So this past weekend was the big one. When I agreed to take this job, and try out this new life, it was in large part for the travels, the sites, the places and the adventure. And Monaco was unquestionably near the top of that list. It’s the most important, historic race on the Formula 1 calendar. I’ll be honest, I don’t know the back story. And it seems a completely ridiculous place to try and have a car race, never mind with those cars. But it makes for quite a spectacle, quite an experience.
Apparently a few years ago the GP3 series used to run as a support race there. One of their races was so full of crashes, that the organizers have never invited them back. Which means it was to be only an F2 weekend for me, which makes everything much less hurries and more relaxing. And then, for reason that I don’t fully understand (nor does anyone really) I was assigned to shadow the Red Bull engineer for the weekend. It seemed a little bit odd to me, but I wasn’t about to complain!
The schedule for Monaco is a little bit different. The weekend starts on Thursday, with Practice (And qualifying for F2). For some historic reason (apparently there used to be a local Market on Fridays) the F1 cars aren’t on track on Friday, though the first F2 race is. Saturday is F1 qualifying and the second F2 race, and then Sunday is the F1 race. So this actually made my scheduling rather convenient, in the sense that Friday would be devoted to F2, Sunday devoted to F1, Saturday split nicely down the middle, and Thursday as the only day that was more than a little bit busy.
Due to the earlier weekend start, we flew (to Nice, France) on Tuesday rather than the standard Wednesday. Arriving in Nice was (weirdly) a bit like arriving to a NASCAR weekend, in the sense that there were an awful lot of private jets ‘parked’ at the airport. Though there were larger in size and quantity than I had seen before.
We stayed in Menton, France, which is only about 10 miles east of Monaco. Our hotel was right across the road from the coast and the riviera I guess. Sadly the beach was more gravel than sand, but as someone living in England I can’t really complain about that.
Wednesday was Day zero, no track activity, but I had get everything setup and working, checkin with the organizers and teams to ensure everything was ready to go. The exciting part of that day, and probably the year so far, was that I got to walk the ‘track’. Now Monaco is a street race. So much so, that they open it every evening and close it every morning even during the race weekend. So it was full of regular everyday traffic when I walked it. Not exactly the best experience for what I needed to do professionally (look out for anything that could cause problems for the tires) or what I wanted to do personally (see the corners, the lines, the gradients, enjoy the ambience and peace I normally feel on a race track). But I still enjoyed it, if anything, the traffic just added to how ridiculous a place it seemed to be to host a race. The elevation changes were much more significant than I had expected. The whole thing is much more compact than I thought, yes it’s a short track, but it’s also compressed into an inconceivably small amount of space. The harbor was predictably spectacular. This was early in the weekend, before a lot of the (bigger) boats had shown up. When walking up the hill out of Saint Devote (the first corner of the circuit) I looked at the harbor, and was actually unimpressed by what I saw. It wasn’t till half a lap later when I got down there, did I realize it’s because the 250 foot boats made the 100 foot boats look tiny. In reality, everything was huge, but on a scale that I wasn’t used to. My favourite, for example, was only 101 feet, and it seemed tiny.
Thursday was my busy day, F2 practice and qualifying, and a pair of F1 practice sessions. The F2 went as it has for most of the season, I’m getting pretty comfortable with it. I’m really struggling to put the F1 experience into words. It’s like they just have an absurd amount of resources to throw at everything. So many people. So many custom tools. And carbon fibre, and crazy machines and 3d printed bits and bobs. And the practice plans were adhered to with a scary level of precision. Red Bull was quick on Thursday, I was hoping that ‘we’ would have a shot at an upset on the weekend. Bearing in mind this was Memorial Day weekend, a big weekend in international motorsports, and I was coming off some good momentum from this weekend last year…
Friday was a pretty standard F2 race, it’s a nice and short day when there isn’t an F2 and GP3 race back to back. Not really a whole lot to say, I had steak frites at a restaurant down the street from the hotel that overlooked the ocean and went to bed.
My Saturday was devoted to F1 practice and qualifying, and then the second F2 race happened late in the day. Another fairly uneventful day, Red Bull was very quick in the first round of qualifying, and again I thought ‘we’ had a shot at an upset. Sadly they didn’t get a clean second run in the third round of qualifying, and started the race 4th and 5th.
So on to Sunday, the big day. It’s rather different than NASCAR, in the sense that the cars are in Parc Ferme after qualifying. This means that the teams aren’t allowed to touch them until shortly before the race, and only allowed to perform very minor work. The only people who really work Sunday morning (I am told) is the strategists, trying to put together as many race plans as they can possibly imagine. The starting grid at an F1 race, especially at Monaco I guess, is a crazy place to be. So many people in such a small space. There is a small amount of actual work to be done on the grid, but I mostly tried to soak up the experience, the sights and the people. And then the race started, and I swear it ended 5 minutes later. The first stint did seem to last for awhile, and I enjoyed that. It was actually relatively calm in the garage area, though probably mostly due to the fact that everything went well for Red Bull. I believe some of the other garages were a little bit more scrambly. The first stops went as scheduled, and the plan was for that to be it. And they went great actually, Ricciardo was able to jump into 3rd place ahead of Bottas. The only scrambly moment was a last second pit call to Verstappen when a safety car came out. The hope was on the restart, fresh tires could help him past Bottas as well, but that didn’t play out. The last run was relatively uneventful too, and ‘we’ ended up 3rd and 5th. All things considered that was a pretty good result for Red Bull. Though not a good enough result to get me invited on their yacht, needed a real upset for that…
After the race, I wandered back onto the front straight where the podium is, and where the celebrations took place. Then back to the Pirelli Motorhome for a few minutes, before returning to the hotel. Since I was shadowing the actual engineer, I didn’t have a report or anything to prepare. Instead I wandered up the beach and found a takeout pizza place. I brought a surprisingly good pizza, and a tequila flavoured beer, back to my hotel room and watched the Indy 500. Would have been great to see Alonso win…
I couldn’t stay up for the Coke 600 (it didn’t start until after midnight in Menton), but I was both pleased and disappointed the next morning to see the 78 lead the most laps (3 years in a row) and not win the race.
Now I’m back in Reading for a few days. In this office this week, off work on Friday, then I fly to Hungary on Sunday morning for a GP3 test next week. I am planning to go play softball Wednesday after work, which I’m looking forward to and will hopefully make me feel a bit more ‘normal’. It’s all relative…. And then I’ve got about 48 at the start of the weekend. I might go to London, or maybe Oxford, I’m not really sure yet. Maybe just sleep…
Love hearing about your adventures. Thank you.