Not a die-hard fan
Let me start off by saying that I have never been a huge racing fan. When I was younger, F1 was strange and foreign to me. I never got the appeal. Watching sports always came second to actually playing them. When I found out that you pretty much had to be a millionaire to drive a formula 1 car, it was over before it began. But for the last 6 years in Europe, I have been told by countless Europeans "Dude, you need to see a race". Ok, Europeans don't really talk like that, but that's basically what they meant. So I finally decided to see what all the European fuss was about.
In this post I will share my experience at the Monaco Grand Prix and conclude with whether I think it was worth the hefty 480 Euro price tag for Grandstand seats.
Monaco Grand Prix Review
Two weekends ago, on a sunny Saturday morning my girlfriend, Stephanie, and I arrived at the Monaco train station for the Grand Prix. Considering the average per capita income of the second smallest country in the world is over 130,000 USD, I was expecting opulence. The train station itself is pretty impressive. Even the underground hallway that leads you away from the trains and into the bottom of the city is decked out in frickin' marble. I was half expecting to see naked roman statues every 10 meters. In that way, the city totally met my expectations for excess and luxury.
But before we ventured through the marbled hallway, we went up to the second floor via the elevator to check out the view of the harbor. Alright, to be honest, we really didn't know where we were going. We went upstairs by mistake. But sometimes disorganization can be an unwitting ally and we were greeted with a view of the Mediterranean through imposing cliffs that frame it on either side. Considering the look on my face, I was either struck stupid by the beauty or confused by what Steph was doing with the camera. Steph says the beauty.. definitely the beauty.
After our directional mistake and the fortuitous photo opportunity, we finally made our way out into the colorful streets of Monaco. Stepping out of the train station was like stepping into a small-city-sized resort. Monaco is built on a hill. I guess when you've got the money, why would you walk up stairs? There are supposedly 33 pedestrian elevators and escalators around the city that operate 24 hours a day to "help overcome different altitude levels."
We hurried to our seats as the qualifying for the Renault race was already underway. Well, we didn't actually have seats, per se. We sat on the side of Rocher hill with about 4,000 other people. In my opinion, the view was very good for 40 Euros. We could see a turn in the track and even more importantly, a jumbo screen was off to the right. Without the screen, you have no idea who is leading the qualifying.
The track skirts the azure waters of the mediterranean. Below is a picture of one of the 49 Cameras in operation. Other interesting stats include:
- 743 fire extinguishers and 120 fireman are on hand
- The circuit is 3,340 meters long with 19 corners
- A top speed of 305 km an hour is reached
- 21 km of safety rails are used
- The fastest lap was done by Sebastian Vettel in 2011 (1'13"556)
The circuit itself is built into the streets of Monaco. I was half expecting to see a crash into the Rolex sign a la Freejack. Unfortunately, no car hit the sign while, seconds before impact, people from the future stole the body of the driver in the hopes of transplanting the consciousness of an ailing, mega wealthy CEO into said body - but then the race car driver escapes and goes on the lam in the future hunted by Mic Jagger. No, sadly that didn't happen.
Due to the lack of straight aways and the many tight turns, it's very hard to pass in Monaco. This makes qualifying, which determines pole position, almost more important than the race itself. The Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg (pictured below on turn 19) qualified first, follow by his teammate Lewis Hamilton.
After qualifying, we made our way up to the top of the Rocher Hill. It's where the old town of Monaco sits and it provides a sweeping view of Monaco harbor, the race track and the entire city. I definitely recommend coming up here after the race to check out the view.
Another reason to come up to the old town area is for L'Estragon, a family owned restaurant that serves Italian food at a reasonable price (for Monaco at least). The Sea bass cost around 28 euros, and it was fantastic.
What's really cool about the Monaco Grand Prix is that after the race, the track turns back into a normal street. So we decided to walk off our food babies along side the track. Countless expensive cars rolled by that true motor heads would appreciate. To a novice, they all just looked red and fast (Ok, I know that's a Ferrari).
After walking by a number of super yachts that made me question my financial masculinity, we came to a couple of bars on the side of the track near turn 19. We stayed and partied there for a good two hours before watching the Champions league final that was playing that night (Real Madrid beat Athletico 4-1). We split a bottle of vodka with 2 German guys and ended up only spending 25 euros a piece. It included red bulls and chasers. Pretty reasonable actually.
The next morning we were a bit worse for wear, but we were still excited for the race. Since it didn't start until 2 pm, we had plenty of time to sleep in. Once we made it there, we checked out the view from our 48o euro seats.
Looking over at the Rocher area, it helped ease the pain for the price of the grandstand ticket. Rocher was twice as full as it was the day before. It would have been tough to find a spot near the jumbo screen. Still, for a price difference of 405 euros (Rocher tickets to Sunday's race are 75 euros), I wasn't sure the seats were worth it.
Maybe it's the American in me, but I expected a bit more of a show. I snuck this photo of a couple of flag girls at the starting line, that sat behind our K8 grandstand. I had to do it through the legs of other fans at the top of our K8 section though since there was a crowd of people there already. Besides that bit at the beginning of the race and the champagne showers at the end, there are not a lot of - for lack of a better word - "extras" thrown in. If you get into town early, with a grandstand ticket you can tour the pits. Unfortunately, Steph had to work on Friday, so we couldn't enjoy this perk.
Some say that sections K1 and K2 are the best grandstand seats, since you get a view of turns 12, 13, 14 and 15 (K1 seats are not available to the general public for Sunday's race). K8, the section we had tickets for, isn't bad either. We had a view of the cars coming out of turn 14, the straight away, 15, 16 and a bit of the straight away to 17. The higher up you are the more of the straight away to 17 you can see.
K8 sits right on turn 15, where a lot of photographers try to get pictures on ground level. For amateur photographers in the grandstands, there is a opening in the wire fence allowing for clear photos of the cars whizzing by. The yachts also provide a nice background to the pictures.
Under the K8 grandstands there is a concession stand that sells beer and food. A lot of people stood in this area the whole race as it was super close to the actual cars. Although you have to shoot through a wire fence, it's not bad for pictures either.
As often happens at the Monaco Grand Prix, the driver in poll position (Nico Rosberg), won the race.
After the race, we checked out the marina area. There are a lot of really nice restaurants here and we picked out one that we thought had a good price point. The two little mini burgers I had were made fresh and Steph's salad was crisp. Actually the restaurant makes everything fresh. Our waitress, pictured below, even brought the plants behind her in from Italy a couple of days earlier and used those herbs in Steph's salad!
So was I converted to a die hard F1 fan?
Leading up to the event, I did some research on the sport and found out that there is a lot of strategy involved, including which tires to use (soft or super soft), when to pit, how much fuel to burn and much more. But I just scratched the surface. Will I become an avid Fan? Probably not, but I will catch a race every now and again on Sundays.
Was it worth the price of admission?
Overall, the Monaco Grand Prix is an unforgettable experience, but it's the parties, the atmosphere, the overindulgence, the yachts, the marbled hallways, the ridiculously expensive cars, walking the track and enjoying the relaxed, sunny Mediterranean coast, not the race, that is unforgettable. The race itself was totally forgettable.
That being said, Saturday's qualifying event was unequivocally worth 40 Euros. For me, I thought it was more exciting then the actual race. For the cost of a good seat at an NBA game, you can get a seat on the hill with a good view of the track (tip: get there before 9 and bring a cushion and something to dig out a ledge in the dirt though so your ass doesn't fall asleep). And if you want the grandstand experience, prices for Saturday's qualifying event are half as much as Sunday's race.
If I ever go back to the Monaco Grand Prix, I will not spend 48o euros for a grandstand ticket on Sunday. I just wouldn't do it twice. I think the cost of a ticket is completely overpriced for the experience you get (remember, I am not an avid F1 fan). But, in a way, that's part of the draw. Monaco, itself, is about indulgence. Everything is overpriced, from hotel rooms to food. It's only fitting that the Grand Prix is too. It's strange; although I would recommend to others to skip the race on Sunday and spend the money on the qualifying event, if I could go back in time to stop myself from buying the 480 euro grandstand ticket, I wouldn't.