- Maurice Hamilton's blog
Friday at MonacoMaurice Hamilton May 23, 2014
Friday at Monaco is a strange day. There was a time when the F1 cars would practice very early in the morning, one of the classic black and white photos of the day being taken from a hotel balcony, looking into the cockpit of Juan Manuel Fangio's Ferrari as he hustled into Mirabeau, the car and palm trees casting long shadows in the hazy light.
It was so early that the drivers would adjourn to the Metropole Hotel for breakfast (no lengthy debriefs or media commitments then, of course). This was the scene of the classic line uttered by an irritated local lady after asking what all the noise had been about at such a ghastly hour. When told by Stirling Moss and Peter Collins that they had been practising for the Grand Prix, she snorted indignantly: "Well, couldn't you go and practice somewhere else?"
Today, F1 people do the complaining as GP2 and the support races take to the streets. The morning noise aggravates headaches created the night before in the knowledge there is no F1 track activity today. The trouble for journalists is that sports editors have no understanding of the social demands placed upon their overworked hacks; the bosses in London and elsewhere have the nerve to ask for stories from correspondents allegedly swanning in the sun.
This year, Adrian Newey, Ferrari and Fernando Alonso have kindly provided enough potential comment to prompt a fumble for the Panadol. But there have been Monaco Fridays as flat and uninteresting as the water in the harbour. That's when the clever sponsors go to work.
Some, however, have simply no idea. They believe that hosting a boozy reception on a large yacht will guarantee exposure when, in fact, the journalist's main post-lunch preoccupation will be negotiating the gangway without falling in and finding his shoes should he safely reach dry land.
Before the advent of media accreditation strictly controlled by the FIA, the trick was to become a member of the International Racing Press Association (IRPA) run by Bernard Cahier, a French photographer. Bernard would persuade Marlboro to sponsor a Friday lunch for IRPA in the splendid surroundings of Hôtel Hermitage and use the occasion to hand out the 'Prix Orange et Citroen' awards to the good and the not-so-great of F1.
These awards - superb caricatures by the cartoonist Jean Graton - were for the drivers, teams and race organisers voted by the media as being the most helpful (Prix Orange) and the most obstructive (Prix Citron). The candidates would play down the significance, particularly if awarded a Lemon prize but, believe me, they would make a great show of an Orange award.
In 1979, for example, Orange awards went to Mario Andretti, Renault and Circuit Paul Ricard; the Lemons going to Ferrari and Monza, with Jody Scheckter sportingly turning up to receive a cartoon showing the taciturn South African reaching from the cockpit of his Wolf to shake a journalist by the throat.
1981 was one of the quieter Monaco weekends I referred to earlier in terms of news stories. I remember being tipped off by John Hogan (in charge of Marlboro's motor sport activities and a shrewd operator) that it might be worth bringing a pen and notebook to the IRPA lunch.
Hogan knew that Aleardo Buzzi would be at the top table and the vice-president of Philip Morris (Europe) was about to threaten withdrawing Marlboro's £5 million funding from motor sport if F1 did not improve its image. Buzzi referred to political squabbles and damaging disputes over technical regulations, along with the terrible sight of a mechanic being injured by a moving car at the start of the previous Grand Prix in Belgium.
Quite a story. But it didn't spoil lunch on Friday at Monaco. And neither was there a danger of falling overboard when making an unsteady exit from Hôtel Hermitage.
Maurice Hamilton writes for ESPN F1.