Monte Carlo: Where the Monaco Grand Prix is the perfect formula of glamour and glitz By Jim Rosenthal Courtesy of Daily Mail As the face of ITV’s Formula One coverage for many years, it may seem strange for me to take my wife, Chrissy, for a long weekend to watch the Monaco Grand Prix. But I have a confession: in all my previous visits to the event, I had never actually seen the whole race ‘in the flesh’ — it has always been on a television monitor. When you are fronting the coverage, you hardly get to enjoy the atmosphere. Monte Carlo The Monaco Grand Prix is like no other. It is the premier F1 race that runs along city streets — a tortuous course snaking between the skyscrapers, hotels and historic buildings of Monte Carlo. It’s an exceptional circuit and the jewel in the crown, the one everyone wants to win. It also takes over Monte Carlo completely. Major roads are shut and you would be a fool to try to drive in. You either fly in or, if you are lucky enough, park up in the harbour in one of the renowned Superyachts. There are crowds everywhere and, usually, the best restaurants are all packed out. For a first-timer, it can all be a bit intimidating: where to stay, where to eat, where to watch. Expert guidance is essential: we went with Page & Moy, who have been organising trips to F1 for over 40 years. The venue they chose for us was the Fairmont Hotel — previously the Loews Hotel, which gave its name to the Loews Corner on the race circuit that it overlooks, one of the most famous parts of the F1 course. The hotel is made up of a string of hexagons jutting out over the Mediterranean. It used to be rather Seventies-looking and rundown, but it has been given a classy modern makeover and is now an extremely luxurious affair — including a rooftop swimming pool. Above: The balcony of the Fairmont undoubtedly has one of the best vantage points for the race. It’s where every F1 fan would love to be. Opposite on the land side is Casino Square and the magnificent dome and grand frontage of the famous casino. But the most important thing is that the square it sits on is on the race track, and this is probably the best vantage point in the city for observing the race. The hotel actually straddles the notorious Tunnel where the cars reach speeds of over 190 mph. F1 normally happens between Friday and Sunday. Monaco does things differently: there is practice on Thursday, a public holiday on Friday, qualifying on Saturday, and the race on Sunday.
We arrived on the Thursday night and went for a meal down in the harbour in Fontvieille at La Saliere — a wonderful venue for some outstanding home-cooked Italian food. This is a great introduction to the sheer weight of money surrounding the Grand Prix weekend, with jaw-dropping yachts crammed port to starboard. Most years the F1 coincides with the Cannes Film Festival. Presenting the race coverage meant I never had the chance to go before — if you fancy soaking up a bit of glamour, it’s only a twenty minutes by car. The sun was shining and we schmoozed at the Century Club set up on the beach opposite the Carlton Hotel. Then it was back to Monte Carlo for dinner at Pulcinella, one of the great Italian restaurants in the heart of the city (Italy is just a hop along the coast, after all), for lasagna and people watching. That is, people-in-cars watching: at the entry to the car park opposite we saw a Ferrari, a Lamborghini and a Porsche vying for one space. One of the great sights of Formula 1 is the Paddock, where all the drivers and teams are based. The array of multi-storey motorhomes, each more luxurious than the last, is extraordinary, a phenomenon that has taken off in the past few years. The Paddock is the heartbeat of Formula 1. F1 Paddock Access is very restricted, but we were lucky enough to watch the qualifying laps from the Williams team motor home all organised by Page & Moy. The track itself is screened off from the rest of Monte Carlo — although you see people peeling back the board to get a glimpse of the action. You have to pay to view, and you need to identify the best places and get there early. There is a famous vantage point on the hill above the Paddock, which is taken over by fanatics from Renault and Ferrari. To get around town while the roads are closed off, the trick is always to stay higher than you think. It’s a good walk up the hill to the old town for the castle, picturesque streets full of designer shopping, as well as a fantastic aquarium. There is a bus service, which takes about ten minutes. One of the innovations on race day is the ‘kangaroo’, a portable monitor that gives you live pictures, as well as access to the statistics and the ability to stick with your favourite driver. It’s a must for seasoned F1 enthusiasts and novices alike. Jim Rosenthal