My Monaco Experience

Monaco 3

Monaco 3 (Photo credit: davharuk)

Stansted Airport, England, 6:00 a.m.

The guide from the luxury tour operator was one of those unfeasible women; completely immaculate and with the sort of cheek bones that could slice a kiwi fruit.  She arranged for the porter to take the bags off to the private jet area and ran through the day’s itinerary.   “Ok, so when we land at Nice, you’re already fast-track cleared through customs, so it’s straight into the helicopter for the transfer to Monaco.  There’s a champagne breakfast on the terrace overlooking the track for morning free practice, then into the Paddock Club for a tour of the garages and an interview with one of the Grand prix drivers in our exclusive suit.  You’ll then be driven around the circuit between races, before lunch.  Then it’s over to the harbour side yacht for your view of the race, with champagne and canapés.  Any questions?”

It was around this point that the girl from the low budget airline began cattle prodding us past the V.I.P. area and into our own baggage check queue.  Given that they seem determined to treat us like inmates of Guantanamo Bay it always seems strange that it’s the airline staff who wear the orange jump suits. “Remember, any item of hand luggage larger than this kumquat is 40 Euros extra.”

The coach transfer from Nice Airport dropped us off so far from Monaco that I swear I heard the sound of Swiss cow bells. “Remember, you need to be back on the coach no more than 6 minutes after the end of the race or we’ll miss our flight slot.”

This was all around 10 years ago, pre-satellite phones and i-Pad maps, so we just headed downwards in the vague direction of the sea.   As we eventually shuffled nearer the track, the space became more and more enclosed, lest anyone should accidentally get a free glimpse of any part of the track or even the town.  The grandstand was perched on a floating dock out above the harbour, uncovered and exposed to the merciless Mediterranean sun.

And then the engines started; one at first and then more, revving angrily.  As the noise bounced off the concrete fingers of tower blocks and through the man-made canyons in-between, it seemed to grow unstoppably.  The track-side commentary was inaudible but you could sense where the cars were coming around the track until at last the first flashed past.  The pace seemed impossible against the backdrop of the barriers and buildings.  A Sauber came around the swimming pool too fast and slammed into the tyre wall right in front of us.  The race wasn’t the greatest, but that didn’t matter.  It  was an experience of senses rather than the brain.

Back at Nice airport, around midnight, they confirmed that our delayed flight would now be departing, having missed its earlier slot ahead of the private jets, just as soon as the passengers had a whip round to pay for the landing lights at Stansted to be kept lit.

Eventually, we were left on the damp tarmac in England with nothing but the light from my sunburned nose to guide us back to the deserted terminal.

Would I do it again?  You bet.



F1 2012 So Far, Part 2 – The Teams

Formula One 2011 Rd.2 Malaysian GP: Narain Kar...

Formula One 2011 Rd.2 Malaysian GP: Narain Karthikeyan (HRT) during the second practice session on Friday. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the previous post I rated the relative performances of the drivers so far in 2012.  This time it’s the teams’ turn.  Which teams’ members are punching the air and which are punching each other?

Top Bananas

HRT: If you take a conventional points, podiums and wins point of view, then it would be difficult to place HRT in the upper echelons.  However, considering their change of ownership, move to Spain and failed crash test, turning up and being well within the 107% hurdle by race 2 is a significant triumph.  They’re maybe not Champions, but nor are they a real embarrassment.

Lotus:  setting aside all the Group Lotus/Team Lotus kerfuffle last year and the black and gold paintwork, the current “Lotus” has absolutely nothing to do with the legendary Team of Colin Chapman, Jim Clark, Jochen Rindt and Mario Andretti. It does, however, share its DNA with Senna’s Toleman, Schumacher’s Benetton and Alonso’s Renault and seems, now, to be remembering that.

Sauber:  2012 has shown both the very best and worst of Sauber.  For a Team that was left for dead by BMW a couple of years ago to be pushing near the front is impressive. However, when the moment came in Malaysian, the Team’s instinct was for caution and consolidation, not to go for the win.

Williams: After its worst ever season in 2011 it would have been challenging for Williams not to have performed better this year.  I still have my doubts about the driver pairing, but it would be churlish not to acknowledge the Team’s competitive revival.

Orange Squashed

Marussia:  The Team may have lost its Virgin status, but nothing else seems to have changed.  Is there any point in being the second worst team in F1?

Caterham:  The Caterham Team are a bit like the scenes in the cartoon Scooby-Do when Scooby and Shaggy start running away from the old caretaker dressed as a mummy; there’s lots of energy and effort but they don’t seem to make any movement forward.

Toro Rosso:  You have to judge a Team by its own purpose and criteria for success. Toro Rosso exists as the Red Bull kindergarten.  On that basis, neither Ricciardo and Vergne have yet been able to establish themselves as potential promotees.

Mercedes:  On the one hand, that Chinese win was a huge step forward for the Mercedes Team, as demonstrated by Norbert Haug’s Champaign and tear soaked grin on the podium.  However, taken as a whole, the season hasn’t proved yet whether the Silver Arrows can be consistent Championship challengers.

Sour Grapes

Force India: [This commentary has been left deliberately blank under instruction from FOM]

Red Bull:  If only there was a Germanic equivalent of the word schadenfreude.  It was delicious hearing Sebastian Vettel’s desperate enquiries during the Chinese GP practice, “Is it enough? Is it enough”.  No, it wasn’t.  Like a reverse Williams, Red Bull really had nowhere to go but down after their 2011 season and we have all been the beneficiaries, so far.

Ferrari:  1962, 1965, 1969, 1973, 1980, 1991-1993, 2009 – In its long history, Ferrari have had substandard performances and have recovered.  However, I doubt that is much consolation to Fernando Alonso.  At least they didn’t try and use the Malaysian win to paper over the cracks.

McLaren:  I have posted separately about the trials of the McLaren Team.  Is McLaren basically the fastest car, undermined by the vagaries of the Pirelli tyres and a few fumbled pit stops, or is there some more fundamental flaw in the Woking set up?

The good news is, based on 2012 so far, it’s likely that this post will fall out of date very quickly, which wouldn’t have been the case in 2011.