Le Grand Prix de Monaco is the most luxurious race the world over. Its prestige, heritage, royal opulence and Côte d’Azur backdrop leave it simply unmatched in the field of motoring. Taking place right after the Cannes Film Festival assures that not only the bluest of European blue bloods attend, but also the cream of the American celebriverse. 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.
Saturday morning starts how all Saturday mornings should start: with a quick helicopter ride over the Principality of Monaco. They close the doors, and up the AStar AS350 rises into the air. Soon perspectives swap; while once we were ants under the towering apartment buildings of Monte Carlo, we are now rising above them, Godzilla-like. With the blades chopping the air 390 times per minute above us, we skirt the shore of the impossibly turquoise Mediterranean Sea and climb up and over the Alp foothills that define Monaco’s northern border.
“That down there is Èze, the village where we’ll be dining tonight,” our host crackles over the intercom, pointing down dizzingly to a small outcrop of limestone buildings high on a ridge. It looks like nothing from this celestial height, but something tells me the two-Michelin star restaurant will be breathtaking when the time comes.
We chopper over the crest, and suddenly the hyper-development of Monaco gives way to untouched green hills as far as the eye can see. Surprised to discover how much it resembles remote areas of Malibu. We circle back down over the bay littered with sailboats and yachts, like white pointillism on an azure canvas. And not just any yachts, mind you — the football-field-length Indian Empress megayacht can be seen sparkling in the bay, the plaything of Force India owner Vijay Mallya. Roman Abramovich’s $475-million Eclipse — the erstwhile largest yacht in the world — is also anchored somewhere below.
Soon we settle back on terra firme, and are quickly ushered out to the marina where at the end of a long pier a menacingly fast-looking Red Bull Wally Boat rumbles in wait. A cute girl dressed in head-to-toe Infiniti gear welcomes us in broken Italian; we take our place at the back of the boat, sandwiched between a British publisher on one hand and a Dubai publisher on the other. Even the press here is big league.
Signals are made, double V8 engines are engaged, and the Wally slowly makes its way out of the marina. Then the throttle is pressed. Behind us our hotel disappears behind a rooster tail of spraying water, and we zoom towards the district of Monte Carlo where the street race actually takes place.
Hit the Jump to continue reading “48 Hours at the Monaco Grand Prix, Day One”…
“Disclosure DJ’ed that evening’s festivities, making it one of the hottest tickets on a night filled with parties that make ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ look quaint…”
Here’s the thing about the Red Bull Infiniti team: they know marketing. While other F1 constructors have small tents set up around the Monaco Bay, Red Bull Infiniti is in the Bay. As in, their HQ is a giant pontoon boat situated between towering yachts. There are two stories, four bars and a restaurant constantly dishing out heaping plates of pasta and delicate pastries. Oh, and there’s a pool — just in case it gets too hot sipping on chilled rosé under the yellow sun.
The day is spent watching qualifiers while chatting with heads of state. Reggie Bush — Heisman Trophy winner, Detroit Lions running back and former Kardashian squeeze — is on hand. His new girl tips the scale in every measurement from Kim. Put it this way: if she fell in the water, she wouldn’t need a life jacket.
After a couple Campari and sodas, I look over by the pool and see the scarred visage of Niki Lauda. One of the greatest drivers of all time holds a special place in my heart, as he was my father’s favorite F1 racer in the halcyon years of the sport. I summon the courage to ask for a photo. “Yeah, but make it quick,” he says gruffly as I lean in and take the snap. I am beyond thrilled.
The big drama of the qualifiers happens when Nico Rosberg, one-half of the Mercedes team, suspiciously runs out of bounds towards the end of qualifying. It’s suspicious because doing so causes the safety car to come out, which squanders the end of the qualifying process. Lewis Hamilton — the other half of Team Mercedes, currently in second pole position and hoping to overtake Rosberg — is furious. He threatens to “take a page out of” Ayrton Senna’s playbook, referencing the infamous incident when Senna, cheated out of pole position at the 1990 Suzuka GP, crashed into rival Alain Prost on Turn 1 to take both drivers out of the race. The threat rings especially true in Monaco, where Senna reigned supreme with an unequaled 6 career victories.
Team Red Bull Infiniti’s two drivers — four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel and first-year team member Daniel Ricciardo — place fourth and third respectively, a decent showing considering how superior the Benz vehicles are at this point in the season. Red Bull Infiniti Team Principal Christian Horner confided at lunch their cars surrender an estimated 70-horsepower to the Mercedes machines, a vertiginous power chasm in the normally hypercompetitive world of F1 racing.
A birds-eye view of Monaco from a helicopter vantage point…
For the 2014 season, Formula One organizers decided to follow the real-world trend of displacement downsizing and ordered a switch from naturally aspirated V8 engines to turbocharged V6s. And no one has handled the switch quite as well as Mercedes, who are currently locked in the top two positions after winning every race thus far. (This has been partly attributed to the Mercedes team conceding competition in 2013, to begin focusing early on this year’s regulations.)
At night we all load into luxurious Infiniti Q70s and are chauffeured up into the mountains, ascending some 1,300-feet to a medieval village called Èze. Since the thousand-year-old streets are too narrow for cars (or even the obese), the Q70s unload and we walk up a long cobblestone path. As we near the gates, four long-legged specimens of human perfection walk past us, their faces frozen with a look of bored entitlement found only on the supermodel ilk. I look for who’s following them, and only a very nebbish short dude comes around the corner. That’s funny, I think to myself, could they be up here alone? A second later my answer arrives as a man in a blue button down shirt, sunglasses and newspaper boy cap rounds the corner. Even in disguise, I can make out the chiseled leading man features of Leonardo DiCaprio.
Something tells me this is going to be a good restaurant.
Infiniti have rented out the entirety of the Château Eza, arguably the most lauded dining establishment on the coast. On the terrace we enjoy colorful drinks prepared with ludicrous care, and take photos with the F1 Constructors Trophy that Red Bull Infiniti currently claim. Below us the hillsides cascade down like a dark green frock, the Mediterranean glowing in peach hues under the setting sun. My mind swims; my eyes have never seen beauty like this.
Dinner consists of blue lobster tails, grilled foie gras with rhubarb and Tahitian vanilla, turbot fillet with Champagne sabayon and truffles, Wagyu steak with porcinis and melted Beaufort cheese and a Champagne “Amour de Deutz” granité, which is essentially a shot glass of shaved ice with a dab of jelly. While all delicious, the dessert — a dome of hard white chocolate protecting a wild berry reduction buried in the middle — is a work of art. Crushing the dome to get to the berry heart is almost heartbreaking.
After folding our bloated bodies into the Q70s we roll back downhill, back towards Monte Carlo and the Red Bull pontoon. Being the marketing geniuses that they are, the Infiniti team had procured none other than Disclosure to DJ that evening’s festivities — making it one of the hottest tickets in Monaco, on a night filled with the sorts of parties that make Eyes Wide Shut look quaint. Needless to say the Lawrence brothers absolutely killed it, threatening to sink the boat when they played “Latch” and “F For You”. Copious spirits were imbibed, beautiful women in lace dresses were twirled on the dancefloor, and stacks of Infiniti-branded napkins became ad hoc confetti when things reached a fever pitch.
Rumors suggest that some of the more irresponsible writers stayed up until dawn, dancing in the streets at the Rascasse — a famed corner of the Grand Prix de Monaco where they allow revelers to party on. Of course we would have no idea if this unsubstantiated gossip were true, we were back at the hotel diligently filing this feature.
Read Day 2 of “48 Hours at the Monaco Grand Prix, the World’s Most Glamorous Race” tomorrow…