This is Part II of our coverage of Le Grand Prix de Monaco — the most luxurious race in the world (Click HERE for Part I). Its prestige, heritage, royal opulence and Côte d’Azur backdrop leave it simply unmatched in the field of motoring. It is an experience without equal. Oh, and the world’s fastest cars compete in the most difficult course of the F1 season, as well. Special Thanks to Infiniti Red Bull for making it all possible.
Normally the day of rest is anything but during GP weekend. We take another water shuttle to the Red Bull pontoon and posse up, readying to head to the grandstands where we’ll watch the race. The air is electric; imagine Wimbledon, the Kentucky Derby and Masters all rolled into one — minus the over-wrought commodification. The Monaco GP is not as commercially driven, and thus over-hyped, as American sporting events like the Super Bowl, NBA All Star Weekend or Westminster Dog Show. There aren’t billboards dominating every square inch of eyeball real estate, or dubstep-blaring marketing activations manned by perky girls in tight athletic gear on every corner. It is still terminally civilized, in the truest sense of the word. In fact, I’m not sure I have ever attended such a civilized gathering of this magnitude.
After a quick tour of the heavily secured paddock (seriously, you’d think Air Force One was tucked away in the Ferrari garage), we make our way to the grandstands in front of Turn 17. On the screen we watch Prince Albert II of Monaco drive a Tesla Model S onto the starting grid, with Elon Musk driving. The pomp and ceremony is writ large.
The clouds have rolled in a bit today, which is good for Infiniti as it should slow down the dominant Mercedes cars. The breeze is cool as the green flag is waved, and with a sudden rip of engine combustion the 72nd running of the storied Monaco Grand Prix begins. Right off the bat former Finnish champion Kiki Räikkönen passes 3 cars, immediately overtaking Infiniti’s Sebastian Vettel. It’s clear right from the first lap that Vettel’s having power problems, unable to be aggressive. He pits on lap 5, and by lap 6 the two Benz cars are far ahead of the competition. By lap 8 it’s already over for Vettel; “I’m stuck in first gear,” he laments to his team. We can observe the pit from where we sit, and you see the young German toss his gloves in anger. He quickly removes his helmet and suit, briskly jogging away to outrun a persistent cameraman.
To our left human beings carpet the grassy hillside like monkeys, and everywhere else the iconic high-rises of Monaco preside over the ceremony. Timeless sentinels of the race, balconies brimming with onlookers. As compared to the Austin Grand Prix from only two years back, the new V6 engines sound bassier, but not nearly as loud as the V8’s from previous campaigns. This muting is triggering the bile of many among the F1 rabid, who feel the sound is but a mockery of the full throated mechanical soul screams that have always defined Formula One racing. In Austin, the volume was so extreme I could feel the vibrations through the soles of my shoes. My shirt ruffled, heart squeezing in my chest. This time, not so much. Although the new turbos do supply a cool whoosh like Star Wars lasers as they prep for the upcoming corner before us.
Hit the Jump to continue reading “48 Hours at the Monaco Grand Prix, Day Two”…
“While the middle of the race is fairly standard, Monaco sets up for an absolutely thrilling finish…”
As the race plays out, it becomes ever more clear why Hamilton was so pissed at Rosberg’s alleged tampering. In Monaco, more than any other race in the F1 circuit, he who controls the pole controls the race. Portions of the track are so narrow, and the turns so sharp that passing is incredibly limited. Rosberg leads the whole race, doesn’t miss a lap. Coincidentally, Rosberg didn’t trail a single lap last year either, confirming Hamilton’s paranoia.
At Lap 50 the clouds roll back and we retire to the Red Bull pontoon to watch the race on the gigantic TV hovering above the pool. More Champagne is poured, everyone chatting breezily as the race runs its way towards culmination.
In this time of respite, one has a moment to stop, to take it all in.
By the way, did I mention just how fucking nuts this place is? The line-up of $400 million megayachts may have you rubbing your eyeballs like a WB cartoon, but it’s much more than that. It’s the foothills of the Alps, forested with towering apartment buildings soaking in the Mediterranean sun. It’s the impossibly turquoise water, glittering with the hypnotic magnetism of a sapphire (how has this body of water, the latrine of so many civilizations over eons, managed to remain so pure under the careless abuse of humanity?). Monaco is breathtaking; you’ve seen the baroque Monte Carlo Casino host James Bond, you’ve seen its Grand Prix in historical Formula One footage, you’ve witnessed its famed Beau Rivage straight getting trashed by a crackling Mickey Rourke in Iron Man 2.
The place triggers a primal program in a deep locker of your brain that defines what our perception of true wealth is, and the luxury trappings that come with it. It is the sort of pure luxury that every signifier Americans have of the term is based on. For every gilded column in some bullshit Beverly Hills mansion, for every gold-leafed rococo Las Vegas casino, this is the source. Its true essence. And not in a tacky way — OK, some of the nouveau riche aspects are — but in the truly elegant fashion of the French Riviera.
“The place triggers a primal program in a deep locker of your brain that defines what our perception of true wealth is, & all the luxury trappings that come with it…”
While the middle of the race is fairly standard, it sets up for a thrilling finish. Rosberg is way ahead, his lead never threatened. But a radio transmission reveals Hamilton somehow got something in his eye, impairing his vision, allowing Rosberg to separate even more. But it also allows Red Bull Infiniti’s Ricciardo to catch up, making for a thrilling fight for second place after 76 laps, with only two remaining.
In the corners Ricciardo’s aggressive style has him bumper-to-bumper and threatening, but in straights the Mercedes’ superior power shows through and Hamilton lifts away. In the end the upstart Australian just doesn’t have enough juice to challenge the 2008 F1 Champion, and as Rosberg scores the checkered flag Hamilton notches second. At that moment, every boat in the sun-drenched bay begins blowing their horns.
Anyone can watch the Monaco GP on TV. That’s fine and dandy. But it’s another thing altogether to be here.
“Yin and yang. You have to be able to celebrate,” says Andreas Sigl, Global Director of Infinit F1, when asked the final mood of the team. I wondered which took precedence — the thrill of Ricciardo’s podium placement, or the frustration of Vettel’s early retirement. “We’ll see what happened with [Vettel]’s car, but you have to enjoy the achievements as well.”
That night, after a delicious sushi dinner at Maya Bay, it is indeed time to celebrate. And everyone knows where the party is: Amber Lounge, the official F1 drivers’ After Party.
When we found out entry to Amber Lounge cost, get this, 800 euros (about $1,100) per person, we balked. But luckily the fine folks at New York cocktail lounge Handy Liquor Bar, who happened to be manning the bar with expert mixologists, had invited us.
Which, as you know, often means squat. Outside the ultra exclusive club, gorgeous women stood begging to get in. Perhaps it’s evil, but there was a bit of Schadenfreude seeing women who’ve never had to pay for a cocktail in their lives sweat it out like a common Joss Whedon fan. Luckily for us, however, the Handy folks came through and the hostess walked us in, holding hands, followed by two kisses on the cheek. “That’s how we do it in France,” she tells me in a distinct Russian accent.
On this particular night, Amber Lounge is the most exclusive club in all of Europe. Inside several drivers, the rock stars of the GP circuit, cool their jets with copious libations after a strenuous battle at speed. Justin Bieber is here, as is Kellan “Hercules” Lutz at whose table we inexplicably end up. Nico Rosberg, elated after his second Monaco GP victory in a row, is unstoppable on the dancefloor. By the end of the night, he’ll be shirtless and spraying the adoring crowd around him with Champagne, no doubt spurred by his ascension to the top of the point ranking. Impossibly long legged women fill the joint like mannequins in a department store. By the time Tinie Tempah performs on the raised stage, everything is swimmy. Tomorrow we’re supposed to drive to Paul Ricard circuit, and take hot laps with Sebastian Vettel driving an Infiniti Q50. But as amazing and balls-out and otherworldly as that sounds, we stick around Amber Lounge a bit longer to take in the last moments of the Grand Prix de Monaco. For this moment, at least, there’s no other world we’d rather be living in.
The Infiniti Red Bull car of Daniel Ricciardo, who notched a 3rd place finish at the Monaco GP 2014