Monday, May 30, 2011

A (small) taste of Monaco...

The MONACO Grand Prix is a special event: not just for drivers or teams or the locals, but also for the spectators and F1 fans. The famous punishing circuit lets F1 drivers demonstrate the best of their driving skills: perfect handling, adapting to bumps of the street circuit, avoiding the barriers along the narrow street (which protect the fans and the pristine facades of the designer shops) AND seek out impossible spots to overtake on this narrow track.

View of Monaco from Secteur Rocher
So unsuprisingly, many drivers dream of winning this race and many fans save up for the chance to experience it. And when my friend suggested going to the Monaco GP, I initially laughed off the suggestion as I hadn't recently won the lottery and there was no chance of me being able to afford it. The friend in question has 'connections' in a leading racing team so got a free ticket. Yes, just ONE FREE TICKET.

After several weeks of mulling over the suggestion, I decided to do some research on what it would ACTUALLY cost to have a taste of the Monaco Grand Prix. Turns out a 3-day pass and Return flights from the North West of England just three weeks before the Grand Prix would INDEED cost a lot more than I could afford, so I set myself a challenge and a budget of £300. Whatever that could get me, so be it!

It quickly dawned on me that Monday flights back to the UK would be as rare and dear as gold so my return flight would have to be Sunday - which means missing the race. Painful but at least I'd get to see Qualifying and the support races. So I booked my flights, and a cheap hostel in Nice (20mins & €7 by train to Monaco), and a Secteur Rocher ticket for Saturday's Qualifying session. If you don't know where Secteur Rocher is, here is a description of my experience this weekend.

Secteur Rocher
Secteur Rocher (SR) is a part of the Monaco GP track; it is effectively a steep vertical cliff, which Monagasques and foreign avid F1 fans, brave enough to hang onto a cliff edge, would watch the race from. It used to be free to view from there (i mean if you are brave enough to hang off a cliff edge, you deserve a free race, right?). 

But now, Monaco GP organisers have found a way to 'police' the area and can cordon off part of the hill to check tickets. One still has to hang off a cliff, perch gingerly on the edge or hang off a tree, but now there are toilets, First Aid teams and stalls selling food in this area.

Fans watching the Qualifying session perched on a tree!
I caught the first train out of Nice on Saturday and arrived at 7am. I had heard horror stories about not getting a good spot on the hill and watching the race from behind someone's head. Plenty of time to look around to find a good spot, i thought. Unbeknownst to me, the more experienced Secteur Rocher visitors had arrived on Wednesday and chained their camp-chairs to the small flat area on the hill top, and taken every shaded area over looking la Rascasse and the pit lane entry. A massive Alonso banner had also been planted on the hill top. Higher up was the British camp; it wasn't an official title, it just happened that several people sitting there were British and supporting McLaren. Amongst them were a scattering of Germans, Russians and a Lithuanian lady. The atmosphere was VERY FRIENDLY and inviting so my friend and I decided to watch Saturday's session from there.

We were made to feel at home by the other members of this group, everyone offered food, drinks, advice and suggestions about having a good SR experience. Perhaps because this was only Quali but people respected your spot, and your 'new friends' would ensure it was still vacant after you returned from a comfort break.
As drivers made their way from their motorhomes across the bridge to the pit-lane, we caught a glimpse of them and with the help of BILLY - who must be the biggest character in Secteur Rocher - and his megaphone, we caught the attention and got a few waves from the drivers.

BILLY had started the morning with friendly taunts to the Red Bull drivers. "We [Mclaren] are coming to get that trophy"; he shouted as the Red Bull engineers strolled in on Saturday morning to prepare for 3rd practice. He may sound obnoxious but this 'stunt' netted him a free pass to the Red Bull Energy Station by Christian Horner!
Billy (right) and friend
Settled down to watch 3rd practice, understandably we were buoyed up by Hamilton's times and were a bit astonished by Rosberg's crash. Little did we know, worse would befall Perez during Qualifying. 

The session started on time, and the mood on the hill remained positive through Q1 and Q2. Maldonado (a Monaco expert) drove brilliantly to get into Q3, so did Perez. However with less than 3 minutes to go, the session was red flagged due to a massive shunt after the tunnel by Perez. The whole track and grand-stands fell quiet as we watched the rescue and emergency teams work to recover driver and car from the wreckage. 

Ambulance taking Sergio Perez to hospital
We later learned that Perez was conscious and speaking and the session would restart. At this point, only 7 drivers had posted a Q3 time and with less than 3 minutes left, the remaining drivers would only get 1 flying lap. Which partly explains why Lewis Hamilton (despite the good pace shown in practice, Q1 & Q2 sessions) could only manage 7th on the grid. His fastest time was later deleted because he jumped a chicane and this demoted him to 9th.

Top 10 drivers were: VET, BUT, WEB, ALO, SCH, MAS, ROS, MAL, HAM, PER

After F1 Qualifying and the GP2 practice, the track was open to the public and one could walk (or run the track) and visit the area outside the motorhomes. Red Bull's was the BIGGEST and most extravagant with a terrace area, and the likes of Horner, Alguersuari, Marko etc chatting to corporate guests. Alonso tried to evade autograph hunters by slipping through one of the back gates, but he was spotted and chased for autographs. He didn't give any autographs and was ushered away by his minders. 

Think they've spotted me!
Newey's new BFF, until Geri Halliwell arrive on Sunday

Lewis Hamilton, Nick Hamilton and Nicole Scherzinger enter the F1 pitlane

Helmut Marko at Red Bull Energy Station

Buemi was much better value for the fans, stopping for photos and autographs. Vettel was as cheeky as usual, but in his attempts to evade the 'hunters', he almost fell into the marina. He later stopped to give a select few what they had been waiting for. 

Going for a swim, Seb?
Other F1 personnel spotted on Saturday were Anthony Davidson, Rob Smedley (speaking fluent Italian) and Adrian Newey (who stopped for photos with EVERYONE that asked him, TOP GUY!)

All in all, it was a great experience for me and I would recommend Secteur Rocher at Monaco to everyone. Even if you can afford a Grandstand seat for Sunday's race, spend Qualifying at Secteur Rocher; you'll be glad you did, and while you are there, say Hello to BILLY from me.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Spanish GP Race Summary: Vettel holds off Hamilton

Spanish GP track Circuit de Catalunya is known to be a VERY difficult place to overtake, and with Fernando Alonso starting in 4th position on Sunday, it seemed impossible that he would gain any places during this race. However by a stroke of good luck and sheer self-belief, Alonso found himself leading the pack by the first corner of this race - to the loud rapturous cheers of his compatriots. Ferrari seemed to have regained some of the race magic that had alluded them so far this season.

Both Red Bull drivers followed Alonso, and Hamilton stayed close to the pair. Biggest loser at the start was Button who fell to 10th place from 5th. Most of the top drivers were on 4-stop strategies so it came as no surprise as Vettel pitted after just 10 laps. 
Ferrari have been accused of 'espionage' as they seem to have found a way to pre-empt and mirror every Red Bull pit-stop, particularly for Webber. This didn't seem to give them much of an advantage though as Alonso finished 5th behind Webber. Jenson Button managed to make the 3-stop strategy work for him and did well to fight his way back up from 10th place and finish on the podium (3rd position).

Hamilton pressured Vettel right to the end, finishing just 0.6seconds behind the Red Bull driver. He would later comment that the RB7 was extremely quick through the high-speed corners and the McLaren's KERS system wasn't enough to catch up with the German.

Michael Schumacher finished ahead of his team-mate for the first time this season and Nick Heidfeld drove brilliantly after starting from the pit-lane to score 4 points.

Top 10 drivers: VET, HAM, BUT, WEB, ALO, SCH, ROS, HEI, PER, KOB.

Just 7 more days till the engines roar back to live at the Monaco Grand Prix.

Image from

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Spanish GP: Qualifying Summary

Red Bull continue their Qualifying success but Vettel loses his 100% record, as team-mate Webber topped the timesheets in Q3 on Saturday.
McLaren drivers were 3rd and 4th until they were split by Fernando Alonso (who had qualified 5th in each race so far this season). 
2010 Russian Rookie Petrov qualified 6th for Lotus-Renault (though his team-mate Nick Heidfeld will start from the pitlane after a fire prevented him from participating the Qualifying session on Saturday. Nico Rosberg out-qualifies his F1 veteran team-mate Michael Schumacher again in 7th position, and Schumacher finished in 10th - hampered by KERS problems.
Massa starts in 8th position and will have a Williams close to him on the grid. This is the first time a Williams car has made it to Q3 and it's the first flash of brilliance from rookie Pastor Maldonado. 

Qualifying Order: WEB, VET, HAM, ALO, BUT, PET, ROS, MAS, MAL, SCH.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Turkish GP Race summary: Vettel reclaim top spot, Ferrari on a charge

Red Bull were back on form after being pipped to top spot by McLaren at the Chinese Grand Prix three weeks ago. Ferrari also found some good pace in Turkish to finish 3rd. McLaren rues pit-stop mistakes and driver errors, but their drivers finished the race in the same positions as they qualified.
Biggest 'winner' was Kobayashi who started the race at the back of the grid, but finished in a point scoring position on Sunday.

Full race report soon....

Turkish GP: Qualifying

Rosberg (Mercedes) edge out McLaren to start in 3rd place on the grid behind Red Bull drivers.

Full report soon....

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

F1 News this week...

McLaren launch their first non-Formula 1 racing car since the McLaren F1, the MP4-12C GT3
Bahrain has been given an extra month to decide whether to host the postponed F1 race in Sakhir this year

AT&T Williams has a Technical Department rearrangement which sees Technical Director, Sam Michael and Chief Aerodynamicist, Jon Tomlinson  leave the team at the end of 2011. They have also appointed Mike Coughlan (the engineer involved in McLaren spy scandal) as their chief engineer

FIA announces the DRS zone in Turkey: it's the same part of the track where the 2 RedBull drivers had a collision last year

Lotus-Renault reserve driver Bruno Senna records demo run at Spa-Francorchamps track in Belgium on phone

Red Bull 2011 Show Run saw Jaime Alguersuari and Mark Webber entertain Italians on the cobbled streets of Turin/Torino