A diary on two days of doing business at the Monaco Grand Prix.
Wednesday, May 20: the day before the 73rd Monaco Grand Prix weekend:
I’m in Lyon, France, for a last-minute invitation as a wedding guest. Lyon is a beautiful city and I’m happy to visit, but the gears are turning for how to fit a quick trip in to Monte-Carlo to do business for my hospitality company, Suite Pass. I had been to Monaco the year before so I had anticipated visiting Montréal instead, but finding myself 5 hours from one of my favorite annual events on Earth was too much to ignore.
So, with just about zero planning, I found a place to stay in a rental apartment just north of the Principality, signed on to carsharing site BlaBlaCar, and in an hour I was headed to Nice with a stranger from the internet. I know, its 2015, we’re all strangers from the internet, but I was going to trust this guy to deliver me to the south of France.
The driver turned out to be very nice, and let me in on the best Formula 1 hospitality money can’t buy – being a brother to a Monaco policeman on duty at the Grand Prix. Apparently its all access, all the time. Shame my business only offers passes to two or three yachts, the Fairmont Hairpin, Hotel de Paris, and six other suites, right? Maybe the helicopter shuttles or ties with Amber Lounge help to sweeten the deal for my clients…
Unfortunately, though we have a nice conversation about F1 for most of the trip, he for some reason doesn’t want to drop me off at the airport bus terminal and instead leaves me about a mile away. It’s rush hour and I’m moving faster than the traffic, and while in heels –so I walk on to the airport to take the bus to Monaco. I love when the bus, with its driver having memorized the stops that his passengers requested, goes twisting around the famous Fairmont hairpin turn in a city bus. He leaves me at a taxi stand, where I get a ride with the most unprepared taxi driver I’ve ever met. She’d flustered as she tries to circumnavigate a web of hidden stairs, one way roads, more hairpins, and even more stairs to my apartment in Beausoleil. For this, I’m charged only the“normal” taxi rate in exchange for 3 laps across the Monaco-France border andwhat I’m assuming is $50 worth of my Google Maps GPS data.
I arrived at the rental apartment, inaccessible by car, of an American artist with an amazing terrace view.
The apartment was shared with Kevin Paige, a motorsports artist, and who is turning in to my annual partner in crime in Monaco. We go for Indian food in the Portuguese section of Beausoleil. Afterwards, and full of basmati, (clearly the authentic way to experience Monaco), we meet with a media guy named Will from Force India at McCarthys, an Irish pub below a bridge near Portier. Not classy but has outdoor seating, free WiFi (a form of currency in Monaco), a relatively affordable menu and a meeting place for many people I know in F1. As expected, there is one group of people from the media I know already there. We have a beer, talk shop and retreat to the apartment to get ready for our 9am meeting at the Hotel de Paris.
A video posted by Danielle Crespo (@theotherdc) on May 22, 2015 at 4:42am PDT
Thursday morning - First, a breakfast stop at the Italian bakery, which seems to be run by Russians, to stock up on chausson de pomme pastries. Then it’s on to work at the Hotel, where even after my second year I still find to be a living dream. The Garnier terrace faces the shining casino square – Casino on your right, Café de Paris in front, grandstand on your left, Hotel de Paris at your back and F1 cars roaring below. Well, as close to roaring as the V6 engines will allow, but it would be a gearhead’s sin to scoff at this scenario.
The cars are out for their practice session, taking it slowly at first then gradually increasing power through the right hand corner towards Tip Top café. Our group of 30-or so suite companions relax on the terrace, overlooking the morning GP2 sessions, ducking in to have a drink from one of the butlers pouring Perrier, posing for stunning photographs. Typically, conversation starts with “What part of the world are you from?” then noting which is their favored driver, it turns to business and naturally, connections are made. There’s no surprise who you meet – brothers from South Africa, a couple from Chicago, the president of a major league baseball team, an artist from Houston. That’s Kevin Paige, who starts work on a sketch of Valtteri Bottas in the Williams as the track turns cold. His presence is unassuming at the end of the terrace, but there are always small crowds of people hoping to look over his shoulder to see what it is he’s up to. Kevin may invalidate the preconception of a motorsports artist –he’s completely open to chatting with onlookers mid-drawing and his prices are what you would call “reasonable” in the Formula 1 art world. Texan manners, maybe?
Next its on to the Ermanno Palace, which somehow is just as spectacular as the Casino Square suite. From our 6th floor terrace, we have a ridiculously spoiled vantage point of the pit exit and turn 1 below us, piscine, nouvelle chicane….and the harbor. Yes, THAT view. Though we’re in a “preview” suite – one that is unfurnished for guests on this day but is available for me to experience in preparation for my 2016 sales portfolio – the experience is so sexy. I’d yet to visit, in person, a suite with such an expansive vantage of the Monaco circuit, plus I had a great view of the two yachts I was selling access to in the harbor. They’re just as beautiful from above. Given the rain, I didn’t mind that we were observing them from this sparse terrace. At one point it was so rainy that none of the teams sent cars out for practice, but the people jeered and the boats in the harbor blew their horns til a couple of drivers went out. For more than a few minutes, the mix of mist off the F1 tires, sparks, and THAT VIEW was enough to make me forget about everything else back home.
Unfortunately, the paintings that Kevin had been working on for the past six months for his two Monaco art shows had been stuck in Paris customs for a week and a half, which meant no setting up the art at the Hotel Columbus or Le Meridian as planned. Instead, we were able to act as tourists rather than business owners, taking pictures from Rascasse to the Hairpin to Casino Square, and running into our F1 “family” along the way. For me, being in Monaco is like a Petri dish of networking. Everywhere, you’re reinforcing old connections or making new ones –sometimes over shots of Grappa with the directors of an F1 team, as we did at dinner that evening at Il Terrazzino. Coincidentally, the table next to ours included a girl working for the Circuit of the Americas in my hometown of Austin, and our table was shared with those “famous” Monaco policemen. If there is anywhere that I’m connected to an entire principality by one or two degrees of separation, its here.
The next day is Friday and there is GP2 and Porsche Supercup on track. Today Kevin and I navigate the stairs, levels, detours, more stairs, and restricted access of Monaco to get to the paddock. Funny how no matter where I am in the world, if I’m at a race, I feel at home in the paddock. I know how the teams work, where I can and can’t go (for now), and there are always familiar faces. One place I return to near the Monaco Paddock is Stars N Bars, an American F1 memorabilia restaurant with free WiFi. You may be noticing a theme here with the free WiFi. Here I always run into more friends, connections, or new business prospects, and after being desensitized to Monaco food prices a 16 Euro burger isn’t a big deal.
Now its time to try and see the aforementioned F1 team (we have a gift bottle of grappa socked away) during the pit walk. And it’s here that our façade of being in the F1 elite is challenged, as the pit walk is only open to ticket holders at this hour. Let me tell you a secret –I can’t remember the last time I bought a ticket to any race. I do my part to promote/sell/write about racing and basic entry is a fair tradeoff for my time and knowledge. Even after texts to guys on the F1 team, we had to simply wait at the back on the garage for our contact to come out, where we happily presented a custom painting and a supermarket bottle of Grappa.
Here is where my story ends, as I needed only two days in Monaco to do business and then it was back in a BlaBlaCar and on to a sweet wedding in the French countryside. On such short notice, I was able to meet the people I needed to, see the suites for next year, and call both the Hotel de Paris and the Monaco F1 Paddock my office for two days. Though photos may tell a story of all glamour and comfort –and much of that is truly a lesson in what real VIP treatment is – in the end, for me, its business as usual. -Danielle Crespo