Although this blog has become mostly about Formula One, that wasn’t what I set out to do with it. Well, now, after many posts about F1, I have a new topic (although it also involves F1). A few months ago, I was in a little principality you may have heard of called Monaco. This is a place of glitz and glamour and the cars and the city did not disappoint. I arrived there on a day that started out raining extremely hard, but as we pulled into the principality, the skies began to clear and the sun briefly shone through. The main reason that I wanted to go to Monaco was to walk the Formula One track that has become so famous. You may have watched it on TV, seen it in a movie or even played it in a video game, but unless you go there, you cannot believe how close to the buildings these guys get to drive. The second reason I wanted to go to Monaco was to see all the great cars these super wealthy people drive. As the day started with that aforementioned rain, I was not expecting too much, but I was surprised at what I did see.
We parked waaaaay up at the top of some hill that I probably couldn’t even find again. Luckily, we had a GPS system with us and it really came in handy. As I said, we parked way up the hill, as Monaco is sort of built into the side of a mountain (or at least some very tall hills). This leads to the city being a bevy of apartments, all built right on top of one another. Another thing this leads to is lots of stairs; thousands of them, in fact. However, we had another stroke of luck in that we parked near an elevator. Because the town is built so vertically, they have elevators that you can use to go up and down throughout the city to get to your destination. This not only saves time, it keeps you from killing yourself trying to climb up all those stairs. As it happened, we came down an escalator that opened up onto a street with a view directly toward the harbor. And again, as luck would have it, this street also contained the Formula One store and the Ferrari dealership. How fortuitous is that?
Obviously, I had to check both of them out. First, we took a trip inside the store. This place has everything…almost. Other than an actual car being inside the store, they had helmets, suits, an engine, exhausts, wheels and models galore! The walls were lined with models and hats and actual racing suits. I have been in other Formula One stores before, and though the one in Toronto comes close, this one is right in the heart of the action and is the place to go if you want some great merchandise. I will say that the one in Toronto has a very awesome Ayrton Senna helmet, but this one in Monaco is actually in Monaco! You can’t go wrong with that. I wish I had taken pictures of the inside, but I never thought to do so. I have this one of the outside, and the address is 15, Rue Grimaldi, should you ever be in the neighborhood. Originally, I wanted to get a car model or something that would be very Monaco-ish from the store (like a Michael Schumacher Ferrari F1 car), but all of the stuff they had – surprise, surprise – was really expensive. I ended up looking around the store and just taking it all in and then leaving to go explore the town with my dad.
The next stop was the Ferrari dealership just down the street, toward the harbor. This store had pretty much everything, bar an Enzo. Outside, in the rain, was a new California, a 599 GTB, a couple of 360s and even a rare (in that it didn’t sell very well) 456. Inside the showroom was a 430 spider as well as an F430 Scuderia. This car is unbelievable to look at and the interior is pure racing car. Welds out in the open, no carpets, upgraded seats, Alcantara all over the place; a true beast of a car. I snooped around here for a bit and then we moved on down toward Port Hercule.
Port Hercule is the port that is so famous because of all of the gigantic yachts in the harbor during the grand prix. These yachts in these photos are just little things compared with what shows up on that weekend. It really is amazing that there are so many wealthy people out there who can not only live in Monaco, but be able to still afford to eat, let alone own a boat that is larger than my entire house!
Of course, right next to the port is the front straight of the actual track. Right on the street that all the cars drive on you can see the grid positions where they line up every year. It’s an amazing thing that an entire city/country can be shut down just for a bunch of cars to drive at ludiculous speeds through the town. At the corner of the first turn, called St. Devote, there is a large statue of a car drifting through that turn. Then it is up the hill toward the casino and the square. This hill is so much steeper than it appears on the television, it’s hard to get across in pictures, but it is like walking up stairs without the benefit of steps. And when you get to the top of the hill, it is a completely blind left turn that seems to go on forever, until you get into Casino Square.
And what a square! If you love to watch cars, this is one of the very best places in the world to see supercars up close and personal. There are two good reasons for this. The first is that the casino attracts many high rollers of course, but the other reason is that the Hotel de Paris is right next door. This is where high rollers stay, racing drivers sleep and celebrities frequent. Outside of the hotel, there were approximately 8 Bentleys waiting to take people wherever they wanted to go. And pulled up in front of the casino were multiple Porsches, Ferraris, an Aston Martin and an Audi R8. In fact, as I walked up to the Casino for the first time, I saw a convertible SLR McLaren leaving the scene. It is one of the many cars in the world that I wish I could have gotten a picture of, but, alas, I was not fast enough.
Going on from here, you take a right turn around the mirror in the middle of the square and head down the hill to Mirabeau. This is the corner where Lewis Hamilton crashed in qualifying for the 2009 GP. I took these pictures of the hairpin from his crash spot. Here you can see just how much of a drop in road height there is from the top of this spot to the bottom.
Once you get down there, you take a succession of quick right hand turns and enter the spectacular tunnel. I walked the entire track, and at the end of the tunnel, there was construction, but that didn’t stop me from walking out near the traffic and continuing on. Another car that I missed taking a picture of, mostly because I didn’t want to be hit by it, was the new Lotus Evora. Once you are down here, you are literally right next to the port again. While there are barriers blocking the cars from splashing into the ocean, or crashing into multi-gazillion dollar yachts, it is still only about five or 10 feet from the actual marina. Then it is a left around Tabac and then the quick piff-paff of the swimming pool. Once you are past the pool, you can see right down to the Rascasse restaurant and corner. This corner is famous for a couple of reasons. First, it is a famous restaurant, but also, it is where Michael Schumacher “lost control” of his Ferrari in trying to lock out pole for the 2006 race. Just about where this white van is sitting is where Schumi parked his car. SUCH HISTORY!
From here, the cars blast through Antony Noghes and back onto the start-finish straight. The lap is one of the coolest things you can do in Monaco, because it only takes a couple of minutes (barring any unforeseen stopping to ogle cars) and is a great way to get a sense of the history of the track and to feel just how close they actually come to buildings and spectators. We then took a look at the Automobile Club of Monaco. Since we were not members, we only went into the doorway to see the trophies and the names on the plaques, but behind one of the windows are three formula one engines for all to see.
Unfortunately, we did not spend the night in the city (expensive much?) and moved on. But before we did, I figured that since I would probably never be back to the city, I we should stop back at the Formula One store that we went in earlier. I already had something in mind that I wanted, and luckily, I got there just before they were about to close. In fact, about five minutes before they were about to close! I ran in the back and grabbed a hat. In all the years I have been watching Formula One I have never owned a Michael Schumacher hat, so I grabbed the final edition of his world title winning hats and took it up front. The woman that worked there was kind enough to answer my questions as well. The main one being, “Who is that in the picture?” She then rattled off names like Jarno Trulli, Sylvester Stallone, Sebastian Loeb and more that had all been pictured inside of the store. There were pictures of many people up there, all of them very famous racing drivers or celebrities. This store has a lot of history in it and should be on your list if you are a fan of motorsports and are in Monaco. With this track now crossed off my list, I have been to seven Formula One circuits around the world. Monaco is a beautiful place to visit, and should certainly be on your list of places to visit if you love F1.