To celebrate McLaren’s 50 years of Grand Prix racing, which began with Bruce McLaren’s inaugural entry in F1 at Monaco in 1966, here is a film that the team has created.

Okay, I admit it, I had the day off yesterday, and I intend to do the same today. Tomorrow it will be back to work mode again and the Monaco weekend, which for many in F1 is a favourite. Monaco is considered to be the most important and prestigious automobile race in the world. Only the Indianapolis 500 and the Le Mans 24 Hours are in the same league, although some folks in Florida might argue for the Daytona 500 as well.

It’s not an easy place to work, but the thing that grabs anyone with a soul is the venue itself. This, lest we forget, was the original street circuit, very different to the road courses that were the fashion at the time. But how did this crazy event begin?

I wrote a long article some years ago in GP+ on this subject, so I can cheat a bit and give you a truncated version of that fascinating story. For those who would like to read the full version, you just need to sign up for the GP+ archive and look out issue 42. (Monaco 2009).

Monaco’s story as a centre of glamour began in the late 18th century, when rich members of English “society” began wintering in the town of Nice. They built the aptly-named Promenade des Anglais and soon magnificent villas were popping up all along the Mediterranean coast. By 1830 there were more than 100 wealthy English families wintering in Nice each year. That figure would double by 1850. But this had little effect on the town of Monaco, a few miles along the rocky coast. The Grimaldi castle with old Monaco village behind, was a spectacular sight and the climate was warmer than Nice, but it was not “the place to be seen”. Prince Florestan decided to change that, and shortly before his death in 1856, he decided to build “a bathing establishment and casino” to attract the moneyed folk. A casino was opened.

His successor Charles III wanted something bigger and better and grand casino and several  fancy hotels were built on a rocky plateau above the small port known as La Condamine. This Charles called Monte Carlo (after himself). The appearance of the casino was followed by the opening of a railway line from Nice and by 1869 Monte Carlo was welcoming 170,000 visitors each year, including trendsetters such as the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII. Prince Charles then decided to make the place even more attractive by exempting Monaco residents from all personal, property or income taxes. The wealthy liked that and soon began to buy land and build villas.

The casino needed publicity of course and so it was good fortune when in 1875 an English engineer called Joseph Jagger spotted that one of the casino’s roulette wheels had a slight bias and that certain numbers came up more often than others. This enabled him to “break the bank”, an expression meaning the croupier at the table runs out of gambling chips. A few years later Charles Wells broke the bank 12 times, at one point winning 23 of 30 consecutive spins of the roulette wheel. The casino was never able to discover how he did it, but British musical hall star Charles Coborn had a huge hit in England with his song “The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo”, which did much to give Monte Carlo an even better reputation.

With so many wealthy residents, the principality soon had its own automobile club, known as the Societe Automobile et Velocipedique de Monaco (SAVM), headed by a tobacco manufacturer called Alexandre Noghes. He proposed holding a Monte Carlo Rally to bring more winter business to the town. At the same time the Nice-La Turbie hillclimb was organised for the first time. This would be revived after World War I, along with a second dramatic climb up Mont Agel. In 1925 SVAM renamed itself the Automobile Club of Monaco and three years later it applied to the Association Internationale des Automobiles Clubs Reconnus (AIACR), the international governing body of motorsport, to be upgraded from the status of a regional French club to get  national recognition. Alexandre Noghes’s son Anthony was sent to Paris to seek AIACR membership. This was refused because the ACM did not host a race on its territory. In consequence Anthony Noghes decided to create one and proposed a Grand Prix through the streets. It was an extraordinary idea and some thought that the ACM was mad to embark on such a project.

“They have the most astounding audacity in some parts of Europe,” wrote The Autocar, when word of the idea first filtered to England. It was, the magazine concluded, an unlikely event in a Principality “which does not possess a single open road of any length, but has only ledges on the face of a cliff”. The French were only a little less cynical, with La Vie Automobile noting that although it was the first time that a race had been held right in the heart of a city, “it goes without saying that the track is made up entirely of bends, steep uphill climbs and fast downhill runs.”

The idea of a race was supported by Prince Louis II and by local rising star Louis Chiron and impressive prize money was offered to attract the best names in the business.

The rest, as they say, is history…

The nice thing is that in the region one can still see places where history happened, as some parts of the region have barely changed in the last 100 years, despite Monaco’s excessive development. I was in La Turbie yesterday and took a photograph of the village square. I added an old picture just for fun. See what I mean?

La Turbie.jpg

To Monaco then…

If the blog was quiet today because I was en route to Monaco (I still am) and I did it by a more scenic route, by way of Magny Cours, which was rather a sad moment, because it seems such a waste to have such a place not being used for F1. The motorway that was never quite built in time for the Grand Prix now extends beyond the track and edges ever further southward. It will be a while yet before the fast roads are completed to Roanne, but the mighty avenues of Napoleonic plane trees are fine for now. Life moves slowly in these parts. I ended up skirting around Saint-Etienne and then climbing up over les Monts du Pilat to then descend into the deliciously sunny Rhône Valley, where I am stopping for the night. So if there is anything happening in the F1 world, it can wait…

There is a story kicking around suggesting that the Monaco Grand Prix is under threat because of a possible real estate development that is at the bottom end of the current F1 paddock, where the TV compound and very large yachts, filled with Russians are usually to be found. The remarks were made by Michel Boeri (77), the head of the Automobile Club de Monaco. It sounds rather a dramatic thing to say given that the TV compound can be relocated without too much difficulty, although it might not be as close to the paddock as is now the case. They are, in any case, endlessly inventive in Monaco when it comes to space and use several floors of the Parking des Pecheurs as the GP2 paddock, so it is not hard to imagine that the TV compound could be made to fit into that (for example). It is very clear that Monaco does not wish to lose the Grand Prix and F1 has a similar mindset so one must presume that there are other reasons why Boeri is scaremongering, perhaps because the new development will rather dominate the harbour area. The project includes two museums, which will funded entirely by the Caroli Group, a Monaco real estate development company. These will be a museum of the Grimaldi Family and a museum that will be in honour of Man and the Sea. There is a tiny Musée Naval already hidden away in Fontveille, but this is not of international standing.  The development around these two buildings (and the reason they are being proposed) will include 52 luxury apartments, 250 parking spaces, plus an esplanade, in addition to 6000 sq m of offices and retail space, which the state will own. The company has also agreed to manage the museums for 15 years. The Museum of Man and the Sea will provide exhibition space. It will, if it happens, give the harbour a much more modern look, which some may consider to be a bad thing, but so much has been developed that the real Monaco disappeared a long time ago. The $330 million project will take four and a half years to complete.


While on that subject, the plans to expand Monaco into the sea, on the other side of Monte  Carlo are continuing. Here is a video (in French) about what they are planning told to do. It is not clear yet whether this will lead to any changes in the F1 circuit, but it provide the opportunity to lengthen the track and provide overtaking.

IMG_0051It was a pretty exciting weekend in Spain, not least because I managed to lose my little green notebook for a portion of the weekend (not for the first time). Fortunately, it turned up again and so my scrawls are still with me. The first one says “lovely cool crisp morning”, which is there to remind me Spain is always the sub-conscious start of Spring as far as I am concerned and I particularly enjoy the drive south through France, and over the Massif Central, to Barcelona. The first four races are all fly-aways, attended only by the hard core F1 regulars and Spain in the first time that the whole F1 circus gets together, including all the Europe-only motorhomes and staff. It’s a time to catch up with lots of people and traditionally we have a dinner on the Thursday night, not far from the track, where I always enjoy the cabrito, the local roasted kid goat, with some solid local wine. It means that the weekend kicks off in a convivial way. On Friday evening there were no fewer than three events to be juggled, but that was fun, not least because at a Renault function I did manage to get team boss Frédéric Vasseur to serve me a drink, with an impertinent cry of “Garçon!” I like Fred, though he has a serious face, and he was happy to join in the joke and pour me a glass of rosé. Top team people with good senses of humour are so much more fun to work with… I won’t tell you the full story of how we taught Toto Wolff to get on with the British, suffice to say that his wife did complain that we had told him to be rude to people he liked, because that is what Brits do… Nowadays he is always very rude to me and I am very rude back and so all is well.

On Friday morning (the aforementioned lovely cool crisp morning) I was in the paddock, wearing a 007-branded baseball cap, given to me a few races ago by some friendly Aston Martin people. I often wear strange baseball caps (because “I can’t do anything with my hair”) and they help avoid sunburn. It is a tradition which began a very long time ago when I turned up with CIA hat I had found in a second hand store in Monterey, California. In those days the CIA did not do merchandising and I guess it came from a retiree, who had gone off to the great Langley in the sky. It gave people a good laugh and I have had a few adventures as a result over the years, including the favourite “Are you really?” moment that happens now and then when people are not really thinking.

Anyway, someone in the Paddock suggested that I make sure to wear the 007 hat in Canada. This left me reaching the conclusion that actor Daniel Craig – Mr Bond himself – will be there as a VIP guest, so perhaps we will share a Martini or two, or maybe a Heineken, as this appears to be the current tipple of 007 product placement. Bond is, of course, absolutely the kind of celebrity that F1 needs and I hope that the Aston Martin association will beef up the connection. If F1 was really smart, it would suggest a movie scene at a Grand Prix…

mercedes-benz-designed-a-yacht-but-only-10-will-be-built.jpgBranding is such an important part of the business these days and F1 is still not doing as much as it could. I do hear, however, that perhaps Mercedes might be considering putting one of its F1 power units (detuned just a tad) into some kind of fancy road car, in order to produce a slam-dunk limited edition model for those in this world with far too much money. Given that they have recently unveiled a Mercedes speedboat, such ideas are not daft. Of course, this will help to advertise the fact that F1 is doing amazing things with power unit technology, something which continues to be missed by many. I was recently told that if one applied the percentage improvement in the thermal efficiency of F1 engines to the average fuel consumption of the European car fleet, the resulting fuel consumption figure would be a startling 165 miles per gallon, which is the kind of number that might stop governments pouring all their money into electric cars… Of course, people will challenge this figure and say that its unproven and so on, but I think that if the potential is there, then it is worth telling the world about it. I am sure that someone could come up with some simulation to prove it.

Simulation is an area where F1 people are very wary when it comes to talking to the media – it’s a bit like data security and rapid prototyping developments. They don’t want to say too much. However I understand that these days, the top teams are getting close to having real time interlinked simulators which drivers use to develop parts. I am not sure how far this has got, but certainly it seems that the best are running suspensions on rigs elsewhere that link to the simulator, while the engines are run on test beds at the same time. One wonders whether the wind tunnel can be tied in as well. This is all far too clever for me, but it is fascinating just how much they can now learn from simulation. This is why a lot of teams have so many test drivers these days, so that they can run the simulators as much as they do. I guess that the FIA will soon start to try to limit this stuff, although I would think that the best use of it would be to help the sport develop better virtual experiences. I am told that FOM is doing a lot more in this respect than they let on. I think it would help to tell everyone what they are up to…

The one thing about Max Verstappen’s victory in Spain that no-one much has zeroed in on is that not long ago, in its infinite wisdom, the FIA decided to ban anyone younger than 18 from competing in F1, on the basis that 18-year-olds would be incapable of doing the job properly. That looks like a very poor decision now that Max has shown that age is not the issue. Perhaps it would be a better idea for the federation to have upper age limits on drivers so that the sport can have more of a turnover of stars, rather than keeping the same names for too long. One might also add that an upper age limit on membership of the World Motor Sport Council might also be a good idea, so such decisions do not get made in the future.

We all like fairytales, even if we don’t like to admit it. They take us back to the innocent days of childhood where everything seemed to be possible and one knew whether someone was good or bad based on the colour of the cowboy hat they were wearing. As a kid I always had wonderful day dreams, often acted out, doing things that I would never be able to do: be an astronaut, a fighter pilot (a heroic one, of course), a Royal Marine Commando dodging bullets or a rugby player diving headlong across the line, to score a winning try. It was magic and I love the fact that Max has strolled into F1, as cool as a cucumber in James Dean’s refrigerator, and has done so well, so quickly. He had had a busy few days before Spain and people were talking about him being nervous before the race, about the pressure on him. It was all blah-blah.

As drivers come on to the grid in their cars, they rarely do anything to signals that they are aware of the world around them. They are “in the zone” and very serious. Well, most of them… As his Red Bull was being pushed through the crowds, I happened to be standing to one side, keeping out of the way. Max was watching the world around him, he saw me, said hello with his eyes and gave a little nod. I think he even raised a finger (politely) but it all happened rather quickly so I am not entirely sure. I stood back and thought: Yep, this guy is going to do well today. And did he ever…

I have to add that I am entirely biased in this respect because I’ve known Max since he a kid. I wrote about his father, who was much more talented than his F1 results suggest, and who fell victim to politics and cynical people who do not give a toss about the drivers and treat them like light bulbs. I know that Jos was careful to make sure that Max did not make the same kind of mistakes. Anyway, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house on Sunday. This result is a huge opportunity for F1 to relate to a whole new generation of fans. The race was a great advert for the sport, which has been doing a pretty poor job of self-promotion in recent years and while Monaco may not produce the best races, it is still the best advert that exists for the sport. If you’ve never seen it, you must put it on your list because the TV never does justice to what these men do with their racing cars. And I love the fact that we now have a new generation of stars on the rise: Max, Stoffel Vandoorne, Pascal Wehrlein, Carlos Sainz Jr, Kevin Magnussen and so on. I think we should still include Daniil Kvyat, who I think is an exceptional driver who really did nothing wrong apart from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. F1 is all about that, as much as it is about pure talent. Max would never have won in Spain had the two Mercedes drivers not taken one another out. That’s racing and you take the wins that come your way. The popularity of F1 in a country is largely dependent on whether there is a successful driver around. Before Michael Schumacher, Germany was not really into F1. Before Fernando Alonso, Spain was quiet. The problem is how to find them. Logically, China and India should be able to find more suitable human beings, on the basis that there are vastly more people in these places than there are in Holland or Belgium. Years ago, however, I concluded that the Dutch had worked out the best way to do things. “Forget the hours of training,” I wrote, “the answer is to breed them. We have seen many sons of famous fathers, but Jos (Verstappen) is ahead of the game in his thinking, as he managed to find a competitive lady racer with whom to share his DNA and the result – Max Verstappen – should one day be a top notch racer”. Max’s mother Sophie Kumpen was a very successful karter, who beat some F1 stars in karts. She was the niece of the Belgian national rallycross champion Paul Kumpen and, in fact, over the Spanish GP weekend her brother (Max’s cousin) Anthony won the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series race at Venray in the Netherlands (below).Venraij.jpg

Beware also because it seems to me that the Americans are now on the verge of breeding some stars as we have NASCAR drivers Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr as a solid item, while in IndyCar star Graham Rahal and drag racer Courtney Force recently married. Her father John is a 16-time NHRA drag racing champion and both her and her sister Ashley have had hugely successful careers as drag racing queens (you have to be careful when you type that one!)

F1 may look snootily down on NASCAR in Europe, but they need to pay attention, as the series is spooling up nicely and I hear that NASCAR may be taking more of an interest (financially and in terms of organization) in the European series. Few people know it but this season Mathias Lauda and Freddie Hunt (sons of the famous 1976 duel duo) have been team-mates in Euro NASCAR, which is the kind of promotion that Formula E has also been using with Nicolas Prost and Bruno Senna.

One place where we may get to see NASCAR in the future is the planned Laon Couvron facility which Jonathan Palmer is now developing in northern France. Jolyon’s dad was in Spain for qualifying and then flew off to host the Laon Historic Rally, featuring more than 1000 classic cars parading around the former US base. Take a look at the place on Google Earth and you’ll see it has huge potential as a motorsport facility, not least a two-thirds of a mile oval! Perfect for some rough-tough NASCAR stockers. JP flew back on Sunday to watch JP Junior doing his thing. Also arriving for the race was Ferrari (and Fiat) boss Sergio Marchionne, who took the opportunity to debunk stories that Maurizio Arrivabene is about to be shown the door marked USCITA at Maranello. A whisper I heard in Spain is that Franz Tost might be seeing such a sign shortly if the politics at Toro Rosso do not soon calm down.

After the race in Spain I went to find Jos Verstappen and as I was walking through the paddock I encountered Daniil Kvyat, who was booted out not because he had done much wrong, but rather because Max was there and Red Bull needed to secure the Dutchman before Ferrari or Mercedes grabbed him. Daniil had come home 10th but no-one cared, no-one paid him any attention. He was no longer the story…

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 18.09.32

Wow! What a race… The Spanish Grand Prix of 2016 was an historic race in Formula 1 as it saw the first victory for a teenager as Red Bull’s new signing won first time out for the Milton Keynes team. It was a great story, terrific news for Formula 1 and brilliant entertainment. The race began with a bang and a crash as the two Mercedes took one another out, amid much gasping in shock down in the team pit. Who was to blame? There were different opinions. It seemed however that Nico Rosberg was in the wrong engine mode, for reasons that are not entirely clear, and was travelling slower than Lewis Hamilton expected and he had to take action to avoid a crash, but had one anyway when he spun on the grass. That looked like it was going to be the big story of the day, but a the race went on, Max Verstappen moved slowly to the front, the team using a great strategy and Max making no mistakes at all. He was under pressure in the closing laps, with former World Champion Kimi Raikkonen chasing him. Behind them Sebastian Vettel wanted to close in but had Daniel Ricciardo making him use the mirrors. Daniel tried some fairly adventurous moves, caused Sebastian to whine rather too much, but in the end Vettel got third because Dan had a puncture.

Further back, Carlos Sainz scored a good result with sixth for Toro Rosso,while Jenson Button picked up a point for McLaren, just ahead of Daniil Kvyat, who was back with Toro Rosso again. The Russian walked through the paddock, with a face of stone, as the celebrations around Max began.

Also in GP+ this week…

– The story of Max and Daniil’s disparate weekends
– F1 politics is like a swan
– Some book reviews
– Charles Henri Brasier – the Adrian Newey of the 1900s.
– JS wonders about breeding racing drivers
– DT decries conspiracy theories
– The Hack ruminates
– Plus the usual fabulous photography from the Nygaard clan

GP+ is the fastest F1 magazine. It comes out before some of the teams have even managed to get a press release out. It is an e-magazine that you can download and keep on your own devices and it works on computers, tablets and even smartphones. And it’s a magazine written by real F1 journalists not virtual wannabes… Our team have attended more than 2,000 Grands Prix between us.

GP+ is an amazing bargain – and it is designed to be, so that fans will sign up and share the passion that we have for the sport. We don’t want to exploit you, we want you to join the fun. You get 23 issues for £32.99, covering the entire 2016 Formula 1 season.

For more information, go to www.grandprixplus.com.

MontrealIf you are going to be in Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix and want to get immersed in the sport, there is a great opportunity on Friday night to have a convivial evening with other F1 fans, asking me questions (any question, you like!) about F1. I will answer them all as best I can and if there are things that I can’t tell you, I’ll tell you why I can’t! I am a great believer in trying to engage with the fans and these evenings not only do that, but also allow fans to meet one another, so that in addition to learning about the sport and having fun, you will meet like-minded people as well. You get a lot for your money, with a whole evening of questions, plus a break to have a buffet dinner. You can drink as much or as little as you like, but that is not included in the price. If you feel like it, you can even go downstairs after the event and dance the night away . The venue is centrally-located, in the old port area of the city. And it is easy to get there from the circuit using the Metro.

You will go to the track on Saturday with a much better understanding of how F1 works and with plenty of behind-the-scenes information about what is going on and why. Joe will also have all the latest whispers from the paddock. You may not be able to get a pass to get into the F1 Paddock, but this is a great way to feel part of the event.

Joe’s 2016 Audience in Montreal will take place on Friday, June 10 at the Pub St Paul, 124 rue St-Paul Est, Vieux-Montréal, Québec H2Y 1G2.

To book tickets, click here


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