SPY: Monaco Schmonaco

It’s the biggest sporting event of the year. The excitement, the danger, the hopes and dreams of millions, hanging by the thinnest of threads, it’s a nerve-shredding, gut-churning, rollercoaster. But enough about Charlton Athletic vs Sunderland, we’re stuck here in Monaco.

Morning all, Spy here, swinging off the tree that’s mysteriously growing through the pit building. One of the many oddities that makes this full-sized racing ape shrug and mutter ‘Monaco’, like it explains everything. Because yes, we’re in Monaco. Land of the mightiest Monday morning hangover known to mankind. Monaco, the thinking man’s dumb grand prix. The fastest slowest race on the planet. The most exciting sporting event in the entire history of boring sporting occasions. The best pizzas and worst traffic*, the greatest race of the year and the reason everyone by Sunday night will be absolutely desperate to get back to the relative sanity of Milton Keynes. Monaco, y’see, has its contradictions. To misappropriate the great sage of Cambridge, it’s like having your brains smashed in by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick. 

Because let’s not beat about the bush here, if you were to design a place least suited to holding a Formula One race, that place would look suspiciously like the port of Monte Carlo and La Condamine. A twisting, urban ghetto with higgledy-piggledy streets piled high around tight, spiralling corners. The drivers think it’s difficult in an F1 car: they should try it in a 44-tonne rig. Admittedly, the F1 cars are going faster – but only a bit faster because there really isn’t anywhere to give it socks in a medieval environment designed** to accommodate the technology of a donkey kart, with streets correspondingly the approximate width of a donkey’s backside, with the occasional cut-out to accommodate overtaking by a smaller, faster donkey. At least the trucks get to use a gear above seventh. 

Fortunately, Monaco isn’t really about the racing. It hasn’t been for quite a while. If you’re all about the motorsport, it might conceivably be about qualifying – which is probably the most challenging environment the drivers will face all year – but for most people, Monaco is about the show. It’s the glitz and glamour of the event that’s the lure. For one weekend only the quality of the racing is allowed to take a backseat, and it’s the harbour parties, the fashion shows, the traffic jam of Ferraris cruising down the hill and the glitterati that takes centre stage. Cannes is just around the corner, relatively-speaking, there are movies to promote*** and the beautiful people will be out in force. This is the place to be seen – even if it’s all a bit noisy and you haven’t got the faintest clue what’s going on.

Happily, very little of this gets to infect the garage. Yes, conceivably there may be a few more guests than is strictly sensible in a space about a quarter the size of that used in Barcelona last week, and many of them come with inappropriate high heels**** and minders the size of an autoclave – but that aside it’s business as usual. It does raise some interesting questions though. There are people for whom an entire appreciation of motorsport is derived from coming to Monaco every year. You really have to wonder: do they think it’s like this everywhere? They probably do. That’s why every so often you see the horror-struck expression at Silverstone, or Spa, or the Nürburgring of someone in designer loafers, surveying a sea of 50,000 beery Neanderthals dancing in the mud, realising they’ve made a terrible mistake.

* Except France, obviously

** Probably not the correct word

*** Though probably not the ones actually being shown at Cannes

**** Especially the men – who tend to be shorter than you’re expecting.