My list of 'Must Go To Races' was always as follows:
- Spa (done in 2001 and 2009),
- Monza (done in 2008),
- Canada (maybe one day).
Monaco was never on the list. Why? Boring races, rich idiots on yachts, pointless celebrities who aren't interested in F1 (you're thinking of the Sugababes right now, aren't you?), and too much of a focus on the parties, fashion shows and glamour.
All that said, when friend and fellow Felipe Massa die-hard Jade, AKA @lookingspiffy was planning to go to the 2012 Monaco GP, I jumped onboard immediately and started saving. I wasn't looking forward to it anymore than I normally do when I'm going to an F1 event, and I figured that as a Ferrari fan, nothing was ever going to top going to Monza anyway. Also playing on my mind as I boarded my Belfast-Nice flight was 'I hope my house doesn't burn down while I'm away', 'What if I've spent all this money and Felipe has a terrible race?' and most of all, 'I miss my dog'.
I'm an idiot. I mean, I knew this anyway – but really – I am an idiot.
Tuesday 22nd May 2012
As well as general idiocy, I'm also fairly (read: very) pessimistic. I figure that if I don't get my hopes up about anything, then I won't suffer any disappointments. So as I landed at Nice Airport on the Tuesday afternoon, I believed I was in for a good week of watching the cars go around the track, and maybe a driver-spotting or two, if I was very lucky. Probably just drivers in the lower teams at that. I mean, how much access could you get at Monaco?
Jade and I had flown into Nice on the Tuesday purely so we would be in Monaco for the Nazionale Piloti match, an event held by Prince Albert every year. It features Prince Albert's 'All Star' team against a team made up of current and former racing drivers. I'm no football fan – the last time I watched a full 90 minutes of football was probably the 1990 World Cup when I liked Gary Lineker (shut up), but F1 drivers playing football was a different story entirely. I knew that Felipe usually played for Nazionale Piloti, so at the very least his presence would stop me from slipping into a coma during all the pig-bladder kicking.
After a quick trip to a supermarket in Nice to stock the fridge in our really very good apartment, we made our way into Monaco via the number 100 bus. This allowed us to see how beautiful the coastline is, as we passed through places such as Villefranche-Sur-Mer, Eze, and the intriguingly titled 'Barmassa'. Unfortunately the winding, clifftop roads also left me feeling decidely green and vomity (I'm a driver, not a passenger), so our bus experience was not repeated for the rest of the week. (More about the horrific transport situation later).
We found the Stade de Monaco fairly easily, sort of laughing to ourselves in a 'Haaaaah, look at us walking through MONACO like this is totally normal' way, and paid the ridiculously cheap price of €5 each for a match ticket. €5. To see F1 drivers running about in shorts.
Points to note about the Stade de Monaco:
- It's a 70s nightmare.
- It is tiny aside from having around 3 billion concrete steps, 99% of which I think we walked up in an attempt to find our seats.
- It is entirely painted in becoming shades of forest green, light brown, brown, and dark brown.
- It's a teeny bit rapey.
- The Eagles played there for Prince Albert's wedding. That has nothing to do with the Nazionale Piloti match; I just think it's an interesting if slightly bizarre fact.
Anyway, we settled into our seats and our respective Massa-radars went off a few minutes later when lo and behold, the man himself appeared with his little brother, Dudu. Other drivers present included Sergio Perez, Ivan Capelli and his little beard, and surprisingly, Michael Schumacher, who hadn't played for Nazionale Piloti for quite a while. I sat through the first half resisting the temptation to shout 'Offside!' and 'Oi, ref!', and generally take the piss. The sun was shining, I was watching F1 drivers trot around a football pitch in the South of France, and all was well with the world.
During half-time, we realised that Felipe's dad, and son, Felipinho, were there also, so rare maternal feelings were felt as we watched Felipe walk onto the pitch with him before going off into a huddle with Michael to talk about tactics or something. Thankfully Felipe was subbed quite early into the second half, so we spent the rest of the match not even paying attention to the football; instead watching Felipe kick a ball back and forth with Felipinho right in front of us.
|3 generations of Massa|
I judge me for taking the amount of photos I did during this, I really, really do. And yet, I. could. not. stop.
At the end of the match, we left the stadium happily and got the train back to Nice. I figured that if nothing else, I'd seen Felipe in the flesh that evening, because let's face it, no way would I get that close again over the course of the rest of the week...
|Outside the Stade de Monaco|
|Inside Monaco train station|
Wednesday 23rd May 2012
The plan for Wednesday was just to go into Monaco and see what happened. The weather was sunny and hot, and the rain that had been forecast for the weekend didn't seem like it was going to happen. Exiting Monaco train station and walking outside, it took a good few seconds before I realised where we were standing – Ste. Devote.
It was a bit of a mind-melt standing there, thinking about 1997, when Michael went off there in the rain and still went on to win the race, or 2008, when Felipe went off in the same place (but sadly didn't go on to win).
We walked down towards the starting grid, taking in the pre-race atmosphere which was bubbling away around us. The roads were open to 'normal' traffic and I can confirm that the amount of cars and mopeds in Monaco is mental. I felt like I took my life in my hands every time I tried to cross the road.
As we walked further down the road, we saw an entry to the pitlane on the left. People were filtering through it, so we followed. The entire time, I was waiting for someone to stop us, tap us on the shoulder, or ask to see our passes. Nope. Nothing. You get so used to not having access to anywhere at the likes of Silverstone or Spa that it seemed ridiculous that they'd just let any old plebs into the pitlane, even if it was only Wednesday.
Obviously they had the garages blocked off but we were still able to walk along down the pitlane and see into the garages. There were no drivers about, but there were mechanics working away on the cars, and team members walking up and down, seemingly oblivious to all the fans standing gawking at them and taking photos.
Naturally we made a beeline for the Ferrari garage in the hope of seeing a certain race engineer from Middlesbrough. Jade and I had met Rob Smedley in the Catalunya paddock during testing in 2011, and while I really wanted to meet him again, realistically I doubted I'd be that fortunate twice. Also, I feared swooning-based embarrassment may occur.
While we were having a bit of a nosey into the Brazilian side of the Ferrari garage, another online F1-fan friend Steph (@redsteph91) called me to say that she'd just arrived and was down in the paddock. Being our first time in Monaco, we had no idea how to GET to the paddock, so we continued peering into the garage in the hope of seeing someone blue-eyed and chin-dimpled. Then, Steph texted to say that she'd just seen Rob Smedley in the paddock. Yep, it was time for us to leave the pitlane. As we walked to the end, I heard a woman's voice very loudly saying "And then he said 'I need to have sex RIGHT NOW'." I turned around, only to see that the woman telling this intriguing tale was Sky presenter Natalie Pinkham. Probably best to keep your voice down in future, love.
We walked down some steps and ended up beside the harbour, where the entrance to the paddock was. Again, no-one tried to stop us, and people were freely walking about. It wouldn't take a completely mental fan to go to Monaco as they'd have easy access to their chosen target. Not that I'm saying that I am not completely mental, I can go a bit crackers when it comes to my favourite F1 people, but I don't wish to harm them in any way. I'd like that to go down on record, please.
You know how people on TV are always saying that the paddock in Monaco is tiny? Well, it's TINY. It is big enough to house all the F1 team's motorhomes and that's about it. This means that you can walk down either side of the paddock, and also stand at the entrance and exit. The team members and drivers really have nowhere to run/hide. I mean, there's a white metal fence that surrounds everything which is a bit of a bastard, but provided you're happy just to see people and not attempt to you know, grab them in any way, that's fair enough. (Grrr, though).
Our main incentive for going to the paddock (aside from trying to kidnap race engineers named Rob) was to collect passes for a bar called Stars N' Bars. Over race weekend if you have a pass for there, you can get back down to the paddock straight after qualifying and the race, rather than waiting for the roads to re-open. Again we knew all this from Steph, who was on her third trip to Monaco and was able to give us all her tips and knowledge, without which we'd have been lost at times. On our way there, as we walked along the length of the paddock, we saw Sergio Perez being interviewed. He signed quite a few autographs for the waiting fans, including me. I was pretty blown away at having gotten photos and an autograph of a driver after only being at the paddock for a matter of minutes.
We continued down to Stars N' Bars, and had just entered the bar, when Steph said "Rob Smedley's down there!" We belted out of the bar and back outside like teenage girls at a One Direction concert, with cameras and autograph books in hand. I REGRET NOTHING. Rob was standing behind the motorhomes, texting.
|Lookit his wee smiling face when he's texting Felipe|
We called him over and he said to hold on, he was texting Felipe. When he came over to us, he said that Felipe was "texting him stupid things, as usual", and was "a halfwit". All said with affection and a smile, obviously. I got his autograph, he handed the book back to me and called me 'sweetheart', then we got a photo with him each, after which he called me 'darling', and I died a bit, then I dunno, we maybe blabbered onto him a bit more before he left, and we immediately took ourselves off to a shop at the bottom of the harbour which sold tins of Heineken for €2. Heineken has never tasted so good.
|Super teeny photo because my mug is in it|
Beside the harbour was also the Red Bull floaterhome, where we saw Daniel Ricciardo, and Mark Webber getting out of a speedboat.
We sat down there for a while, drinking our beers and appreciating the sunshine, the Med, and the stunning yachts in the harbour.
Already I was absolutely loving the Monaco experience, and I'd only been at the track itself for a couple of hours. We took ourselves back to the paddock after that, and plonked ourselves opposite the Ferrari motorhome, where we were destined to spend quite a lot of the weekend...
Almost immediately we saw Andrea Stella, Fernando Alonso's race engineer, and Matteo Orsi, Felipe's physio, whom you'll usually see on the grid, holding an umbrella to shield the precious driver from the sun or rain. Matteo was very taken aback by us asking for his autograph, but he's part of Team Massa, so of course we wanted it.
Our other targets for the day were Felipe himself, and Giuliano Salvi, his performance engineer. While waiting, all manner of drivers, team members and F1 media people walked past; too numerous to mention (or indeed, remember). We seemed to see Narain Karthikeyan a lot ("Ugh, this guy again"), along with Charles Pic, and Graeme Lowdon from Marussia, who I'd seen at the airport when our respective Easyjet flights from Belfast and Newcastle had landed at the same time, and who I swear must have been following me all week. Graeme, stop it. Just stop.
It was around this point that I was made aware of the fact that I refer to everyone in my Northern Irish way as 'yer man', and subsequently got the piss taken out of me about it for the rest of the week. We saw so many F1 people that I was constantly saying "Ooh look, there's yer man!" (Usually Graeme Lowdon). And as I pointed out, they always knew who I was referring to. So hah.
I was starting to doubt whether the Ferrari drivers were actually around when Fernando appeared in his ridiculously oversized hat and dreadful white sunglasses (I love him really). He didn't sign many autographs but I did manage to take some terrible photos through the fence.
|Dear God, make the hat and sunglasses combo go away|
Now, where was Felipe? When his brother appeared we knew he must be lurking somewhere – surely the combined force of Jade and I's support for him could lure him out of the Ferrari motorhome?
Hurrah! Finally the doors parted and there was Felipe, a strapping young lad of... 5'4". Without Jade brandishing her Brazil flag, I'm not sure he would have stopped to sign anything, but he did, and we both got autographs and photos. He and I had a chat too – if you count him saying "I need a pen" to me as 'a chat'. I do, so just shush, okay?
|'How do I spell 'Felipe', again?'|
I was just so thrilled to have met Felipe. Being a Massa fan has always been tough, be it because of last lap Championship losses, comas, team orders, constant sacking rumours, and really quite vile at times media slagging. The early part of the current F1 season has been particularly grim, and I was hoping before I went away that I might be able to meet him while I had the opportunity, in case... well, you know.
I could have floated off on a little bubble of happiness to get more beer after that, but we still had to try to see Giuliano Salvi. We'd decided to give it '5 more minutes' when he appeared.
Like Matteo, he was really humble and surprised that we knew who he was and wanted an autograph. Giuliano was loveliness personified, asking our names so he could sign for us. Team Massa's autographs? Job done.
Following that, there was meeting Stefano Domenicali and Pastor Maldonado, seeing Kimi pissing off to his yacht despite loads of fans crowding around him in the hope of an autograph, more beer, and a walk up to Rascasse on our way to the train station (there were no Ferraris parked there this year).
|Run, Kimi! Run like the wind!|
It sounds insane, but we'd seen so many people that by the end of the day, we'd become completely used to it ("Oh there's Charles Pic - AGAIN!") I was on an absolute high. My main Monaco aims had been to meet Rob and Felipe, and I'd done all that within the space of around 3 hours. Monaco had already gotten me hook, line, and sinker.
On our train journey home, old misery guts me commented that the day had been so good that something bad was bound to happen to even things out. Oh dear.