Sandy on Assignment: Formula 1 in Monaco

May 30, 2013 Comments (7)

…Looking Through the Spyglass

By Sandy Cotterman, Motorsports Enthusiast

So what is it about Formula 1 in Monaco that makes it so special? Unlike all the other races I’ve attended, which I can still count on two hands, Monaco is about being right there... 60 feet above the first turn out of the start. At first I was shattered that I wouldn’t be seeing the pits or mingling with the drivers. But to be hovering above the cars was spectacular.

Perched above the streets of Monaco.

Perched above the streets of Monaco.

First turn out the start then up and around.

First turn out the start then up and around.

What mattered most was that my very first foray into F1 would be Monaco. The uniqueness of this Grand Prix venue is racing a street course… that narrowly winds through one of the most breathtaking coastal cities in the world… and of course watching the elite of the elite… drivers and cars. Although I arrived in France on Wednesday, my real adventure started Thursday after a short train ride from Nice into Monaco. If you’re doing Monaco for the very first time or your tenth, do it with a group that knows what they’re doing and can provide you with a seamless experience and no hassles. Otherwise, stay home and watch the races on television! Tours F1 was my choice after meeting Paul and Biffy Wuori last September during the British Invasion in Stowe, VT. Check out Paul’s story about his early days with Bruce McLaren in MMR’s articles. F1 was still an unknown to me, but after meeting Paul, I had a connection and began reading all I could about McLaren’s remarkable, yet short, life.

My logistic tips for this race and venue are few, but essential. Take the only direct flight to Nice from the States, out of JFK, and do whatever it takes to sleep through to the next day’s early morning arrival. Plan to arrive on Wednesday, which affords you the opportunity to watch the two F1 practice sessions on Thursday and the third practice as well as Qualifying on Saturday. Thursday and Saturday are also filled with all the practice and qualifying sessions for the Porsche Mobile 1 Supercup and Formula Renault 3.5 which start off Sundays races at 9:45 am. Besides getting your fix of racing, arriving early also gives you Friday as a catch-up day to sightsee, unless you’re a die-hard GP2 fan.

There is much to see in Nice.

There is much to see in Nice.

Maneuvering within the train or bus systems is relatively easy so traveling to Antibes, Eze or Cannes is also doable on this free day. I took it easy and strolled the streets of Nice. Staying in either Nice or Monaco is your call. Keep everything in perspective. Like most race weekends, no matter where they are in the world, costs are way out of whack. Plan for your own convenience. Taking the train or a taxi out of Nice just depends upon your personal choice on race days. I did both. An unbelievable treat is dinner at Le Chantecler, the Hotel Negresco’s Michelin 2 star restaurant along the water in Nice. With the dollar still in the pits, my shopping remained strictly motorsports related, so I wasn’t tempted by the plethora of trendy boutiques, everywhere! People watching is free, so enjoy the many cafes… you can’t go wrong with the food in France!

The best viewing for this event is from terraces on residential or hotel balconies lining the street course in Monaco. Although the harbor is dotted with yachts of all sizes, be careful what you wish for when it comes to actually seeing the race. I had just purchased high power binoculars so I could spy. The crowds on these vessels didn’t appear to be actually watching the races… and they did not have nearly the perspective as seen from above or from strategically staged grandstands.

There were around 14 of us staying in a boutique hotel off rue Grimaldi in Nice. All fantastic people and over the top race fans! We met up with others, including Paul and Biffy, who were staying in Monaco, to bring the group up to around 30, the perfect number to enjoy the wrap around 5th floor terraces of the apartment where we were to watch the races... and dine on delectable fare. Outside, on the streets, were stands of official and non-official team-specific clothes and ‘stuff.’ Not much different than any other race venue. The best buy, was a pair of 10 euro headphones that fit nicely over ear plugs!

Lotus started the Crash Fest before Sunday!

Lotus started the “Crash Fest” before Sunday!

So how would I describe the 71th Grand Prix De Monaco? A Crash Fest was pretty much the consensus. Somewhat unusual, Sunday’s race was stretched out beyond the scheduled two hours to accommodate two safety-car-led recoveries and one red call, following the three major incidents of the day. The first two crashes Sunday, starting with Massa in the Ferrari were most likely driver error… the third, more of a victim of circumstances.

Massa is the first crash Sunday, a repeat of Saturday.

Massa is the first crash Sunday, a repeat of Saturday.

Being checked out.

Being checked out.

The cars are lifted off the course.

The cars are lifted off the course.

Maneuvering and passing on this track can often result in overly optimist moves. With the low rear view visibility of the F1 car, there just isn’t anywhere to go, on the 40’ wide track, which narrows around the corners! From my line of vision, I was able to capture images of these first two crashes, adding to quite a few taken during Thursday’s and Saturday’s Crash Festivals. The drivers look at turn one, St. Devote, as very bumpy under braking. With the walls on the left coming into the track, plus the propensity to take too much kerb on the inside, cars were ending up into the wall in front of me!

The start around the first corner.

The start around the first corner.

Around the hairpin and back at me, with the Mercedes still in front.

Around the hairpin and back at me, with the Mercedes still in front.

From my vantage point, I could see the cars maneuvering down and out of pit lane, around the first corner (St. Devote) and up the first steep, somewhat bumpy straightaway to the Massenet corner then on to the Casino. There was a short distance hidden from sight, yet clearly visible on the big screen monitor right in front of us. Suddenly the cars appeared again, descending the fastest part of the road at 280km/h then looping around a corner to maneuver a sharp hairpin turn to avoid flying into the water… and back directly facing me down the straightaway and along the stretch in front of the yachts. Another two turns (Virage de la Rascasse and Virage Antony Noghes) and the 3km340meter course starts all over again working off the total 78 lap countdown.

The intimacy of the street course and viewing vantage, plus the in-car footage on the big screen made me feel like I was right there with each driver. I was tipped off Thursday on how to recognize drivers on the same team. In the case of the Mercedes AMG Petronas Team, Rosberg’s top light would be black and Hamilton’s neon yellow…. a helpful hint that held true for team driver order. It almost looked like the second team car was protecting the first, especially in the case of the Mercedes and Red Bull teams. Knowing this made watching even more of a thrill. Of course, it didn’t take long for the order to be broken!

Victory to Nico Rosberg and the Mercedes.

Victory to Nico Rosberg and the Mercedes.

Watching the victory had to be on the huge screen for this venue, but it still was exciting to zoom in with my camera to see the smiles of the top three drivers, watch the champagne pop and hear the German national anthem.

Following the race, several of us headed off to the Columbia Hotel in Monaco to celebrate. Paul ran into old McLaren friends. Since I had been sent off to the races with a McLaren t-shirt from my local Tampa Bay dealership, I followed Button and Perez pretty closely. I passed the shirt on to Paul who will do his best to get autographs in Montreal!

My summer vacation started in Monaco with Formula 1 and will continue on to the 24 hours of LeMans in three weeks. In reality, this year’s LeMans adventure started two years ago when the tears rolled down my cheeks as I belted out our American national anthem and proudly waved my little American flags. The Corvette had won its GT class.

On Saturday and again on Sunday, in Monaco, I got to meet the driver who had won that 2011 race at LeMans in the Corvette… Olivier Beretta. We were watching the races from his 98-year-old grandmother’s apartment. It just so happened that I had the pictures of Olivier’s victory celebration on the podium right there with me on my laptop! Fast forward to 2013. Olivier will be racing the Ferrari factory car at the 24 and, again, I will be there cheering, this time knowing him and his family. I will also be cheering on the American Viper team and our MMR favorite, American Tommy (TK) Kendall. You know I will also be cheering the Porsches, especially if Americans, Patrick Long and Spencer Pompelli are driving again.

The world of motorsports is simply magical... for me.

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Comments (7)

  1. Roger LaFerriere:
    May 31, 2013 at 10:51 AM

    Excellent article! I also attended the Monaco Grand Prix, 1976. I spent my college commencement day in the front row bleachers (no longer used for safety reasons) at St. Devote. I had a truly wonderful weekend that year. The race itself was a follow Niki race. Had a few, too brief opportunities to speak to Ronnie Peterson and James Hunt - Hunt Friday night at the Hotel de Paris. His wife Suzy had recently left him for Burton and Hunt was there with his new girlfriend (an absolute stunner she was). Fabulous memories for a young guy of 24 who grew up in Worcester and travelled to Monaco to see his sports heroes in the crown jewell of racing. All those years ago...

  2. Sandy Cotterman:
    May 31, 2013 at 11:29 AM

    Roger,
    Thank you! Some version of the bleachers are still there...both entering and leaving the turn at St. Devote...probably not at track level. I had lunch a few yards away from there...can't imagine the noise level for the entire race! Sandy

  3. Roger LaFerriere:
    May 31, 2013 at 12:23 PM

    There was a restaurant right on the corner at the bottom of the hill. I had lunch there Thursday during practice; typical little round table with a red and white checkered table cloth, right up on the guardrail. Niki Lauda blasted by me on his way up the hill no more than 3 - 4 feet from me, if that. I remember watching my lunch plate "dance" on that table from the vibrations caused by Lauda's Ferrari.

  4. Gary Lapidus:
    Jun 03, 2013 at 08:51 AM

    Hi Sandy,

    Excellent write-up and great pictures. Glad I was there too!

  5. Sandy Cotterman:
    Jun 04, 2013 at 08:14 PM

    Hi Gary,
    Great to meet you and Clare and share this fabulous adventure. Hope to see you at LeMans in a couple of weeks! Sandy

  6. Rose & Joe Gass:
    Jun 06, 2013 at 10:32 AM

    Great article, you really captured the feel and vibrancy of the whole race experience. There is nothing like a street race, truly magical. It was great fun sharing this race with a first timer, you see things in a different perspective. I look forward to reading about your LaMans racing adventures.
    Your F1 Monaco race buddies
    Rose and Joe Gass

  7. Sandy Cotterman:
    Jun 08, 2013 at 01:06 PM

    Rose and Joe, Thank you very much. You both were a great inspiration. Thanks to Roses quick thinking we all got to meet Olivier! Le Mans is right around the corner. Sandy


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