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SPY: Surviving Monaco

It’s the mightiest street race of them all: the history, the crowd, the impossible closeness of the barriers, and the sheer adrenaline of knowing one false twitch and it’s all over. Conquer this place and you are truly a hero of motorsport.

But enough about Macao, Spy’s here to talk about Monaco. Or, more precisely, surviving the Monaco Grand Prix weekend.

Ah, Monaco, the Jewel in F1’s Crown™. Like most people working* in the paddock, Spy was ensorcelled by the allure of F1 at an early age, and thus only enjoyed the sport as a leisure activity at the red meat circuits of Silverstone and Spa,**  and thus has never experienced the great race without a pay cheque and a contractual obligation being involved. Never a Monaco Grand Prix goes by without Spy thinking how much more fun this would all be on the other side of the catch-fence, soaking up the unique atmosphere® of the weekend, possibly with a cool beverage in hand, instead of working all hours in a tin shed the size of a thimble in temperatures akin to that of a pizza oven. Like the Higgs Boson, Spy firmly believes in the existence of the non-stop Monaco party, but cannot directly study it, and must instead infer its presence by the way it interacts with other particles – usually when said particles are happily singing drinking songs outside Spy’s hotel window at 4am.

Because this weekend is a tough gig if you’re working. It wouldn’t be Monaco if it wasn’t. Everything is too small, too busy or too unforgiving. It may be the only circuit where the car gets damaged on a good lap. Drivers talk with bravado about the need to brush the walls to be quick – but every time they do a hundred alarms go off in the garage and engineers get very animated. By the end of the weekend mechanics can strip and reassemble suspension components in their sleep*** – which must appear very strange to their partners when they get home.

Anyhoo, this is Spy’s inside guide to the five essentials a Monaco rookie needs to succeed at this, the trickiest of grand prix venues.

Spy's Five Tips To Survive Monaco

1. Pizza
The national dish of Monaco is the pizza, and the best thing about Monagasque pizzerias is that they don’t ever seem to close. Complete rebuild this afternoon? No problem, the pizzeria will still be open when you’re trudging back to the hotel at 2am after putting it all back together. But, be wary. Monaco was founded by Italian pirates in the 13th Century and their descendants are alive and well, keeping up the family traditions while masquerading as restauranteurs. Be sceptical of any establishment with a freshly laminated menu, as these tend to be the ones offering special grand prix weekend pricing. The special part of which is a 200% mark-up on the price for the other 51 weeks of the year.

2. Socks
What’s the most important thing in Monaco? You may hear a lot of talk talked about downforce, track position, entry stability etc., but the most important thing in Monaco is socks. Socks are your friend. Bring lots of socks for a happy race weekend. You’re going to need them. Situated in a mountain basin with a massive water frontage, you’d think drainage in Monte Carlo would be pretty good – but for reasons that defy the laws of hydrology it isn’t. When it rains, the pitlane turns into a medium-sized boating lake. If you like dry feet – and honestly, who doesn’t – bring spare socks. It’s not any better if it doesn’t rain. The distributed nature of the pitlane and paddock means you’re spending most of the weekend working up a sweat, running from one place to another. A fresh pair of socks every couple of hours prevents trench foot and makes you less unpleasant to be around – just don’t leave the damp pair drying on the pitwall. That tends to irritate the people charged with maintaining the glamour.  

3. Earplugs
The Monaco Grand Prix weekend is a relentless 96-hour party. Which is great if you’re here to party. Not so great if you’re listening to the thumping beat in the Rascasse from your bed. It’s awesome being able to walk to work in the morning. It’s less awesome if you didn’t fall asleep until 5am because the bass was rattling the window.

4. Iron self-control
About that party. It’s been a long, hard day, the car has been put to bed and you’re released by the team manager and free to stumble back up the hill to your bed. To get there you have to walk past seven bars. There is a temptation to dump your kit, pull on a set of civvies and pop out for half an hour. But that way lies madness. Save it for Sunday night. Or, more likely, December. 

5. A scooter and a disguise
One for the drivers. Drivers like living in Monaco, and they all wax lyrical about how nice it is to have a race on their doorstep – which makes them just about the only residents of the Principality that think that – and in their fresh-faced naivety, rookies sometimes imagine the pleasure of stepping out of that front door and having a pleasant ten-minute walk to work. It’s a temptation to be avoided: once they’ve negotiated the blocked-off streets, the catch-fences, the stewards who don’t care who you are, you’re not going in there, and posed for a million selfies, they’ve missed half the day. What they actually need is a scooter and an anonymous helmet – because nothing ruins the attempt at anonymity as wearing a helmet with their name and number on it.****

* for a given value of ‘working’.
** That’s Spy in the pictures, I’m the one with the denim. And the hair.
*** Though team management don’t encourage this.
**** Mentioning no names, Max Verstappen 33.