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The circus that is the Monaco Grand Prix [May. 21st, 2009|11:43 am]
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A forest of steel has been assembled. Stealthily, surreptitiously, a new city of scaffolding has been built around one of the world's favourite international playgrounds, Monte Carlo.
 
The famous harbour, where vast ocean-going luxury yachts vie for space alongside each other and the tourists stroll, captivated by the overt examples of billionaire wealth, has been transformed. The steel stands and viewing platforms have grown up, almost like metal mushrooms, to cater for the thousands who will flock into the tiny Principality of Monaco on Sunday for the 67th running of the famous Monaco Grand Prix.
 
It's the most famous race on the year's motor racing calendar. Princes mingle with Lords; billionaires of doubtful vintage are left to view the flying cars from the sanctuary of their yachts moored in the harbour.
 
The Monaco Grand Prix weekend represents one of the premier selling periods of the entire year for a Champagne house like Bollinger or Moet Chandon. The luxury yachts nudge close alongside one another to get the best view; the entire Principality is transformed for the occasion.
 
Monaco on Grand Prix weekend is a huge money making exercise. A room at the swank Hotel de Paris or Hermitage hotel for a single night isn't possible. Rentals are for the week or long weekend and they run into hundreds of thousands of euros. For those fortunate enough to live in the Principality who own apartments overlooking the circuit, it is bonanza time. They can let their apartment for the 4-day spectacular for equally heady amounts of money, some up to £40,000 (nearly R600,000). Business at the famous Casino, booms.
 
Monaco undergoes a radical alteration each year for this event. Building work starts in early April, as the whole centre of Monte Carlo is specially altered for the race.
 
Private cars are banned from the centre for the four days of racing. Street parking, even in roads away from the actual circuit, is impossible. On race day, trains offer just about the only route into Monte Carlo and the Ferrari fans will pour across the Italian border, just 20 minutes away at Ventimiglia, bringing a sea of red flags.
 
At non-Grand Prix time in Monaco, a stroll around the famous harbour is an absolute delight. You can stop and buy international newspapers from every European country, many of which especially the English daily newspapers are printed daily along the coast in Marseille. Sitting reading them over a cup or two of coffee in the sunshine is a popular past-time outside any of the open cafes that overlook the harbour.
 
But as the Grand Prix nears, the cafes are closed, their view and access obliterated by the steel scaffolding specially erected as a spectacular viewing platform for thousands of fans.
 
Not even the International School of Monaco tries to compete on Grand Prix weekend. The school closes down early for half term because, as secretary Angela Godfrey explains “We just cannot work while it is on. You cannot hear yourself think for the noise.”
 
Those doing exams have had to relocate to a nearby, sound proofed hotel.
 
Of course, Monaco is the most chic of all the locations on the F1 Grand Prix circuit for myriad reasons. Royalty, elegance, cachet, luxury hotels, designer shops, multi million pound yachts and motor boats on the harbour: it is a unique, beautiful destination. For the elegant hotels that overlook the Mediterranean, the weekend offers a financial killing with prices sky high. There is no lack of demand for the rooms.
 
Personalities and celebrities abound all year in Monaco but on F1 weekend they gather in their thousands. Chelsea footballers like John Terry and Frank Lampard watched the 2007 race from the huge yacht of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovitch moored in the harbour; David Beckham is a regular visitor and Luis Figo strolled among the crowds last year. Many F1 drivers, past and present, have their homes in Monaco, film stars likewise.
 
The huge income generated from the F1 weekend helps keep the Principality financially robust throughout the year. The event offers not just finance but huge excitement and international renown.
 
But when the last roars of the engines have died away and, in a few weeks time, the last of the temporary stands have been dismantled, the pleasures of Monaco will return. The stroll around the harbour and view from the coffee shops will once again be restored.
 
And for that, most of the locals probably heave a sigh of relief.
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