Monday, May 28, 2012

Portfolio - Memoirs de Monaco (Part 2)

Here it is, May 1981 in Monte Carlo, for the Monaco Grand Prix and I'm here as a guest of Williams F1 team and the sponsor, Leyland Vehicles - the Truck, Bus and Tractor division of behemoth automotive company, British Leyland. It's a conglomeration that almost ended the future of companies belonging to it.

However, thanks to a lot of sponsorship dollars splashing through F1, I am in the paddock and pits, and had the opportunity to roam the circuit with my camera, courtesy of a pass arranged by my good friend, and 1980 World Champion, Alan Jones - thus many of the photos are of AJ in action.

Monte Carlo - circa 2010 (Queen Victoria middle of the photo, on the right, with dark hull)

AJ relaxing before the Start with his good friend, Williams' Corporate Sponsorship Director, the late Charlie Crichton-Stuart. Charlie was the typical irrepressible British rogue with a wicked sense of humour. I noticed that Frank Williams never asked Charlie too many details of the sponsorship deals. He was just happy they funded the F1 team.

Amazingly, after a few false starts, Williams Grand Prix Engineering was only formed in 1977, when Frank partnered with his former employee, Patrick Head, to create the first Williams FW chassis. Their first significant victory in both the Drivers' and Constructors' Championships came just three years later, when Jones won the Championship in 1980. A car accident in March 1986 in France resulted in Williams sustaining a spinal cord injury and becoming quadraplegic.

While driving a rental car from the Paul Ricard circuit to Nice airport, Williams, who wasn't wearing his seatbelt, lost control of the car which then rolled over causing him to crash onto the roof and resulting in a spinal fracture. Since the accident, Williams has used a wheelchair. He was knighted in 1987, and in March this year announced that his daughter Claire will succeed him as CEO, and he will remain as Principal of the team.

Patrick Head has been the force behind the design of all Williams Grand Prix cars, and is as charming as Frank is short on it. Sir Frank, always brusque does not suffer fools gladly, but once said he had a special affection for Alan Jones, because of his larrikin charm, enormous driving talent and incredible determination.

WAGS (wives and girlfriends) in F1 always seem to be the most attractive women on the planet (just my personal opinion), and their presence brightens up a paddock full of blokes. The lady in the striped top with the beige shoulder bag is Beverly Jones.

Bugatti is well known in the Principality, with a long history of wins and participation in the Monaco Grand Prix. Monaco circuit designer Louis Chiron held the most podiums in Bugatti cars, but only ever came sixth at Monaco.

Monte Carlo on a sunny day is gorgeous, as the lead photo shows, but when it rains the race is usually total chaos, thanks to the narrow track, and many corners.

In 1981, the weather was fine, but overcast, however from 20 starters, only six cars finished! Amazingly, there were 11 cars which failed to qualify.

Alan Jones carved through the field, but the eventual winner, Gilles Villeneuve not only had the pace, but also started from Pole and, as is often the case, he was never headed.

Much like Mark Webber's exciting win in the 2012 race.

Of course there are many who enjoy the ambience of Monte Carlo at Grand Prix time, but are less concerned with the race, than with catching rays of sunshine.

Getting to Monte Carlo is a challenge. The roads are jammed, and the parking (if you can find any) is exhorbitant. Best thing is to park in places like Ventimiglia or Nice, and catch the train.

There are dozens of great little bars and restaurant to eat and drink, great shops, although the prices at GP time seem to take a mysterious hike North of their regular levels! What a surprise!

The rules which applied to holding residence in Monte Carlo 1981 said you had to have at least one million US dollars cash in your bank account which was totally unencumbered; and you had to be able to pay the local taxes each year, without diminishing your balance!

However, it's a great tax haven, and today most F1 drivers maintain their official domicile in Monte Carlo.

Another irrepressible British rogue, the late James Hunt, talking with Frank Williams. I became friends with Hunt after inviting him to a party, which I hosted on behalf of Jaguar, in Adelaide for the 1986 Australian Grand Prix, and thereafter he turned up for every other Jaguar cocktail party we held.

Naturally, he was a great draw, and always managed to ensure he brought plenty of F1 pals along, which meant that the Jaguar party at the Adelaide Hilton was always talked about, and towards the end in 1991 it was very popular, and a place to be seen on Saturday nights.

Over the years guests included Clive James, Stirling Moss, AJ, Nelson Piquet, Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell, James Hunt and SA State Premier John Bannon.

Here I am, 'lolling' in the Williams F1 Hospitality Suite.

Ah! The Race! Villeneuve got a brilliant start, but here is Alfa Romeo's Bruno Giacomelli and Ferrari's Didier Peroni hard at it in Casino Square, passing the Hotel de Paris.

AJ was brilliant on the day, but could only manage second place, after a fuel problem in the closing laps. This is Mirabeau, where he performed some great, and brave, passes.

The second Williams, with Carlos Reutemann at the wheel started strong, but succumbed to gearbox failure. Not surprising with the number of gearchanges required. Monaco was hardest on gearboxes, according to my friend Stirling Moss's recollections.

AJ at the Loews Hairpin. In 1981 one of the balconies boasted a large crowd of Aussies, including Australian champion Colin Bond and his wife Robyn, with a banner hung over their balcony railing supporting AJ.

AJ entering the tricky twin apex corner at La Rascasse. At this point Villeneuve and Jones were well clear of the rapidly diminishing field.

AJ entering the Start-Finish straight, although straight it is not!

Bruno Giacomelli's Alfa Romeo came to an explosive end when the engine let go.

Covered in fire-fighting foam it awaits being lifted from the track.

As Martin Brundle commented at the 2012 race, the Monaco officials are well-practiced and gifted in the art of quickly removing dead grand prix cars.

AJ exiting La Rascasse, to the delight of the diners.

Two of the few finishers! Jacques Lafitte (3rd) and Swiss driver, Marc Surer (6th and last)!

Reutemann just before his gearbox failure on Lap 45. Italian Michele Alboreto was out on Lap 50, due to a collision.

Race winner Gilles Villeneuve leaving the Harbour and entering La Rascasse. Don't bother trying to get a table, it's booked out a year ahead!

Yours truly, enjoying Monte Carlo on a sunny day in 2010, whilst cruising the Mediterranean on the Queen Victoria - now that's a great way to see the world!

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Mark Webber winning the 70th Monaco Grand Prix on May 27, 2010 - just 31 years after I was fortunate to be able to watch another great Australian driver compete in Monte Carlo.
Great stuff!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Portfolio - Memoirs de Monaco (Part 1)

I have had the privilege of going to Monte Carlo three times, twice to see the Grand Prix (1976 & 1981) and once in 2010 on a Mediterranean cruise. Not only is it my favourite Grand Prix event on the calendar, but it's a fascinating city in a beautiful location with lots of interesting people. In 1976 I was there with my good friend Steve Cropley (then Assistant Editor of Wheels in Australia, and now Editorial Director of Autocar in London).

On the eve of the 2012 race, the 70th Grand Prix du Monaco, I decided to dig out some memories of these past events.

Every single vantage point in the city is taken, and yes, they hang off the balconies and in the trees to catch a free glimpse. Entry price in 1976, for a seat in a Tribune (open stand) was FFr120!

Many of course come by boat, but even in this haven for superyachts, there are moorings for much more humble craft.

Some can't get a mooring, so they simply bob about trying to stay out of the clutches of Monte Carlo's Harbour Master who wants to charge upwards of FFr10,000 to simply be in the Harbour!

Clerk of the Course lapping in a Lamborghini Countach through Casino Square.

In 1976 the emminent French racer Louis Chiron was Clerk of the Course. He became a resident of Monte Carlo, and in his retirement years held various managements posts in the Automobile Club de Monaco. Though he won many Grands Prix in his day, he never won in Monte Carlo.

There is however a bust and memorial to Chiron, by the harbour. He died just three years after I took this photo of him.

Monaco is a notoriously difficult circuit on which to pass, and in 1976 the cars seemed to me to be very wide, and even more difficult to get past.

Scuderia Ferrari drivers Niki Lauda and Clay Reggazoni were having a great year, and when they arrived in Monte Carlo Lauda was leading the Championship.

So in 1976 the hot favourite was Lauda in his Ferrari 312 T2. He grabbed pole position and led away from the start, never to be headed, extending his lead in the Drivers' Championship.

I was lucky to attend a private party and watched much of the race from a balcony overlooking the Swimming Pool chicane.

"Race? What race?" Even some with a perfect vantage point found other distractions.

Not everone's a winner. A disconsolate James Hunt heads back to the pits after the engine in his McLaren Ford  expired. The disappointment didn't hurt his celebrations. We caught up with him in a tiny bar holding court with a dozen young ladies hanging on his every word.

Eye candy has always been one of the great attractions of the Monaco Grand Prix. I attended a lunch on Saturday attended by a section of the glitterati, which included actor David Niven, and the women were not just ravishing to look at, but beautifully dressed in a way that ensured they'd get noticed.
David Niven

As the race ground to its eventual waving of the chequered flag I edged my way closer to the Automobile Club de Monaco, where the post-race press conference is held.

The Club, formed by cyclists in 1890,  was originally called the Sport Vélocipédique Monégasque, Sport Automobile et Vélocipédique de Monaco. The current name was introduced in 1925, but the Club could not be admitted to the then-FIA organisation as it did not conduct any motor sport events. The Chairman's son came up with the idea of getting Louis Chiron to design a circuit, and the first Grand Prix was held in 1929.

Here is James Hunt's McLaren Ford teammate, Jochen Mass, who finished fifth, speeding past the famous Club.

I joined the crush to interview Niki Lauda, being jostled by the 'star' F1 journalists, when Jackie Stewart, grabbed me and pushed me in front of Lauda, shouting; "Let the wee Australian chappie in will you. He's come a long way for the story."

Years later I became good friends with Jackie and we often joke about the time he pushed someone he'd never met into the centre of the action.

After the race, it's time to hail a cab and head back to your hotel. Here's the great British motor sport journalist Denis Jenkinson hoping the Monagasque cabbie will see him!

It's a great event, and I was fortunate to be there again in 1981, as a guest of the Williams F1 Team and its sponsor, Leyland Vehicles. My friend and fellow PR guy, Robin Wimbush made sure I was feted and hosted in grand style, including getting me the last available room at the Hotel Negresco in Nice - which turned out to be the bridal suite!

Great memories. More in the next post!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Portfolio - St. Petersburg

The Baltic gateway to Russia is a beautful city, which is surprisingly clean and tidy and its citizens well-dressed and busy. Of course, monuments and classical buildings abound, which is what draws the tourists, but it was interesting to catch some slices of Russian daily life in the city which is often referred to as the Venice of the North, because of its many canals.

Church of Spilled Blood - St. Petersburg

Cars and Canals - Notes Mercedes CLS left of the bridge
Despite the impressive Hermitage Museum, and Catherine's Summer Palace in the city of Pushkin, the real Venice leaves St. Petersburg for dead. Old Russian cars are a visible reminder of the past, as is the large number of police randomly stopping cars and coaches for a check on the paperwork.

Interestingly, if you visit enter Russia as part of an oprganized tour (such as an on-shore excursion from a cruise ship) you don't need a visa.

However, if you plan to explore on your own, or depart from the organized tour for any reason, you will need visa issued in your home country BEFORE you depart! Check before you leave, because if you are sans visa, you won't be allowed in.

Lada - in relatively good condition

However, there's a surprising number of expensive modern cars tooling around, with an oligarch or two at the wheel, looking very prosperous.

All the traffic lights in the city have countdown timers to tell both the pedestrians and the traffic how long before the light turns Red.

The statue of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin outside government buildings is striking, but ignored by Russians, and only of interest to tourists.

A couple of locals in the city of Pushkin, and an old Volga. Note the excessive rear overhang.

Catherine's Summer Palace in Pushkin is a must-see. The palace interior is huge and it only has one fully-restored section, but the grounds are beautful and an ideal setting for weddings.

Panel fit doesn't rank in importance, just reliability

Crowds and coaches lining up for the massive turnover of tourists at The Hermitage, which is also a must-see on a visit to St. Petersburg. Go with a tour, casual entry is exorbitent.

Who knows how long this has been sitting outside one of the biggest of the city's department stores!