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!

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