Grid guy and girl, Monaco Grand Prix, 2018

Paddock Diary: Why the shine is coming off F1’s ‘jewel’

Paddock Diary: Monaco Grand Prix day four

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The Monaco Grand Prix is always more of a spectacle than a race but @DieterRencken suspects there are other reasons why the event’s appeal appears to be declining.

Sunday 8:30am

Leave digs after checking out, hoping to make the circuit within an hour – mission accomplished give or take a few minutes. En route it strikes me how quiet the streets are, which doesn’t bode well for a full house. Over the years Monaco’s crowd has decreased gradually – a decade ago virtually every balcony overlooking even an inch of circuit was packed – and I wonder how much of it is driven by rip-off prices.

Add in that virtually every year during Monaco weekend the French stage some strike or other, and a trip to the principality becomes increasingly wearisome. By all means have grievances with governments of the day, but don’t punish those who don’t have dogs in the fight. Wednesday/Thursday flights were affected by air traffic action, Friday and Saturday saw railway staff down tools, and for Sunday evening yet another air traffic strike is scheduled.

10am

An appointment I had with the Mexican Grand Prix promoter is postponed to Silverstone – he’s been delayed in another meeting, I guess with Liberty Media – so I have an hour to kick about before recording a podcast for Viasat.

Due to broadcast contracts we are not permitted to record within the circuit confines, so head up to the quay from where the circuit is more visible than in the paddock. We talk Liberty’s recent team meeting and Ferrari’s double ERS battery while the Porsche Supercup race drones on behind us.

12:00pm

I head for Pirelli, where the tyre company’s CEO and vice president Marco Tronchetti Provera addresses the media. The company’s current three-year contract expires at the end of the 2019 F1 season, so clearly extension negotiations are due to start soon. I hear low profile tyres, probably on 18-inch rims, are back on the agenda.

Should Pirelli extend the deal for another three years it would need to develop such rubber – which holds major commercial implications, for currently the company’s largest on-car branding is on sidewalls. The smaller the space, the smaller the branding. Pirelli’s current corporate identity guidelines do not permit curved logos.

Thus, I ask Tronchetti whether he is prepared to accept smaller branding, or will ID policies be amended should Pirelli remain in F1 – he smiles Mona Lisa-style before responding: “We’ve thought of that, and are prepared. We tested low profile tyres here in Monaco three years ago, so have some ideas…”

As the session comes to an end, in walks Sir Jackie Stewart – he and Tronchetti greet warmly, obviously old mates. I ask the triple world champion whether he ever raced on Pirelli. After some discussion we speculate about the 1967 Brands Hatch Six Hours, when he and Chris Amon drove a Ferrari 330 P4 to victory.

Subsequently I discover the car wasn’t shod with Italian rubber, but Jackie’s story bears repeating: “Chris had been to a party the night before, so was feeling off-colour. He was sick in the car, and came into the pits unable to continue. I had to drive the car like, and drove about two-third of the race. Maybe we won because I wanted to get out of the car as soon as possible…”

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12:30pm

I’d arranged for Ari Vatanen to dine and watch the race at Mercedes as it’s the home of fellow Finn Valtteri Bottas, so after Pirelli head there for an early lunch – Thai prawn and pineapple salad, roast chicken breast, mash and cauliflower, and freshly diced fruit. It should keep me going ’til home – strikes permitting.

1pm

Liberty’s revised race day schedule means we wait until 2:30pm before the pit lane opens, while all drivers are either occupied by strategy meetings, track parades or lunch. Team bosses are either attending to last-minute stuff or sweet-talking sponsors over lunch, so there is no one about for 90-odd minutes. This is the most boring part of the weekend, though Lewis Hamilton’s comments after the grand prix suggest he may disagree.

2:30pm

Head for pit lane – the best part of the weekend, as related in previous diaries. On my return to the Media Centre I note the empty seats in grandstands, sparsely packed balconies and open spaces on Pecheurs hill below the castle. No way is Monaco filled near capacity. I also note a conflict: Monaco’s official watch is – as barriers, banners, grid girls and guys (above) proclaim – TAG Heuer. F1’s timing partner is Rolex.

5pm

My interview lot is an exclusive with Robert Fernley of Force India, plus group sessions with Toto Wolff (Mercedes), Kimi Raikkonen and FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting. I finish off at exactly 7pm, ready to hit the road for Nice Airport, allowing two hours for the 25-mile journey due to possible traffic, as in the past. In the end the drive takes less than an hour.

9pm

Car handed back, checked in, in (packed) lounge – to be told the Brussels flight is delayed by “at least 90 minutes due to a strike”. The reason it’s packed is due to every one of 10 flights listed being delayed. I with Force India’s Otmar Szafnauer and Andrew Green until they depart. We board shortly after 11pm, when the captain greets us with the news we are grounded for “another 90 minutes”.

While drifting off between cabin updates (none positive) I wonder whether Monaco’s dwindling audience is partly caused by such disruptions. After all, why visit a circuit which more often than not delivers on-track tedium, then invariably face such strife? Or maybe the place has simply lost its allure?

We finally get home at 3:30am – well over three hours late – and update this after four hours’ sleep. It’s the second Monday in as many grand prix weekends that’s been disrupted by the French strikes.

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Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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36 comments on “Paddock Diary: Why the shine is coming off F1’s ‘jewel’”

  1. ”2:30pm before the pit lane opens” – 2:40 to be precise.

    1. @jerejj I don’t know if you’re being ironic, but I like they postponed to hh.10 the start. I’m ready at hh.00 and have a little more time to grab something to drink, make a last trip to the toilet and so on. Also, if it wasn’t for the +1 hour I would have missed both last GPs. Overall, I’m loving this new timing.

      1. The new timing sux very badly for anybody living in the UTC +10 hour time zone such as Australia.

        The race doesn’t start until 11:10pm finishing after 1am so forget doing that and going to work on Monday :(

        1. Yeah work today on less than 5 hours sleep was a real struggle.

        2. To make viewing in australia even worse. Ten has dumped all live coverage except the Aus GP. Many of my work mates are casual viewers so wont fork out for foxtel just to watch F1. Pay tv is killing sport

      2. @m-bagattini The sole point of my original comment was the point out that the pit lane opens at 2:40 pm, so, therefore, my original comment had nothing to do with the ’10 min past the hour’ thing.

  2. Yes Jere 230pm is before 240pm. Precisely before, plus it takes around ten mins to walk there and get through the controls. Plus we’re allowed on the grid before the open signal.

    1. @dieterrencken I also thought about that possibility, but in the end, wasn’t entirely sure what you precisely meant with that specific wording, or whether it was just a typo, so that’s why I pointed out that the pit lane opens at x:40 (2:40 for this and all the other European races except the French GP) for the races at present. Nevertheless, great content as always. I’ve enjoyed reading the articles of this new-for-this-season ‘Paddock Diary’ series.

  3. Robert McKay
    28th May 2018, 12:01

    Definitely been noticing sparser crowds at a number of venues over recent years, Monaco included. For example the fervent Japanese crowds were visibly not so numerous last year.

    There’s also a number of places where Friday practices are now watched pretty much by 2 men and a dog – Barcelona a couple of weeks ago was very quiet. OK I know it’s practice and it’s Friday and folk are often at work, but historically I don’t remember some places looking quite so empty as they have in recent years.

  4. It’s always been more of a spectacle, you say. I used to think so too, ever since I was spoonfed the stories about the historic Monaco GP as a kid. Now a days I have come to dislike it.

    Ever since I visited the place about 10 yr ago (non gp weekend) I noticed how outdated those apartment blocks actually look and how silly it is to see macho’s drive their supercars at walking speed in pointless circles around town, only to go home to an outdated tiny flat.. It’s just so…I dunno. Nevertheless I was still thrilled by driving parts off the track that so many of my childhood hero’s had driven as well.

    As time went on and I watched more and more annual processions I realised that actually, borefests are all I had ever been seeing since I was a kid. Moreover I realised that the town, both as it actually looks and just the whole concept of beeing a tax paradise for macho’s, isn’t actually as magical as the annual story telling tradition had lead me to believe. In fact, the story telling is all there is to Monaco. By repeating those stories again and again the myth of Monaco stays alive.

    Perhaps the way the cars looked and especially sounded in the ‘ 90’s and ’00 combined with my impressionable mind were the reason I bought an emty bagg without based on story telling, but today the cars look like heavy boats and don’t sound as impressive anymore. Today only the story remains, and it isn’t enough to cover up the truth of it anymore

  5. @dieterrencken – a bit sad to hear that to be honest, are other tracks losing their glitter as well Dieter?
    What do you think the current state of F1 is?

    1. @garns, there have been a few people who have been saying that Monaco has been losing its glamour for quite a few years now.

      There was one journalist who, a few years ago, wrote about how he was having to pick his way through a throng of lecherous drunken party-goers necking beer and vomiting on the streets, or about how the race organisers had been busy throwing up fake facades to hide the building works as they were engaging in yet more land reclamation out into the harbour. It gave the impression that the emphasis at Monaco has increasingly shifted the spectacle towards being seen at the race, rather than seeing the race, and has now become, if anything, a bit on the tawdry side.

  6. It’s a shame there are empty seats in Monaco, this is so wrong when there are tons of people who would like to be there.

    1. The airport workers should be given the passes since they had some free time.

  7. Price gouging by the hotels and restaurants during the event has got to be the reason why the average fan simply cannot go anymore.

    1. Yeah I read somewhere that a weekend pass for GA is something like $6,000? Or maybe that was a crappy grandstand seat. Not sure, but still; insane.

      1. Sush meerkat
        28th May 2018, 15:47

        My ex girlfriend had crappy grandstand seats for the 2010 Monaco GP, which cost $9,000 according to her.

        1. 750 euros in 2011

    2. Cost is the main reason I’ve never been to an F1 race ever, still.

      On the other hand, I had the fortune to see IndyCar at Long Beach a few years ago. $55 for race day GA, plus a paddock pass for $20. Met some drivers, touched Scott Dixon’s car, stood right against the catch fencing. Excellent experience, even if the race was even more of a procession than Monaco was on Sunday.

  8. ForzaAlonsoF1
    28th May 2018, 13:35

    Interesting article. There’s two things I wanna do, first is remove all tartan from Jackie Stewart, and secondly – put a curve in Max Verstappen’s hat.

  9. Is anyone aware of a guide to watching at Monaco? The grandstand seats seem less favorable than the right hotel rooms and balconies, but I’d have no idea where to begin looking for those.

  10. There are the forums you can read with personal experiences. Grandstands seats are great if you want the atmosphere but you need to get the best one which we believe is K2 as high up as possible. Balconies there are loads of companies do them Fugare F1, Grandstand Motorsports, Senitor etc. The cost however is eye watering and whilst you can see a lot of the circuit a lot of people aren’t really interested in the race. Avoid the yachts if you are an F1 fan. The hotels in Monaco have got greed example Novotel MC – 3 days from Fri-Mon next week 700 Euros, we were charged 1890 for the Monaco historic for the same period and for F1 it is even more. I know all hotels increase their prices but that is just money grabbing and people get wise.

    1. As an example: the helicopter shuttle from Nice airport is usually about EU150; during GP weekend it’s 900. The Novotel referred to above is EU7000 for a (minimum) 5-night stay during GP period.

      Thus a lot of folk stay in Nice or Menton and train it in each day (about 45 mins) as there is no parking near the circuit for punters, but for that you need the trains to run.

      If all the stars align then Monaco can be amongst the cheapest grands prix to attend, but that requires very careful planning and a Fanvision.

      My plan is to do a travel guide later this year for RaceFans, but the best overall experience is via a reputable motor racing travel company.

  11. I can only assume that the majority of people go to Monaco for the glitz and glam, and not the racing. Why would anyone do that? Do they really get something out of catching a glimpse of some person in a cordoned-off section they have no access to because they don’t have as much money?

    I don’t understand the point of this race – it serves only the gucci smoochies. I do like Hamilton’s idea of solely using hypersofts and loads of pit stops though.

  12. Hit the same delays last night. Home three hours later than was supposed to be, the strikes every year are intolerable and make a long, tough weekend more grueling than it should be.

  13. The only time i went was with my wife in 2011 and that was thanks to a brilliant wedding present from family friends who live in Monaco. They offered us k stand tickets, plus their apartment for the 4 days. Though they have super tickets every year and live hundreds of meters from the circuit, they never go to the race and actually actively avoid home. And they follow f1! They find everything too uncough and crowded.

    As for our weekend? Absolutely memorable. We got to see Ric win in monaco (f3.5) and the gp2 races were wild. I count 11 future f1 drivers in the support series. f1 race was also great and i found that monaco gives you a greater sense of speed and driver bravery /input than elsewhere. The cars are sooo close. A shame for all the rest (in French we call the “be seen attitude” as “m’as tu vu”. I remember seeing an obese man drunkenly sleeping on the roof of his yacht during the race. Such waste)

  14. I loved the Monaco race I visited. Expensive and indeed every day a train commute to get there, but still.

    The cars are close and we could see many of the drivers walking around. Also cool to hang over the top of the grandstand and see/hear the cars blaring over the start/finish “straight”.

  15. Hi Dieter, regarding the podcast referred to above, where you discuss the SF double ERS and Liberty meeting – is this available in English? I’m interested to hear about the Liberty meetings in-particular but that’s obviously hard to find since I’ve heard nobody outside of team management was allowed to attend. Can you confirm that, and tell us where to find more info. Great page, big fan, excellent content!

    1. Ed, yes it is in English and I posted a link on my Twitter @RacingLines. We’ll also post a link as part of tomorrow’s line-up. It’s my job to dig where folk can’t go, so I spoke to folk on and off record. Their comments form the basis of tomorrow’s weekly column.

  16. My belated observation is that there were fewer yachts in the harbour, with only a partial line of yachts anchored in front of “Piscine”, I was last there in 2008 when there were 2 full lines and it cost $35,000 for Fri-Sat-Sun only and we were squeezed in like sardines.

    1. Absolutely, the numbers have dropped over the past 10 years, plus it was noticeable how many yachts were moored outside the harbour

    2. Interesting, given that 2008 saw the teeth of the global recession, and things have been much better since, especially for the very rich. Perhaps global sanctions on the
      oligarchs and AML actions have cut down on the yacht traffic.

  17. It’s not just the people there and the drivers who’re bored of this, television viewers like me are as well. Monaco is in the calendar just because some rich and influential people call it come. Am sorry if I sound ignorant about European tradition and all that – I appreciate the great role the principality has played in the history of the sport, but the current cars have outgrown the circuit. It’s as simple as that. And yet Monaco hangs on just because some filthy rich individuals are camping there.

    I may sound impractical, but if tradition is what F1 is concerned about then it should be racing at the Nordschleife – that’s where F1’s aura was crafted and that’s what we want to see, a real circuit. Street circuits can provide great races too – Baku has always entertained, and though Singapore can sometimes be boring it’s still a lot better than what Monaco offers. My experience all these years has been that there’s always massive hype around Monaco making you eager to watch it on the tele. But when you’ve had half an hour of the tedium you yawn, see the massive number of laps yet to cover, and wonder when this thing is gonna end. The temptation to turn off the TV is extremely strong.

    Hanging on to Monaco, when it clearly is too small for F1, just for the sake of tradition is stupidity. Hope Carey and his team realize this. The FIA and Alejandro Agag can step in and perhaps make this the venue for a prestigious Formula E race featuring the Gen 2 cars – the crown jewel of the FE calendar. Or perhaps the F3 European Championship and touring cars could race there as well. But it should be off the F1 calendar.

    1. Touring Cars you say…
      What I would pay to see the BTCC and Aussie V8s race around Monaco!
      Possibly chaos, maybe rubbish, definitely financially unviable, but you’re allowed to dream!

  18. Monaco is a shinning example of what happens when you put money first. Sure you get rich but fewer people partake. Eventually only the very rich can attend. Kind of looks like what’s happening to F1 in general as it finds it’s new home behind a paywall. You read it here first. RIP

  19. Makes sense that Monaco is where the strains of late state capitalism become most apparent. No, you can’t go to Monaco and lash back Moet after Moet without hearing the sans culottes demand bread.

    I did notice on the broadcast that the apartment block right over the hairpin had only one balcony occupied with spectators. I was wondering how the people who live there, if they were not racing fans, somehow failed to rent out their balconies for the weekend. If I had it to spare, I would pay a nice sum to be able to look straight down on the cars three-wheeling through Mirabeau and then wriggling through the hairpin while I enjoyed a cold drink from someone else’s fridge. Maybe the Monaco GP might be easier to scratch off the bucket list than I thought.

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