How to go to the Monaco Grand Prix for less than an entrance ticket to the British Grand Prix.
The Monaco Grand Prix: the Blue Riband event in the Formula One calendar, one of the most glamorous sporting events in the world, the preserve of the rich and famous.
Is all the above true? Well, yes - except for the last point. I’ve been to the Monaco Grand Prix twice (in 2002 and 2004) and each time the cost of travelling from the United Kingdom and watching the race was less than the cost of an entrance ticket to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. In this blog I’ll explain how this is possible!
If you’ve watched F1 at Monaco on the TV you will have no doubt seen the large grandstands that line the side of the circuit, particularly around the Swimming Pool complex. Seats here are hugely expensive, probably in the region of 300 Euros. What is less obvious from the television is the standing area known as Sector Rocheur, on the hill underneath the Palace. For a very reasonable 50 Euros (it may be more now) this area can give superb views of the circuit from the exit of the tunnel all the way round to the exit of Anthony Noghes. In fact, the view is better than in many of the grandstands. There are also two large TV screens to keep up with action on the other parts of the circuit.
I suspect there are plenty of ticket agencies selling tickets to the race but we got ours direct from the Automobile Club de Monaco, the promoters of the race, and I would suggest you do the same.
The hill is very steep and a good pair of climbing shoes are required in order to find to the best spots. It is also advisable to get there very early (we got there at 5:30am). Once there you will find a very cosmopolitan mixture of Formula One fans, although since we went during the height of the Ferrari/Schumacher axis the majority were Germans and Italians, since Monaco is less than 10 miles from the Italian border. There were surprisingly few British though, and our group definitely stood out as we cheered for David "tight white jeans" Coulthard as he held off the charging Schumacher to win in 2002.
I would suggest bringing something to sit on as it can get very uncomfortable during the long wait for the 2:00pm race start. There are parades and the support races to keep you entertained, notably the Porsche Carrera Supercup. Sector Rocheur is also just behind the paddock area so you will get to spot the drivers and team officals walking in between the paddock and pit area during the morning. When we were there in 2002 it was the race straight after the Austrian Grand Prix with the Ferrari team orders debacle and Jean Todt and Ross Brawn were getting soundly booed by the crowd everytime they were spotted!
There are no concessions stands on the hill but plenty at the top by the Palace. There are also a number of restaurants up there and we were able to book a table at a very pleasant Italian place to enjoy a nice early dinner straight after the race.
After the race the roads are not reopened until around 7:00pm and this gives plenty of opportunity to walk the circuit and maybe find a small souvenir such a broken wing end-fence, since it's highly unlikely the race will pass without any incidents! It also means the crowds heading for the train will largely have dispersed. When the roads reopen, Monaco will become a supercar spotters paradise.
Staying in the area and getting to the circuit
To stay in Monaco is expensive, and all of the hotel rooms will almost certainly have been booked up by teams, sponsors and whoever else can afford it. However, it is possible to stay outside Monaco for much less. France does a good line in basic clean hotels, the no-frills Etaps being my pick if you want a basic but clean hotel room. These can be had for well under 50 Euros a night. Entrance into Monaco is straightforward since it's served by a very good train service that runs along the coast from Nice. It’s only a few Euros and the train station in Monaco is only a short walk from the circuit. You could also choose to stay in Italy and catch the train from Ventemiglia.
Travel to the area
The nearest major airport to Monaco is Nice, about an hours' drive away (or a similar train ride). It’s served by Easyjet, British Airways and Air France from the UK. The airlines are not blind to the fact that the Monaco Grand Prix is an event that people will want to travel to, and so flights for that weekend tend to be a bit more expensive than on a non-race weekend. However, if you don’t mind getting there a few days before and hanging around until a few days afterwards - and you are in the South of France after all, so why not make a holiday of it? - prices fall dramatically, especially if you don’t mind flying at odd hours. A bit further afield and potentially cheaper is Genoa in Italy, a couple of hours on the train from Monaco.
The other option is to drive. This will almost certainly cost more than flying from the UK, once you have factored in the Channel Tunnel crossing, fuel and tolls if you take the French autoroutes. There is one advantage to driving though, since when you arrive in the South of France you can go and search ouf some of the best driving roads in the world: the Route Napoleon and the Col de Turini, to name but two.
Additional things to do for petrolheads
On a biannual basis Monaco also stages a Historic Grand Prix for cars that have competed in the Grand Prix in the past. The next one is scheduled for 2012 and is usually one or two weeks before the event itself. The major car auction houses (RM, Bonhams and Coys) usually stage car auctions on the weekend of the Historic GP if you fancy a new classic car for your collection.
In 2002 the F1 calendar also aligned very nicely with the MotoGP calendar, and after Monaco we were able to head down into Italy to Mugello for the Italian MotoGP race the following weekend, but that's a subject for another blog.
Writing this blog has given me a taste for going again. I wonder what the rest of the Drive Cult team are doing next May?