Monaco Grand Prix – prologue


No matter how many times you are privileged to attend, the anticipation never wanes. You know it won’t be a race in the conventional sense of the term – not that there have been too many of those lately – but Monte Carlo has many compensatory charms. Proximity for one thing and the paddock for another.

Acclimatised to vast, concrete aprons, teams don’t much care for the cramped impracticalities of Monaco’s port. Walking almost anywhere means negotiating vast swathes of humanity, because the general public gets closer here than is possible at any other F1 circuit – and that generates an atmosphere commensurate with the occasion. It’s how all circuits should be.

There are no paddock admission tickets on sale, of course, such things having been extinct for 20 years or more, but some fans are able to get so close that it doesn’t really matter. Occasionally, one or two sneak through: several years ago I was part of a group taking lunch chez Bridgestone when an unfamiliar face wandered in, sat down and ordered. It was a while before our hosts spotted the visitor’s wholesale absence of accreditation, but they respected such brazen opportunism and left him alone. It was probably the perfect spot to conceal his presence from the ever-sensitive security radar, too.

This will be my 18th Monaco Grand Prix, an adventure that began in 1983 when – as a cub reporter – I was dispatched to cover the F3 race. It would also be the first time I’d met Jenks. I was working for Motoring News, back then part of the same stable as Motor Sport, and F1 correspondent Alan Henry was sharing a hotel twin with DSJ. Shortly after arriving I went to find AH, knocked at his room and was summoned to enter. There was no sign of Alan, but an internal door was wide open and my introduction to Jenks was a distinctive, bearded mien peering at me over the side of a bath.

As I write, I’m in coach number three of an SNCF missile that reduces France to a fraction of its real size: despite what any map might tell you, Nice lies but five and a half hours from central Paris. Trains are, to my mind, the best conveyance at this time of year. You can buy a two-figure EasyJet seat to Nice if you book early enough, usually by gambling on the Monaco GP date before its formal confirmation, but prices soon exceed £300. There’s less pressure with trains: tickets go on sale three months prior to travel and a non-flexible return cost me £220. That gives you a standard premier perch on Eurostar, which includes table service as part of the deal, then first class (via a €1.40 metro ride) from Paris to Nice – although here it’s best to bring your own food, particularly when the tannoy cheerfully tells you to keep a close eye on bags, because there are probably pickpockets on board. Book standard, of course, and you’ll be able to do it cheaper still (although I’m not sure whether that includes the same class of thief). The schedules are reasonable (I left St Pancras at 8.30am and should arrive before 6.30pm) and you’re deposited in central Nice, which eliminates vastly inflated airport transfers. It makes the circuit reasonably accessible before tickets, accommodation and sustenance are factored in (a significant consideration, as I know from having financed my own trips for all but one of 12 full seasons in F1).

Through the middle of this week, many Nice-bound flights will have felt a bit like the paddock transposed to 35,000 feet. The train, though, is a refuge bubble, a chance to catch up with some work and do a little reading as France wafts by on either side.

Cabernet Sauvignon is optional and thus far I’ve resisted the temptation, but my resolve seems to be weakening with every passing kilometre.

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