Thoughts From 2014 Monaco GP - The Race, The Prince and Princess, The Drivers, The Yachts
Senior Editor and Motorsports Correspondent
The Auto Channel
Formula 1 Racing Desk
Heading into Montreal, the F1 family has barely had time to recover since a fabulous and glamorous Monaco GP. After 72 years, this race is simply the greatest racing pageant and to behold the billions of dollars of super and ‘giga’ yachts in the harbor, the lavish parties attended by the current F1 roster and former great drivers alike, and to be a small participant in such an extraordinary annual gala is a privilege everyone should experience at least once in their lives.
I ran into Andrea De Cesaris in the Ferrari garage. No one else recognized him so he was happy to chat. Of course he raced for over a decade in the magic turbo era of the eighties. A long time Monaco resident, he looked around the pit lane and beamed, “It’s the only one I really miss, but it’s great to see so many of the older drivers here”. Other notable faces in the pit lane included Gerhard Berger, Sir Jackie Stewart and Jackie Ickx.
Monaco is famous for its lavish yacht parties and HSH Prince Albert’s annual drivers’ reception at his hilltop palace. I was fortunate to be invited to attend and had the chance to dine with my old bobsledding rival. This was just before the wonderful news of him and his wife, the former Olympic swimmer Princess Charlene, announcing that they are expecting their first child and the official heir to the 700 year dynasty. He was in top form and as both a former racecar driver and five-time Olympian was eagerly looking forward to the racing action on the Sunday. No other Grand Prix is as important to the F1 Championship: this is where all the sponsors’ Chairmen and CEOs attend with their wives and girlfriends, so performing well here is at least twice as important as anywhere else!
The race proved once again that the Mercedes domination isn’t going away and that the rest of the field are playing in their own championship. Even the TV coverage now focuses on the ‘main pack’ and the battles for last point places and leaves the silver duo to their own devices.
Watching the cars decelerate out of the 180mph tunnel and into the tight left – right chicane it was easily noticeable that the Mercedes were both smoother and more controlled through the braking zone, off the brakes, through the chicane and back onto the power. As the turbos spooled up, the cars got quite twitchy in the wet on Thursday, McLaren seeming especially so. Both Ferraris were way more unstable, with both drivers struggling with a car that is a ‘handful’. Raikonnen, who celebrates his 200th GP in Montreal, is being squarely beaten but his team-mate – the great World Champions’ battle simply hasn’t materialized as the famously quick and determined Finn (the oldest driver on the grid now) attempts to control a car which was designed and engineered for his team mate, who of course has a different driving style!
After the GP I visited the Ferrari factory to test the new 458 Speciale. It’s certainly a special car and takes all the world-beating ingredients of the aforementioned worldbeater and tweaks / slims each of them down to the maximum performance mix. I also had the honor to chat with Piero Ferrari himself, who was visiting the new and extremely impressive Enzo Ferrari museum. We discussed the current season, “Sometimes you are not at the front, but we are always fighting for the championship. Look around, this is what we are, we are a racing team, we have to win”, he said softly in almost perfect English. He also mentioned how fond he, like me, was of former team boss Dominicalli. It was rather awesome, I have to say, as we spoke in the foyer with a giant ‘Modena yellow’ poster depicting his father in an Alfa towering 20 feet above us. My father, Andrew, also presented him with a dedicated copy of his new book!
Lunch time at the factory means Ristorante Montana and we were welcomed with open arms and much arm waving! This didn’t last long as Mr Alonso also arrived for a quick bite to eat with the head of Ferrari F1 Team Comms, Renato. He was relaxed and in good spirits. The Italian gossip cannot be easy to handle: one side of the great champion would love nothing more than to bring the crown back to Maranello and finish his career in the red cars. But equally he knows if he were driving a Red Bull or Mercedes in the past 5 years he would be a four or five time World Champion!
About Nicholas Frankl
Nicholas Frankl has attended more than 250 F1 Grand Prix in the past 30+ years (1st race age six weeks). He has been writing for The Auto Channel since it started in 1995/6. He managed the Asprey/Ferrari partnership from 1996-99 working closely with Todt, Irvine, Schumacher and Stefano Dominicalli. Visiting the Ferrari factory annually he has a deep insight into the inner workings of the team. He is also an three time Olympic sportsman, having qualified and driven a two-man & four-man bobsleigh in Lillehammer 1994, Nagano 1998 and Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympic Games. He has raced cars in the UK and USA, competed in the Cannonball, Gumball and Bullrun rallies, is a certified private pilot and member of both The Royal Automobile Club and Automobile Club of Monaco. Throughout his life he has visited the majority of F1 tracks and shared drinks and many fun times with many of yesterday’s legends and todays hero’s.
So where does bobsleigh fit into this mix?
Well, that's me. Gilles Villeneuve I may never (unfortunately) be, but the next best thing (I'm told - and in fact can vouch for) is Formula One on ice. 1994 saw me competing as driver of the first Hungarian bob team in the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, and then onto two more Olympic Winter games. Why am I telling you this? Well, if for no other reason than that you'll at least understand how I gain some insight into the sport we love. Strangely enough, the F1 boys have a real respect for their ice cousins; the speed, G' forces and exhilaration are quite similar. This, however, is only my "off season" hobby. The reason for this intro is to allow me to say HI, From here on I hope we’ll become firm friends, as I follow the F1 circus around the world and you get to pick up all the details. Not just the results, but the gossip too and the first-hand natter you just don't get from the usual sources.Thanks to my father, whose stories you'll also be reading, I've grown up in the world of motor sport and cars - in fact instead of a birth certificate, I think I was born with a pit pass. It's the sort of life that if you enjoy our sport is tough to beat, so I thought this would be a good way of sharing the fun.