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Monaco: glamour and grind

Maurice Hamilton May 23, 2012
Monaco's glamorous image hides a logistical nightmare for the teams and media © Press Association
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"What's your favourite race?"

It's a common question, for which the answer is expected to be: "Monaco".

That's undeniably true if you are a spectator. But for anyone working there, this race, for all its glamour, is a logistical nightmare and close to the bottom of your list.

Nothing is straightforward, from the moment you deal with haughty Monegasque policemen to getting from A to B without being sent by Y today and possibly Z tomorrow because someone has closed a gate and resolutely bars the way. Because they can. Because this is Monaco; a law onto itself. A law, indeed, that not even Mr. Ecclestone and his pernickety demands can either circumvent or steamroller.

You need to have your wits about you and know precisely where you are going - and at what time. It's possible to walk quite easily to, say, the pit lane only to find that your return journey is impossible because the aforementioned gate has been closed. It's no good rueing the fact that your interview appointment in 15 minutes is in the paddock over there and your digital recorder is the media centre, which is someplace else. And you can reach neither without a backstreet climb requiring a Sherpa guide, compass and sandwiches.

Stories of getting lost are legion. Or, of knowing your way but unable to gain access. There's the true tale of Eddie Jordan's team manager/chief mechanic in EJ's early F3 days. Having been happily detained in a night club the previous evening, this man eventually found himself in a bed that was, shall we say, not the one his boss was paying for.

Hauling on his trousers in the morning, he discovered one missing essential article of attire to be his pass. And the F3 race was due to start in an hour. Not only that, but he was in foreign part of town in every sense. With the circuit closed, all the familiar routes into the track were unreachable and, by now, the F3 teams would have departed the paddock given its distant location close, it always seemed, to the Italian border.

He was also without his team uniform since, quite rightly, our lothario had figured a sweaty shirt with oil stains and logos would not go down well in the smart bordello he'd found himself frequenting the previous evening. Or earlier that morning, to be precise. You try standing bleary-eyed in crumpled civvies and telling a weekend warrior marshal at the gate that you're with a F3 team and you really ought to be allowed through.

By now, of course, Mr. Jordan was going berserk. Apart from his top man having gone AWOL, EJ - to the mirth of fellow competitors in the pit lane - was having to pick up a spanner and pretend he knew what to do with it. Indeed, it was considered a miracle by all concerned that he had got the car there in the first place.

The close proximity of buildings and tight streets make moving around difficult © Sutton Images
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In the continuing absence of his able lieutenant, EJ had to work out how much fuel to add to the car for the race. Bear in mind that Eddie, the previous year, barely knew how to connect jump leads when one car stalled at the back of the grid and the mechanics were tending to the star driver at the front.

At least there was just the one car this time but it wouldn't go far without petrol. The pantomime became full focus of all and sundry when EJ, losing count of how much he had added, was seen desperately trying to siphon fuel from the tank while simultaneously glancing at his watch and scouring the pit lane.

Luckily for Jordan's sanity, the chief mechanic used his Dublin charm to somehow blag his way inside and arrive just in time to avoid an unpleasant scene that might have required the intervention of the police, followed by the Irish Embassy.

Life for the F1 teams has improved massively in recent years thanks to the construction of semi-permanent garages with offices above. It used to be that everything had to be man-handled from paddock to pits and back again each day. And, like I said, you didn't want to leave anything behind in the paddock - as Rubens Barrichello found to his cost on his first visit to Monaco in 1993.

Barrichello had a routine with his manager, Geraldo Rodrigues. Geraldo would take care of mundane matters such as carrying his driver's helmet, balaclava and gloves. In the normal course events, Barrichello would put on his overalls, socks and driving boots in the motor home and then walk to the garage, where Rodrigues would be waiting.

But at Monaco, because of the distance involved, Rubens decided against wearing his thin-soled driving boots for the trip to the pits. Unfortunately, that thought was never relayed to Rodrigues. Rubens prepared to get into the car and then discovered the boots were half a mile away. There was nothing for it but to dispatch the trusty Geraldo.

The stocky little Brazilian jumped on a scooter, ran the gauntlet of the mob in the pit lane, weaved onto the track and got himself into the paddock for the dash to the Jordan motor home. By the time he returned to the paddock exit - yes, you've guessed it - the gates were shut; the track closed.

Geraldo had to abandon ship and battle through the crowd on the narrow quayside edge, climb footbridges, work his way beneath grandstands, cross temporary gangplanks spanning the water and then into the pits for a record-breaking sprint along the pit road. So ended a sweaty 20-minute biathlon of sorts that would have taken a tenth of the time anywhere else.

"So, Geraldo; where's your favourite track?"

At that moment, it's a fair bet he would have said anywhere other than Monaco.

Maurice Hamilton writes for ESPN F1 in the build-up to each Grand Prix.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Maurice Hamilton writes for ESPN F1. A veteran journalist in the paddock, Maurice Hamilton has been part of the Formula One scene since 1977 and was the Observer's motor racing correspondent for 20 years. He has written several books as well as commentating on Formula One for BBC Radio 5 Live