Monday, 4 June 2012

About Monaco (Part 2)

Thursday 24th May 2012

Waking up on Thursday, I felt a bit ill, not to mention my mood had plummeted a bit after the amazingness of the previous day. After all, how could anything ever top that? However, I soldiered on valiantly (I'm nothing if not a trooper), and we headed to the train station in time to hopefully catch some of FP1.

It was time for Hideous Train Experience No. 1. The train was reasonably busy, and we had to stand. Just after we got onto the train, two girls in their late teens tried to brush past us. We tutted and pointed out that hello, there was nowhere for them to go, or WE wouldn't have been standing there either. It was a matter of minutes later when Jade checked her bag and realised that her purse was gone. At the time, we didn't connect it with the two girls at all, and I tried to reassure her that it had to be back in the hotel room somewhere. Jade got off at the next stop to head back to Nice and deal with the horror of police reports and arranging to get some money, while I carried on into Monaco alone.

The signage around the outskirts of the track was vague, to say the least, and I did seem to wander around various streets in Monaco before eventually finding the entrance to grandstand L. There weren't that many people about at that stage, but I resisted looking at any merch stalls. To be honest, I have enough stuff already, and attempting to do Monaco on a budget meant I had strictly forbidden myself from buying any Ferrari and/or Massa-related merchandise.

I made it up to the grandstand in time for the last half an hour or so for FP1, and the view was pretty great. 

Grandstand L is quite a small grandstand just past the exit of the swimming pool, so you can see them heading towards Rascasse. Our main reason for choosing L for the Thursday was that it gives you a great view of the pitlane. In between times when there were cars on the track, I sat and watched the comings and goings in the garages – the best kind of noseying you can do, methinks. And as for the noise... well, it was immense. Monaco is so small that F1 cars sound even louder than normal. When you go to a race, when you hear the cars for the first time, it reverberates through your guts and completely blows your mind. This was Grand Prix number 9 for me, but hearing that noise on the first day at the track still never fails to give me shivers. It's just fantastic.

After FP1 was the GP2 practice session, during which I got to see the Monaco cranes in action.

On Thursday, the hill behind Rascasse was already starting to fill with people. They seemed to be mainly there in support of Fernando Alonso, going by the Asturias flags. It was funny to see the camping chairs sitting up on such a steep hill – it felt quite namby pamby to be sitting there in a proper grandstand; although to be honest my backside was so numb at that point from several hours of sitting on a hard grandstand bench, that clinging onto the side of a hill may not have been any less uncomfortable.

During FP2, the rain started. With a sigh, I pulled my rainmac out of my bag and resigned myself to getting soaked at a GP AGAIN. (I'm a veteran of Silverstone 2008, Monza 2008, and Silverstone 2011). I swear, in the highly unlikely event of me going to the Abu Dhabi GP, it would probably STILL rain. I'm done with watching F1 from underneath a hood, I'm done with having squelchy socks and ruined shoes, and I'm done with sitting on a rain-damp seat in a grandstand. Thankfully, the rain was pretty light and minimal, so I was able to take off the hated rainmac before too long.

Jade made it back to the track just after FP2 finished, having realised by then that the two girls on the train had been pickpocketing little bitches. We were both pissed off about it but we reasoned that the fact it had 'only' happened on FP1/2 day was much better than it happening on Saturday or Sunday. Also, our faith in human nature was restored somewhat when a man came over and asked if Jade was Brazilian, given that she was wearing a t-shirt with the Brazilian flag on it. Even though we both said we were British, he kissed our hands, and then re-appeared a few moments later with a pint each for us. How lovely!

Our moods were also cheered by learning that there had been a cracking Smedley/Massa radio message during FP1. Once back in the grandstand for more GP2 and GP3 action, we then got a wave from Felipe as he and Fernando were walking down the pitlane together. People were calling out to Fernando, so we whooped and clapped and shouted out Felipe's name. We were rewarded with a wave and the usual Massa thumbs-up. BFF, us and Felipe, now.

Kimi and Handsome Jerome

During the GP2 we received a couple of tweets, all basically asking 'Were you two just on the GP2 world feed?!' Oh no. At one point I'd had a bug in my hair which Jade had wiped off, and apparently this moment was captured during the coverage. I say 'apparently', as I refuse to watch it. I don't even like seeing myself in photographs, so I am in no way prepared to see myself on TV when I had no idea I was being filmed. Cringe. Cringe, cringe, cringe. Jade found the whole thing hilarious, but my low self-esteem and I do not. I'm just glad that no-one I know watches GP2. Oh, the humilation! I've since been told I could be seen on the BBC qualifying coverage as well, but again I have zero desire to see myself. Goodness knows I'm self-conscious enough as it is.

The day's track action over, we went to the other side of the grandstand, where we could peer over and have a good nosey at the pitlane.

After that, we headed up to Rocher, where we had to wait for the marshalls to re-open the track so we could all get back down to the paddock. This was a good place to stand if you wanted to see various team people leaving on their mopeds. At that spot over the course of the weekend, we saw the likes of Ross Brawn, Allan McNish (who is the smallest little man I've ever seen – I'm about 5'4" and he's SHORTER than that), professional BBC propaganda merchant and Olympics bore Jake Humphrey, and Romain Grosjean, who almost ran Jade over with his moped at one point.

Fernando advertising ciggies

It was fairly late in the evening by that point, so there wasn't much to see driver-wise in the paddock. We headed to Stars N' Bars to meet up with Steph again, and sat chatting with a guy who works for Mercedes as a truckie. He told us some interesting stories, including one about the Red Bull team which I don't think I should really repeat (sorry), but suffice to say it was rather interesting.

By the time we made our way back onto the racetrack, it was dark, and the famed Monaco partying had begun. Friday, of course, is a public holiday in Monaco so Thursday night is very much party night. The bars surrounding the harbour area had opened out onto the racetrack, and everyone was standing on the track with drinks. Music was blasting out, and the big screens were showing all the track action from the day. 

It was quite a sight to behold and we would have dearly loved to stay and party, particularly as one of the bars was playing rock music. Instead, we had to start making our way to the train station, and did so via walking the track. We went past all the yachts as we wandered towards the tunnel, and saw all the 'beautiful people' with their champagne and designer clothes. I'm still not sure how I feel about that aspect of Monaco. On the one hand, I could claw my own face off with jealousy, but on the other, I really don't think I feel entirely comfortable with such reckless displays of wealth. The yachts and cars and money are no doubt great, but these people don't live in the real world whatsoever. Having said that, it didn't stop me from walking past them all, mouth agog, and shaking my head at the lifestyles being led which are an entire universe away from my own.

The buzz was killed somewhat when Steph texted me to say that ALL trains were cancelled. Thanks to a strike, we had just had Hideous Train Experience No. 2. She very kindly waited for us to rush back up to Rocher, where she had gotten a taxi. It made us concerned about getting back to Nice for the rest of the week, and many rants about the SNCF were had.

Back at our apartment, we found out from Twitter that there had been a bomb scare in the paddock that evening. Well, we'd been right beside it all evening while this was supposedly going on, and we'd seen and heard precisely zilch. It did amuse me greatly that I'd never been in a bomb scare at home in my 32 years of living in Belfast, but was apparently in one in Monaco, of all places.

Still, it had been a promising day in terms of Ferrari, with both Felipe and Fernando doing pretty well in both practice sessions. Every year I forget how much fun it is watching Felipe drive around Monaco, and every year I ALSO forget how utterly, utterly terrifying it is hoping he won't bin it. He seemed to be throwing the F2012 around with a lot more confidence, spark, and general Felipe-ness than he had been all season. All in all, things, for once, weren't looking too depressing for him...

Friday 25th May 2012

We made it to the track in time to see the GP2 and GP3 races. Because there's little track action on the Friday, you can go into any grandstand. We sat in K1, which is a section of the K grandstand that allows you to see the exit of the tunnel, Tabac, the entrance and exit of the swimming pool, and, if you look behind you, Ste. Devote. Suddenly the expense of the grandstand tickets were completely justified – the amount of track we could see was absolutely superb, and as for how close we were...

We think this was the Marlboro yacht where Felipe and Fernando were on the Thursday night

View from K grandstand

The K grandstand is also opposite the main part of the harbour. There were some stunning yachts moored there, including the hilariously named 'Tuppence'.

Worst yacht name ever?

Once again we went to Rocher after the racing was done to wait for the pitlane to open. There, we saw where the safety cars were kept.

It was very much a case of right place, right time, as when they finally opened the gates, we were able to stand beside the pitlane entrance and see the drivers making their way from the paddock to pitlane in order to sign autographs. We had the perfect spot to see them arriving, and fittingly, the first person we saw was our buddy Rob. Jade shouted over to him, and he didn't even look scared or anything! Bonus!

"Oi Rob!"

I think the only drivers we didn't actually see during this point was the two Red Bull guys. In fact, the only driver I didn't see close up over the course of the entire week was Mark Webber. Some drivers, like JEV or Pedro, were able to walk past everyone with minimal fuss, but the likes of Fernando and Felipe, and Jenson and Lewis, were constantly swamped with crowds of people. It's easy to scoff at the poor little racing driver millionaires having to deal with media and sponsor commitments at races, but the drivers were constantly being ushered about and having to deal with fans and the press sticking cameras in their faces. It really demonstrates how talented they are to be able to get into 'the zone' and go out and race in Monaco despite the vast amount of other things they have to deal with.

It's Gary Anderson, so it is!

During Lewis and Felipe's many scuffles last year, Felipe at one point gave a ranty interview to the BBC in which he said that Lewis needed to "use his mind". Upon seeing Lewis, I developed some kind of Tourette's, and shouted "Use your mind!" at him. I meant it in a nice way, I promise. And he wouldn't have heard me (or cared) anyway. It felt quite cathartic, though, and certainly much better than stomping around my living room screaming at the TV like I did last year during the Monaco GP, that's for sure.

During the drivers' autograph session, I finally managed to get a photo of Michael Schumacher. 

He's extremely elusive, and tough to see. For example, while other drivers walked, he zipped about on a scooter. I suppose it's fair enough – he's still surrounded by more people than probably anyone else. I only got one photo of him before he disappeared again, but my main goal was to get decent photos of the Ferrari drivers anyway. 

That's a lot of face right there, Fernando

Adorable, tiny little Brazilian man

The result of this was a completely (I SWEAR) accidental picture of Felipe and Fernando's arses, which I hadn't realised I had taken until later that day. I'd been attempting to take a photo of Felipe but somehow ended up with bums instead.

That's Felipe in the white shorts, and Nando in the jeans, bum-fans

Like the previous evening, the track was again opened up to all the bars. The rock bar was playing Sympathy for the Devil by the Rolling Stones, and the big screen was showing shots of Felipe during the practice sessions. It was a nice little moment and I'll always associate that song with Monaco now. I adore moments like that.

Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name...

Because of the train strikes the night before, we regretfully decided to head back to Nice a little earlier. We walked part of the track on our way to the train station, namely from Rascasse to the tunnel, through the tunnel, and then onto the hairpin and Casino Square.

Many Ferraris, Porsches, Bentleys etc passed us as we walked through the tunnel, including a chrome-plated Porsche (which is the tackiest thing I have ever seen), but we were more taken with the marbles inside the tunnel, which were lying at the side, and even stuck to the roof! Also in the tunnel were some tyre marks – a remnant of Felipe vs Lewis in 2011?

At the hairpin, the Fairmont Hotel was hosting a Marussia car launch. We were too trampy looking for the likes of that, so we walked on up to Casino Square, where we were definitely too trampy. Casino Square was where all the designer shops and fancy hotels were – not really my thing, but it was still interesting to see. There were lots of designer-clothes clad people about, and supercars, but I felt much more at home being around the track and cheap beer.

The Fairmont Hotel, at the hairpin

We had a last look from high up in Monaco (man, it's hilly) before going back to the hotel for some beers (which we had to open with a potato peeler due to lack of bottle opener) and badly dubbed French TV.

Looking down on Monte Carlo


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