MMR Blog

Sandy on Assignment: Formula 1 in Monaco

Posted on 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.

The Senna Film

Posted on June 28, 2011 Comments (0)

There is an aspect of human nature that tends to forgive shortcomings if they walk arm in arm with redeeming charm. People so fortunately possessed are called ‘rascals’ or ‘clever devils’. It can be the most hopeful aspect of our beings that we forgive transgressions committed with humor or style.

Ayrton Senna 1989

Ayrton Senna 1989

Film works best when celebrating that conflict. Famous movies such as To Catch a Thief, Dirty Harry, The Magnificent Seven, all pit unorthodox, even disreputable characters against the bad guys and the establishment, and we love it. A very successful feature film about two loveable train robbers, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was based on real-life characters. The originals robbed and killed innocent people and were not quite as lovable, handsome or funny. When news of their violent death in South America reached the good folks back home, most breathed a sigh of relief.

Seventeen years after his death, a compelling new feature film celebrating the life of Aryton Senna, is about to reach the theatres. It has been released in Brazil and Europe and exceptionally well received. Based on rare archival film and interviews with those close to him in the sport, the filmmakers bring us their portrait of a brilliant racer who loved God, his family, his country and winning motor races.

To say that Ayrton Senna was a complex person would be an understatement. His ruthless intensity behind the wheel, his overt love of God and family, his generosity to those less fortunate, his combative relationships all made him the stuff of legend.

Formula 1 is a car vs. car, team vs. team, and at times in its history has been a country vs. country competition. Set in glamorous locations around the world, during the season these intense rivalries are renewed every two weeks. For a brief period, at its center was where Ayrton Senna needed to be. In a world where time is measured in 1000ths of a second, winners are those most often on the edge of perfection and disaster.

Not all teams or cars are equal, so winning in Formula 1 racing means having the best equipment matched to the best drivers. Each team has two cars. Theoretically the difference between them is the drivers. For a driver to lose to a competitor in a better car is no shame. However to lose to a teammate in an identical car requires explanation. Drivers generally begin their careers in lesser cars, prove their worth against other proven drivers, and if they are judged qualified they move up the ladder of better cars. Senna was exceptional and was soon paired with the then World Champion, the Frenchman Alain Prost, at McLaren Cars.

The elements of a classic tragedy were thus set. The passionate Senna’s belief in self was total. He had dominated previous teammates and intended to dominate Prost. The cerebral Prost’s proven worth and ego could not allow anyone else to win. Racing for the same team in the equal cars meant that between these two men, someone had to lose. The argument would be settled at speed.

Every sport has what participants consider sporting rules. Motorsports first competitors were generally men of means: sportsmen. Winning honorably was as important as winning. Senna and Prost did not so much race as war. In doing so, they obliged the rules keepers to either ban them or rewrite the rules. So compelling was their battle that the governing body of the sport, the FIA, changed the rules and thereby changed F1 racing forever.

Many could argue that it was not for the better.

Just as Senna’s death was mourned by his many fans, it could be argued that many fans of Formula 1 breathed a sigh of relief.


MMR 2011 Competition Headlines Preview!

Posted on December 21, 2010 Comments (0)

MMR Competition Headline Predictions!

MMR has consulted the oracles, gazed deeply into our crystal balls and read the sediment at the bottom of countless bottles of mediocre wine to bring you these predictions! Look for these headlines coming soon to a website just like this one. Or... only this one.

2011 Formula 1:

  • Adrian Newey has been found guilty of "over designing" and will only be allowed to do one line on the 2011 Red Bull car! Competitors insist it must be the tire! 
  • The traditionally inept FIA race stewards will now have expert help: "Rex" the Seeing-Eye Wonder Dog will attend every race and bite every little driver who does a "no-no" on the track or "wee-wee" in his driving suit!
  • Hermann Tilke has been commissioned to design “the most exciting country in the world”! Based on his F1 experience, he has chosen Switzerland as a model. One person in Switzerland recently yawned! The remainder are lying about waiting for Prince Charming to come and kiss them on the lips!  
  • In order to put an end to the confusion, every car on the grid will be called a Lotus! Except the Virgin... which will be called a Virgin because…God knows, Virgins are hard to find in racing.


  • Rather than simply give him the 2011 Winston/Verizon/Holiday Inn/ Nextel Cup, Jimmy Johnson has been asked to retire!
  • The Association of Mental Health Professionals has released the results of their study showing that every Nascar driver, except for Jimmy Johnson, needs sociopathic adjustment counseling!
  • Michael Waltrip is missing! He may have disappeared six years ago but his family didn’t notice until they turned on the TV and noticed he was not starring in consecutive ads for Maytag, Preparation H and Baby’s Own Shampoo.
  • Road races, exceptionally popular with the fans, have been eliminated! Nascar officials fear drivers will cheat once they get out of sight of the tower.     


  • Rules have been changed to allow rodeo clowns in fiberglass “pretend” barrels to run out on the track during caution periods to try and distract the drivers. Car owners say “We fought Randy tooth and nail on this one. He wanted to stampede bulls on the track during qualifying. We settled for the clowns.”  
  • Roger Penske has bought the Indianapolis 500!


  • The 2011 rules have been changed to compensate for over-talented riders! Valentino Rossi will be forced to compete this year on a uni-cycle!
  • Upon receipt of his signed agreement to the change, Moto-GP promptly cancelled the season and awarded him the title, thus saving all the manufacturers a fortune! Racing will resume when he is old!


  • All non-French cars will be compelled to use Mercedes aerodynamic packages in 2011!
  • Audis have been banned because French announcers cannot pronounce the name of the car without sounding like lonely cowboys.

 That’s all the news that’s fit to print…here?

Red Bull Gives You Wins

Posted on November 18, 2010 Comments (0)

Red Bull have won it all! And deservedly so.

Excited and exciting Seb Vettel wins Drivers Championship

Excited and exciting Seb Vettel wins Drivers Championship

The energy drink people at Red Bull have proven once again that unfettered money can beat the Fiats, Mercedes and Renaults of the world at what should be their game. Benetton were the last wholly owned non-automotive oriented team to win both Drivers and Constructors Championships and that was fifteen years ago.

But this was an interesting season. Not as much for the racing as for the people. We appear to have a group of drivers who have let their personalities shine through the corporate sponsorships and we find they are a diverse group.

The following are the impressions they left with me as the year ended.

Sebastian Vettel: His little-boy exuberance can be alternatively refreshing and annoying but there is no doubt that he can drive. He had the best car, he won the Championship and he really deserved it.

Mark Webber: Flashes of brilliance but not enough of them. Nobody ever thought he would accomplish what he did at his age and stage of his career. He has a sympathetic following but a dim future.

Hamilton: Quick and competitive. Somehow appears one dimensional. He will be better as he matures.

Alonso: Quick and competitive and smart. Interesting to see him being consoled by Ferrari after the race. I would have thought the check was enough. He has been with four teams in nine seasons.

Massa: Great guy who needs to step up his game. He is number 2 at Ferrari. The new Barrichello.

Button: In two years he has built a reputation for being smart, fast and easy on equipment. Moved from Mercedes at the right time and can give his teammate a run on any day. He was impressive this year.

Schumacher: Gave every aging F1 driver hope. Then dashed them with uncompetive drives. His crash on the first lap of the final race should be a message.

Rosberg: Quick and smart. Handled being Schumacher's teammate very well. He deserves a better team and car. I would love to see him at Red Bull.

Kubica: Very quick. Needs a top ride and then will be very, very competitive.

Kobiyashi: Exciting to watch and would be interesting to see what he could do in a better car.

Domenicali: The most refreshing team principal in years. After years of Dreary Ron and Silent John, he is a breath of fresh air.

The only difference between the cars is Adrian Newey and Renault power.

The last two races were good strategic battles on boring courses. If Abu Dhabi would have been the first race it would have been called a disaster for its lack of passing opportunities.

Formula One drivers are pretty evenly matched. Vettel had a car in which at least five other drivers could have won the championship.

A lot of people seem to speak for Red Bull but we never hear enough from the guy who really makes it all work, Adrian Newey.

Hopefully next year will see more teams competing at the front. Mercedes and Renault seem poised, Williams, less so, but could surprise. A few less boring Tilke tracks would help.

On to 2011, let the testing begin!

The Korean GP 2010 Settles Nothing

Posted on November 1, 2010 Comments (0)

I’ve waited up half the night for a lot of exciting things in my life. The Korean Grand Prix doesn’t qualify as one of them.

Red Bull's Korean Nightmare

Red Bull’s Korean GP debut was not pretty.

In a 16 race F1 schedule you can generally count on 75% of them being boring. The others are usually interesting either because they occur at the end of the year with a championship at stake, or it rains. Korea promised both. Instead it delivered a boring race in the rain and made us wait up for it. 

Alonso won by employing that clever old strategy of staying in front and not doing anything exciting. Webber and Vettel lost by being in front and being unlucky. In Webber's case he made a dumb mistake and was also unlucky enough to be caught out by it.

The really unlucky one was Nico Rosberg who was driving brilliantly until he was collected by the dumb/unlucky Webber who ended Rosberg’s bid for a podium and another trouncing of the once fabulous and now just plain old Schumi. Michael was jubilant with his finish and no one had the heart to point out that three guys in front of him had to crash for him to finish fourth.

In business or life, everyone needs a reserve of sympathy, understanding or forgiveness that gets one through a tough time. Supplying it is what friends are for. It’s what engenders a “second chance”. Webber may have eliminated himself from the championship and if he did and somehow there isn’t a great deal of that sympathy left in the tank for him. Odd, because he came into this race with the support of many but left it with much of that gone. At his level of pay and expectation, a self induced mistake at this point is really not forgivable.

If one of the Red Bull drivers or the team wins a championship, it will be despite their best efforts to throw it away. And if Alonso and/or Ferrari win, it will be because they never gave up. They took a “third best car on the grid” and kept making it better and they made less crucial mistakes. Ferrari Team Manager, Stefano Domenicali understands the sympathetic reserve and this season he has managed to put Ferrari in a position that the Todt-Braun-Schumacher team could never do. Through his thoughtful handling of interviews, he has mollified the ”anything-but-Ferrari” fans. Amazing what a little humility and grace can accomplish.

For raw talent there is not much to choose between the top six drivers and Rosberg. Experience and judgment are the determining factors and it is tough to take anything away from Alonso in either department. He is quick and he makes few mistakes and while that may win him a championship, it isn’t worth staying up half the night to see.