
FP1 goes by without an issue, and on the way back to the media centre for yet another cup of coffee, I have a brief chit chat with Mika Hakkinen, who is still very much a presence in the paddock and is currently busier than ever with his new role as a tv pundit for Viaplay. I find Mika to be a gentleman who gave me the time of day even if I am a virtual nobody picking up my pass ever so gently and asking whether it’s my first time here.
With FP2 over and a quick albeit painful trip into town for burgers, I head to Pirelli to catch up with Mario Isola before heading to the social gathering of the weekend, the Red Bull party held on the team’s fabulous energy station.
Although the party was to promote NFTs (a thing which I flat out refuse to pay attention to), the advent of a free bar and loud over the top music was a temptation that I couldn’t resist, and strangely enough, nearly all of the media centre also followed suit bar a few people who burnt the midnight oil.
The Aperol Spritz flavoured with Red Bull’s organic black orange soft drink hits the spot, and with it being free after a hard day’s graft, the taste is even sweeter. The food that was served at the party came around in selected intervals, but it generally wasn’t that big, so if you hadn’t eaten beforehand, you probably went home still very hungry, albeit not starving.
Qualifying day starts off expensively with a cappuccino that costs an eye-watering €5.50, which in turn nearly makes me fall off my chair, but after gathering things together, I head straight to the media centre to prepare for this morning’s team principal press conference with the cost gap the main topic of conversation.
It seems to me at least the big teams and the smaller teams are on a collision course as it seems no matter which argument you listen to, you get the feeling that not everyone will be entirely satisfied. So it wouldn’t surprise me if the lack of solidarity regarding the future cap causes its demise.
The food and drink in the media centre is more accessible than in Barcelona, but that doesn’t mean they should pat themselves on the back too much as the choices are still limited to an assortment of croissants and instant coffee. Still, it’s better than nothing, I suppose.
As I get my position by a window in the media centre right near La Rascasse, I watch the cars in full flight and continue to be amazed at how nine times out of ten, they manage to drag the new generation of Formula 1 cars around one of the tightest corners in all of motor racing without wrecking several front wings.
At the culmination of qualifying, it’s back off to the media pen, which is even more cramped than in Spain, but that’s not surprising, of course. Most of the drivers are available to the local and international ones, except Max Verstappen, who is whisked away from the media after fulfilling his obligations to the Dutch media, much to the fury of some of my English speaking colleagues.
With a trip to the McLaren media centre to hear from a glum sounding Daniel Ricciardo and a still ill Lando Norris done, I try to jump back on an early train to Menton. But, unfortunately, it turns out to be an extremely, very bad idea as the queues at the entry of the train station are appallingly bad with miles of queues stretching from the bottom of Ste Devote.
Luckily for me, I am in the queue with Mercedes head of communications Bradley Lord, a veteran of 20 Monaco Grand Prix, and with him knowing his way around this place, I follow him through a rather steep hilly shortcut in order to get to the train station. The gamble pays off, and I make it to the train station just on time, even if I did get sent on a mission to the platform after the organisers closed part of the station off from fans leaving elevators. It seems without fail that every Grand Prix I go to the, Saturday is always the day where the organisers decide to be as inefficient as possible.
Even though showers were forecast in the week leading up to the race weekend, race day is bright and sunny, albeit slightly cooler and with a short walk from the station to the track completed with ease, it’s time to head to the media centre to type up yet another story on the budget cap saga as the coffee machine gets repaired.
The run-up to race day is typically dour as there's no media sessions to attend, so you become quite bored for the most of race day unless you fancy constant walks up and down in the paddock trying to hobnob with an ex-driver or a familiar face which I do as I manage to have a quick chit chat with Juventus star Federico Chiesa.
Monaco’s paranoia over security continued on Saturday and Sunday as now security was standing at the gates with metal detectors even though they weren’t present on Thursday or Friday. I understand they have our best interests at heart, but it gets a little tiresome when were getting scanned every time we go back and forth from the media centre.
Although the race was supposed to start around 3 pm local time, a late rain shower causes the race to be delayed by just an hour, much to the bemusement of most in the media centre, who are confused as to why race control delayed the formation lap in the first place when conditions at the time were damp but not soaking wet.
Eventually, we do get a start, albeit a rolling one, and for the first 27 laps, there is a decent amount of action until yet another red flag calls a halt to proceedings, effectively ending all chance of the race completing the full distance. However, the main thing is Mick Schumacher got out of his crumpled Haas without a scratch showcasing the good safety standards of modern-day Formula 1 cars.
With a somewhat awkward media session with Ferrari done, it’s time to wait for a decision on whether both Red Bull drivers went over the yellow line when leaving the pits naturally; like everything with the FIA these days, it takes some time, so everyone elects to do some more typing or watch the Indy 500 where Swede Marcus Ericsson takes a shock victory much to the delight of the press centre who applaud him as he crosses the line.
The protest comes to nought, and as I am about to leave, I ask the hard-working people at the reception desk to get my colleague and me a poster as a final memento from what has been a trip of a lifetime and with the posters all around the media centre they duly oblige much to my delight.
I do hope that this won’t be my first and last time at the Monaco Grand Prix…