Not all celebrities know a lot about racing. Take ‘Men in Black 3’ star Will Smith; he loved his time at the Monaco Grand Prix as a guest of McLaren, but when offered a pair of earplugs in a silver canister, he replied: “No thanks, I don’t wear lip stick.”
Will is sure to have taken the earplugs because the noise of the cars is worse in the Principality than at other racetracks. The sound ricochets off the buildings and it’s particularly thunderous at the start, which is one of the few occasions during the weekend when all 24 cars are on-track at the same time.
But Will Smith wasn’t the only A-lister present – far from it. To give you an idea of the heavyweights adorning the grid, take a look at this list: Michael Fassbender, Ron Howard, Will Smith, Antonio Banderas, Roman Abramovich, Holly Valence, Liam Cunningham, Andre Villas-Boas, Gareth Bale, the whole German football squad…
English football pundits particularly loved seeing Bale and Abramovich together, believing their meeting adds fuel to the rumours that Bale will join Chelsea Football Club next season.
Paddock Cat has to send his diary early tonight, due to commitments at the Amber Lounge. It’s the official post-race party and all of the above celebs and all of the drivers – except for race winner Mark Webber – are expected to pay a visit. Webber will be continuing the tradition of every Monaco Grand Prix winner having dinner with the Principality’s ruling monarch.
It would be remiss of Paddock Cat not to attend Amber Lounge, so let me sign off with a touching story about McLaren. Lawrence Relph, a life-long fan of the team, suffered an appalling accident at the track on Friday morning when his grandstand seat overlooking the Swimming Pool chicane collapsed and he fell 35 feet onto concrete, breaking his back and left leg in the process.
When McLaren drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button heard about Lawrence’s misfortune, they wrote him a letter and sent him a signed copy of McLaren’s new coffee table book, The Art Of Racing, to his bedside in the Princess Grace Hospital. The team has also invited him back to Monaco next year as a guest of the team.
Good on you Macca, and get well soon Lawrence.
The ultimate sailing boat cruised into the Monaco harbour this afternoon. The €100m mega-yacht has automatic swivel masts, which turn in whichever direction the wind is strongest to ensure the boat always travels at the fastest possible speed.
It summed up everything that’s ridiculously brilliant about the Monaco harbour during grand prix week. Money alone no longer buys you a trackside mooring; you need to have that little bit extra to be allowed in; something automated perhaps, or something that gets chins wagging.
The yachts certainly caught the attention of the increasing number of celebrities flocking to the Principality. Will Smith, who’s been promoting his latest movie Men in Black 3 at the Cannes Film Festival, watched qualifying with McLaren; Cuba Gooding Jnr was hanging out at Red Bull with his mentor George Lucas, the man behind Starwars; Rory Bremner, Jools Holland and a long list of footballers were also present, and that’s to say nothing of the A-listers expected on race day.
Even with all of this glamour and intrigue as a backdrop, qualifying was hugely anticipated – and the session didn’t disappoint. Pole position is more important at this circuit than anywhere else, due to the lack of overtaking opportunities, and the end result served as a sharp reminder about how frustratingly cruel this sport can be.
Michael Schumacher drove a brilliant lap to take his first pole position in the Principality since 2000, yet he had it cruelly taken away for a penalty dished out after the last race in Spain. He was deemed to have caused an avoidable accident at Barcelona, when he and Bruno Senna collided, and he has a five-place grid penalty here. Hence he’ll start sixth.
“I don’t want to talk about Barcelona now,” he said. “There’s no point looking back. I want to focus on the present and I must say I enjoyed it out there. When I came here I said I wanted to qualifying on pole, start sixth and then win the race. I’m still sticking to that plan.”
Michael’s misfortune promotes Mark Webber to pole position. When the Aussie won here in 2010, he jumped off Red Bull’s Energy Station into the Monaco Harbour. “If I pull it off again this year,” says Mark, “I’ll be doing a lot more than that!”
The mind boggles
What’s there not to love about Monte Carlo? There’s the Mediterranean on one side, the picturesque Alpes Maritimes on the other and the greatest grand prix track in the world in between. The drivers love the track; everyone loves the venue.
“We need Monaco as much as they need us,” says F1 commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone. That pretty much sums it up.
The teams started arriving in the Principality last weekend, two days earlier than normal for a European race. That’s because none of the transporters can be left on site and all of the spare parts have to be unloaded into the pitlane. It takes time and effort, and has led to this race being dubbed “effing Monaco” by the mechanics.
But none of the teams has been as busy as Williams. Their comms department has had to deal with a quadrupling of interview requests since Pastor Maldonado’s sensational victory in Barcelona two weeks ago and the manufacturing department has been working round-the-clock to replace the parts destroyed by the fire in their pit garage after the Spanish Grand Prix.
“There wasn’t much left after the fire,” says the team’s chief operations engineer Mark Gillan. “Bruno’s car was in the garage at the time and everything metallic was destroyed, including the gearbox, so we’ve had a busy time at the factory making new parts. We’ve managed to replace 90 percent of the IT equipment that was destroyed; the last 10 percent we’ve had to borrow from other teams.”
As for the drivers, they’ve had a busy week as well – if you call playing football ‘busy’. Michael Schumacher, Sergio Perez, Felipe Massa, Vitaly Petrov and Jerome d’Ambrosio played for the “F1 All Stars” team in Prince Albert of Monaco’s fundraising football match on Tuesday night. They won and raised a pile of cash for charity.
Schumacher then continued the footballing theme when he joined his MERCEDES GP PETRONAS team-mate Nico Rosberg for a training session with Germany’s National Football squad on Wednesday. To be fair, it was more of a photocall than a proper work-out – which Nico was pleased about. “I pick the battles I know I can win,” he said. But Nico remains a big fan of football and he still does a few keepie-uppies as part of his warm-up before getting in the car.
Other driver commitments this week have included Mark Webber giving lifts to journalists around the harbour in a dinghy on behalf of Casio; Jenson Button and Romain Grosjean cooking for Pirelli at the launch of their new cook book, ‘Miles and Meals’, and Fernando Alonso doing something for PUMA – more of which later!
Soon the drivers will have to focus on the on-track action. “Racing in Monaco is like riding a bike around your living room,” said triple world champion Nelson Piquet a few years back. Rest assured that his was a pretty big living room, but you get the picture!