Monaco has always been a place that has lived off money from elsewhere, attracted by a scenic port surrounded by the high coastal mountain range, which shelters the town from cold northerlies. The fact that it faces south means that there is a warm microclimate so one can grow tropical plants and create exotic gardens.
The whole coastline – the Cote d’Azur – is like that and it became chic when wealthy members of the British aristocracy discovered that it was much nicer to spend their winters in the sunshine, rather than enduring British rain and fog – and that ghastly man Disraeli. They stumbled upon a small village called Nice, overlooking the Bay of Angels, and began to build villas. They soon added the Promenade des Anglais. Monaco at that time was remote and isolated. It was a fishing village with a castle on the hill above it. It was not rich and in 1856 Prince Florestan decided it needed more visitors and hit on the idea of building a bathing establishment and casino to pull in the deep-pocketed travellers.
His son Charles III thought the original building was insufficient and so built a much grander establishment on a small plateau to the east of the old port. Within a few years the Paris-Lyon-Mediterranee railway extended its railway line along the coast to Monaco and the area around the casino was renamed Monte Carlo (Carlo being Italian for Charles) and, hey presto, people began to arrive. Monte Carlo became the place to go to “break the bank” and it became tax-free to attract more wealthy individuals, including Americans and Russian emigrés. The Principality used sports to promote itself with the Monte Carlo Rally and then the Monaco Grand Prix. Then came the cinema. And when Prince Rainer married movie star Grace Kelly, the glittering image of Monte Carlo was complete. It has been riding that wave ever since.
But even surfers get old… so Monaco is forever building and tunnelling to make itself bigger and better. The elegant villas of old have largely disappeared now, as development has turned to tower blocks filled with tax-dodgers (or with empty apartments being used as residential addresses). Every time I visit I am reminded of Joni Mitchell’s famous song “Big Yellow Taxi” and the lines: “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot”.
But I still like Monaco, or at least I try to. At the moment they are building a whole new district in the east where there will be no cars, except in underground car parks. This will include a coastal promenade, 150 top-of-the-range apartments, villas and houses, a park, a port for parking yachts and lots of expensive new shops and restaurants.
Down in the old fishing village – now known as Port Hercule – they decided 20 years ago that they needed a way to attract more visitors and a new sea wall, known as the Nouvelle Digue, was built to allow cruise ships to stop by. Passengers swarm ashore and spend money. The Nouvelle Digue is actually floating (so they say) and was built in Spain (where labour is cheap) and it was then towed to Monaco and moored outside the famous harbour. On the outside of this concrete monstrosity someone decided that it would be great to create a “concrete beach”, giving access to the sea if one does not mind jumping in, and then climbing up a ladder to get back to floating “dry land”. They have added trees recently to make it less concretey, but concrete it remains.
Having said that, if you are looking for peace and quiet in Monaco, it is a good place to go as few people get excited about concrete beaches (perhaps it is a little ahead of its time) and it is close to town. There is even parking nearby in the Parking des Pecheurs (The Fishermens’ Car Park) where F1 folk park their cars and where the Formula 2 Championship paddock is located. The top floor doubles as an indoor kart facility, where the Chuck Leclucks of the future can learn their trade.
The problem is that there is no space in Monaco and Formula 1 always feels cramped. The Paddock is a quayside. Everything is too narrow and so the Automobile Club de Monaco (ACM) employs countless folk who are there simply to move everyone on. It’s a boring job, of course, and so these people tend to get blasé about how they treat others – and it not being a job that requires much in the way of education, they often have no clue who they are talking to. They all recognise the Prince and the ACM President, but they treat everyone else like dirt on their shoes. They are an anti-diplomatic corps.
So, the Monaco Grand Prix is the event where the beautiful people cram into a small area which smells of fish, diesel and leaky portaloos. They trip over plastic cable covers that run everywhere, because no-once can be bothered to create mini trenches and the only people who are happy are those who get their kicks watching VIP after VIP trips over these things.
When you boil it all down, it’s slightly less glamorous than a motorway service area, without the space. But, for most of the world, getting into the Paddock in Monaco is just the coolest thing…
The one area where there is a space has been eroded over time by a VIP hospitality area that was crept along the quayside (it makes money and so is interesting for F1) and it has now largely taken up with an area where TV crews are allowed stumble over one another. Through this area sail the drivers, surrounded by their social media teams and PR folk, frantically filming and looking important, but actually being little more than human tugboats around sleek ocean liners.
These days the written media is less and less visible in the paddock because no-one allows them into the motorhomes any longer (the teams made sure that something good came out of the pandemic) and so most stay inside the tatty exhibition hall on the first floor of the fading pink building that runs down the quayside behind the paddock.
The press do not bother going out, except to get food.
It is supposed to be a media sport, but no-one wants the media. The odd thing is that F1’s new popularity comes from the Netflix series Drive to Survive, which takes people behind the scenes a little. But even this has major time constraints and so for those who really want to feel part of F1 the written media is the place to go, as it has untold acres of virtual space to tell the stories of life in F1 and to weave an interesting tapestry.
F1 people and teams don’t seem to realise this.
Many years ago I realised that there was no point in trying to find people in Monaco and I use a couple of places where I hang out and let the world come to me. Sometimes one has to swat away security people to do this, but such is life. Terriers biting trouser legs can usually be kicked away. Watching the big boss of F1 Greg Maffei struggling through crowded alleyways surrounded by workers, caterers, people who want to be noticed, security people and endless VIP minders, made me wonder if perhaps he might not feel the need to buy a chunk of Monaco to create the right kind of F1 facility – as he has recently done in Las Vegas for a cool $240 million.
One gets the impression that the rather tatty block behind the Paddock might be demolished and things reorganised, to spruce up the poor end of the Quai Albert Ier, giving Monaco a nicer space for events and F1 a better paddock. I am sure that such a scheme could make money because one can always sell or rent new apartments in Monaco to the rich – and some new apartments could easily be built into any development.
I see from the US that Roger Penske, the owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, has also gone down the same path by buying the Speedway Monogramming property, that has existed among the Speedway’s parking lots, opposite the South Chute Tunnel, for the last 30-odd years. This means that one day soon, this will be demolished and the Brickyard can get the kind of “front door” that such a facility requires.
Anyway for now we are stuck with a dingy Monaco Paddock, with a race track where overtaking in impossible. It was ironic that that this year’s Monaco GP slogan was “Let’s Race”, which, of course, is the last thing that happens on the current track… Add to this the fact that the TV coverage that is awful and advertising and hospitality are both sub F1 standard. And the race pays a much lower fee than all the others.
While we all love the concept of Monaco, it is one of the worst races – by a long way, although the ACM seems unable to grasp the concept that it is not the best race in the world. One good indicator of the arrogance in Monaco is that one never sees ACM people at other races looking at what rival promoters do… to learn. The ACM thinks there is nothing to learn.
Ah well, ignorance is bliss. F1 is telling Monaco it might not agree a new contract, but the ACM thinks it is impossible that F1 would drop the Grand Prix. It is not impossible…
The Paddock did not buzz with news as a result of all the restrictions on movement, but the press conferences did see a performance worthy for an Honorary Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. This was Christian Horner explaining how tough life is for Red Bull with the F1 budget cap. It is almost tragic to have to report that this was lapped up by open mouthed media (yes, there are a few mouth-breathers in the media) who do not realise when someone is feeding them information for reasons other than admiration for what they write. Grown men had tears rolling down their cheeks as Christian soldiered onward with stories of Red Bull staff being laid off and how they would have to busk at the roundabouts in Milton Keynes. He stopped short of launching a TV appeal for little old ladies to send in their savings to help these lovely cuddly people, who would be cruelly wronged by the evil budget cap.
The truth is that while inflation is a problem, Christian & Co have forgotten to mention that F1’s business is largely conducted in US dollars, including the all-important prize money payments, much of the sponsorship and, the budget cap itself. He also forgot to mention that in the last 12 months currency traders have seen the dollar as the safe haven and so it has appreciated significantly against its European counterparts. Teams earn in dollars and spend in local currencies (be that the Pound, the Euro or the Swiss Franc). If one looks at the numbers, inflation in Europe is about seven percent and might rise to 10 by the end of the year. The dollar has appreciated against the Euro by 15 percent, 13 percent against the Pound and eight percent against the Swiss Franc. Anyone who has travelled to the US recently will attest that it has become a very expensive place to be.
This means that teams have up to 15 percent more money to play with, in their local currency, than they used to have. Inflation has reduced the value of this extra money, but they still have more than they used to have. It is true that many costs have increased impressively, particularly the costs of electricity, fuel, air freight and air tickets, but these are not the major items in team expenditure. This all means that claims for a higher budget cap are really only big teams trying to get more money to help them beat less well-funded teams…
Incidentally, Red Bull is now discussing building a new wind tunnel in Milton Keynes in order to stay competitive, at a time when wind tunnels should be a thing of the past. They are doing this, so Christian told me, because Lawrence Stroll needs one for his son. Someone really needs to whisper to the Canadian billionaire that you cannot buy the World Championship for one’s offspring. It has been clear for some time that Lance is good, but not quite good enough. It is a similar story with Mick Schumacher who keeps having big crashes while trying to out-do Kevin Magnussen. This is wearing thin for Haas and there is talk that it would probably like a different driver next year, although Ferrari does have a say in the matter.
The problem is that Ferrari has a gap in its young driver conveyor belt at the moment because the only Ferrari youngster who looks even vaguely ready for F1 is Robert Shwartzmann, a Russian. Antonio Giovinazzi is still there but he has been around the block a few times already. British driver Callum Ilott is still a member of the Ferrari programme, but seems to be settled in IndyCar (where he damaged his wrist last weekend when he crashed during the Indy 500) while the next Ferrari youngsters are Formula 3 drivers: including Arthur Leclerc (The Sequel) and Oliver Bearman.
The rumour in Monaco is that Mick’s people are now looking at other options for the future and that Aston Martin might be a good choice for him because he’s German, younger and less hairy than Sebastian Vettel, and he is not too fast for Lance.
The thing is that billionaires always seem to think that because they are billionaires they can be successful in everything. No-one dares to tell them that may not be the case. Similarly, it seems to me that billionaires should buy smaller trousers because having really deep pockets and high belts is never a great look.
But, hey, who decides what is fashionable? Money is always in fashion.
The recent fiasco with Formula 1 VIP hospitality in Miami seems to have led to a rethink about the way the system should work in the future. The deal in Miami allowed for the local promoter to select its own catering, and it chose a local firm because it was less expensive that F1’s usual supplier, the Austrian caterer Do&Co. The result of this decision was a lot of very unhappy VIPs, teams and sponsors, who all felt – quite rightly – that if one is paying $12,000 for a ticket to an event, one should expect top level hospitality. The problem for Formula 1 is that the guests do not know, nor care, about the sub-contracting arrangements. For them the Grand Prix was a failure of F1 itself and the danger of this is that the sport will get a reputation as being a rip-off – and that is clearly not what is wanted. The best way to maintain quality control is to dictate what happens. In future F1 will be doing that…
There was not much else. Former Formula 1 driver Kimi Raikkonen is going to race in the NASCAR Cup Series later this year. Now 42, the monosyllabic Finn will race for the Trackhouse team at Watkins Glen on August 21. The deal is part of a new initiative launched by Trackhouse called Project91, which will field a Chevrolet with #91 for a series of international racing drivers, in an effort to increase international interest in the stock car series.
Not everyone goes to Monaco because they want to be noticed. Some go to see the event because they have plans of their own to host races and DON’T want to be seen. This is a daft idea, of course, because in Monaco, everyone is looking at everyone else to see who they are, and anyone who believes that they can hide in plain sight is taking a big risk. If one sneaks on to a boat one can get away with it, if they crew don’t blab, but if you are in the paddock you can be spotted not only by the way you act, but also by how those around you behave. Years ago I developed a strategy for spotting these people. If I saw someone accompanied by leggy blondes with diamond earrings, this suggested that the gentleman in question was wealthy and I would rush up and say “Hello, I’m Joe,” and they would say: “Hello, I’m Such-and-Such” and we’d get chatting and I’d find out who they were. This worked very well with a man who replied: “I’m Steve. Steve Wynn.” He was in Monaco because he wanted to have a Grand Prix in Las Vegas and told me all about it.
I might have done the same thing this year with a chap in a Williams hat, as all the big cheeses in the team were fawning over him in the Paddock alleyway. I even heard one of them say: “This way, Peter” and that got me thinking. Back in the summer of 2020, when the Williams team was sold to Dorilton Capital, there was much interest and speculation about who was behind the mysterious investment firm. It was based in New York, but was clearly not an American firm. It was identified only as being a private investment office for an unidentified high worth family.
I got a tip that the buyer was a Jersey-based entrepreneur called Peter de Putron, but no-one in the team would talk about whether these stories were true. De Putron is so reclusive that there does not seem to be a single photograph of him on the Internet, which makes it quite hard to identify him. Did Peter’s pass say de Putron? I wondered. There is a picture on the Internet of his brother and the two people seemed to have some striking similarities.
I suppose I could have employed some ACM security person to be annoying and look for me, but in the end I concluded that with modern telephones one can take pictures that blow up very large. Anyway, to cut a long story short I am certain that de Putron is the man behind Dorilton – and I’ll not post any pictures of him because he does not want to be famous.
And now he owes me a favour… which is never a bad thing.
Among those in Monaco who were not hiding was William Hornbuckle, the CEO and President of MGM Resorts International, one of the biggest casino operators in Las Vegas, over to take a look at how things are done. There was also a delegation of Africans (which is quite unusual in F1) and I was told that they were from South Africa, present to discuss the possibility of a new F1 event at Kyalami.
In my years in F1, I have always found that there is no better way to upsetting celebrities than asking them how they became famous. I don’t do it any more and am blithely unaware when I stroll past some pouting social influencer with a squillion followers, a cage fighter or a jingly-jangly bling-covered football player with tattooed nostrils. As usual, Hollywood’s finest (apart from Horner) didn’t turn up for the photo op in Monaco.
Flavio Briatore could not stay away, of course, dying as is he is for publicity and surrounded as always by fashion models of yesteryear, reminding us all about how much F1 has moved on since his inauspicious exit from the sport more than a decade ago. A formula 1 version of The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come…
Bernie Ecclestone was not there (he’s always been smarter than Flav) but he did manage to get into the news in F1 by being arrested while trying to get on a plane in Brazil with a small revolver in his luggage.
“I haven’t had any publicity lately and I thought I ought to do something to get some,” The Bernard told Reuters. Some in the cynical world of F1 think that this is possibly the real story.
Anyway, the race was interesting enough, but when we left on Sunday night I didn’t say: “See you next year” to the ACM folk, because I am not sure we will be back in 2023. I hope so, but if we are back I hope that there will be some changed attitudes. F1 is deadly serious about getting what it wants from Monaco – even if that hurts for a year.
The ACM should perhaps take note of advice from Joni Mitchell.
“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone…”