Monaco does glamour like nowhere else

Last Updated: May 14, 2010, 21:22 PM IST

Monaco: David Coulthard, sunglasses perched rakishly on his head, leaned over the guardrail of the $20 million yacht and shouted at the figure sprawled on cushions on the next door deck.

“Gerhard, Gerhard. Where did it all go wrong?” the Scot, a two times winner of the Monaco Grand Prix, enquired with mock concern.

Austrian Gerhard Berger, former McLaren and Ferrari driver and renowned paddock playboy in his heyday, looked up and agreed that maybe life could be more agreeable. The Mediterranean sun was perhaps a little too hot, the roar of the passing cars a tad too loud.

On the plus side, the champagne was as ever perfectly chilled.

Those present who had kicked off the night before with a champagne celebration of Formula One’s 60 years laid on by Mumm, tripped over to an open air Red Bull party and then danced until dawn on board Vijay Mallya’s ‘Indian Empress’, appeared somewhat worse for wear.

Monaco Friday, apart from GP2 and other junior categories, is hangover day for F1’s party set (drivers and mechanics excepted). A chance to rest and recover before the serious action starts with Saturday qualifying.

Always a highlight of the Formula One calendar, both on and off the track, it is a race dripping with heritage and history and unfailingly steeped in glamour.

It is also a grand prix where the paying public can get a real taste of Formula One, a proximity that makes the slowest race on the calendar feel like one of the fastest, and watch the billionaires at play.

Ultimate Challenge

Standing in the tunnel, as Formula One cars hurtle through from light to artificial light and back into the brightness, the reaction is one of shock and awe with bystanders peppered by tyre debris and assaulted by the sound.

Watch with the marshals at the entry to the Swimming Pool complex and one can almost feel the cars ‘kissing’ the barriers as they skim past, their tyres barely a metre away.

Coulthard, a winner with McLaren in 2000 and 2002 before retiring in 2008, felt the heart quicken even as a spectator.

“You bring anyone here to Monaco, and other than maybe complaining about the noise, I don’t see how anyone would fail to be impressed with the speed of the cars and the skill of the drivers when you see how close they run to the barriers,” he told Reuters on a yacht as a guest of watchmaker TW Steel.

“I think it’s the ultimate challenge for the driver, the best place for those of us who are not in the car to get sight of who is committed and who is not.”

As a driver, Coulthard found the uphill climb from the whitewashed church at Ste. Devote up to Casino square to be one of the biggest challenges.

“You are literally weaving your way through the barriers, which we all make look relatively easy but you really have to concentrate,” he said.

“The entrance to Casino Square is actually a bit of a compromise corner, so what is much more impressive is through the tunnel, braking into the chicane and then the ultimate excitement here is running into Tabac and through the swimming pool and chicane into Rascasse.

“That takes total commitment into Tabac...and one and a half seconds later you have to be feathering the throttle as you lift slightly at the entrance to the swimming pool. You see the cars dancing through there, it is just so impressive.”

Coulthard went out on Thursday to watch during practice, getting his mobile phone out to record the action and waving to the spectators on the yachts moored less than a car’s length from the track.

Here, 200,000 euros buys a week’s rental of a floating palace registered in some Caribbean tax haven.

When there is no racing, the road is opened for the world’s most expensive traffic jam. Sit at a pavement cafe and the number of Ferraris cruising past will reach double figures before the food has arrived.

For those eager to join the big spenders, a car salesroom just beyond Portier, the final corner before the tunnel, has a sleek black Mercedes ‘Stirling Moss’ SLS priced at around 1 million euros.

Everywhere there are reminders of the past, from the bronze cast of Fangio and car at the Anthony Noghes pit lane entrance, to the bust of local racer Louis Chiron on the dockside near the Swimming Pool.

“To walk along the grand prix circuit that is essentially the same as when Stirling Moss, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart or Fangio were racing here and then to step on a luxury yacht and sip a glass of champagne...anyone who doesn’t think that is glamorous, I’m sorry,” said Coulthard with a shake of the head.

“What are they doing the rest of the time?”

Bureau Report