Celebs and chicanes — the magic of Monaco
Amanda from the ops team explains this weekend’s unique appeal…
When friends on Facebook see I’m going to the Monaco Grand Prix, a common reaction is envy.
But I’m not there to celeb spot or designer shop — I’m part of a team that helps hundreds experience this unforgettable event each year.
It really is unique — unmatched in the Formula 1 calendar for glitz and glamour — and yet accessible to everyone, from fanatics to first-timers.
Real people, not just rich and famous
Typically, we get to the stunning seaside city of Nice, 24 hours before the population swells for race weekend, in place to welcome and help out guests.
I love seeing the excitement build on Friday as the town’s squares and cafes become hubs for holidaying couples, stag do groups and passionate petrolheads.
Everyone’s there to see the same thing — but there’s no single way to enjoy the Monaco experience.
When we hold our welcome drinks reception in one of Nice’s stylish hotels, it’s a very relaxed affair.
Some guests say hello, enjoy a free drink, then head out to explore — others pick our brains on everything from track transfers to restaurant recommendations.
And some take the train to Monte Carlo to dip a toe in the glamour — there’s no racing on the Friday but the ‘Circuit de Monaco’ is still a sight to behold.
In Monaco, more than any other Grand Prix, the race is part of the experience, not the only element.
So much to see — and be seen
The high-end glamour associated with the Monaco GP is matched maybe only by Abu Dhabi, although its history is pretty much unrivalled.
All of the sights you expect to see — huge yachts in the harbour, impossibly high-heeled women with little dogs and Gucci glasses — are here.
It’s definitely a place people go to be seen — race fans or otherwise — like a supercharged version of Ladies Day at Ascot.
But what really brings home this event’s iconic status are the recognisables — the sights you’ve seen in famous photos and footage over the years.
The notorious Piscine or ‘swimming pool’ chicane, the high-rise hospitality suites with their harbour views and the legendary sports restaurant, ‘Stars’N’Bars’.
We take over an entire floor of this venue for the weekend, transforming it into the exclusive Thomas Cook Sports Terrace, overlooking the drivers’ paddock.
Celeb spotting, shade from the sun and free champagne are big draws for hospitality guests, who can relax while keeping an eye out for retired drivers.
Seeing team trucks and behind-the-scenes prep from the terrace amps up the appetite but the atmosphere in the grandstands is something else again.
F1’s most intimate weekend
As grand prix goes, 45,000 or so spectators isn’t a lot.
Monaco is a street circuit, on public roads, so grandstands can’t just be thrown up all along the track.
Which only adds to the exclusivity of the event and makes you feel even closer to the action.
You share in every engine roar and tyre skid, from the practice day Porsche and GT2 races to the final qualifying sessions on Saturday.
And by Sunday, you’re so immersed in the experience that your enjoyment is just as intense for trackside virgins and veterans alike.
The main event
From the moment you step off the outdoor escalators and start your descent to Monte Carlo, the realism of the occasion hits you — why everyone is here.
Side streets transformed into a sort of fan village, as official (and not-so-official) merchandise vendors compete with pavement cafes for custom.
The building buzz and quickening pace as people head excitedly to their grandstand seats.
The unforgettable smells and sounds of battles between other classification racers, as podium places are settled before the flagship contest.
Prior to the Grand Prix itself, the traditional driver parade is a chance to cheer your hero — or boo their rivals.
Then it’s race time.
Screaming through the streets of Monte Carlo, the cars are expertly wrestled round uncompromising corners.
The sheer speed and noise takes your breath away as your senses are flooded with the sort of stimulation you won’t find in a football stadium.
And despite the breakneck pace of the driving, the combat between cars and their handlers lasts nearly two hours.
Then, as soon as the nose of the victorious vehicle crosses the line and the chequered flag flies, you’ll witness a truly amazing tradition.
For several minutes, as the drivers finish, every yacht in Monaco’s marvellous harbour sounds its horn in unison.
The noise is unforgettable — like nothing else I’ve ever heard.
After the race
At podium presentation time, the track is opened so fans can get close enough for a snap of the winner or maybe some spray from the champagne.
After the excitement of the racing melts into the evening, there are regular coach transfers to Nice — but some fans stay to walk sections of the circuit.
In 2014 I got some great shots of where Felipe Massa had earlier skidded off the track.
Hospitality guests head to the afterparty at the Thomas Cook Sport Terrace, for a couple of hours reliving the race with other fans over drinks and a live DJ.
Soaking up some extra glamour is another reason people stick around — the yachts and casinos scream wealth but the train to Nice is only around six Euros.
Why wouldn’t you?
The tradition of prestige, peacocking and serious wealth, balanced with a rare level of accessibility and inclusiveness makes this weekend unique.
I’m never surprised at the number of people — especially women, or even ‘non motorsport fans’ — who tell me Monaco is their first Grand Prix experience.
Or that it won’t be their last.
And that’s a just a fraction of why I understand how anyone would be envious of a visitor to this incredible, history making event.
What’s harder to understand is what’s stopping them experiencing it for themselves.