Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

Locals are left in cold by the glitz of Monaco F1 Grand Prix

A forest of steel has been assembled. Stealthily, surreptitiously, a new city of scaffolding has been built around one of the world’s favourite international playgrounds, Monte Carlo.

The famous harbour, where vast ocean-going luxury yachts vie for space alongside each other and the tourists stroll, captivated by the overt examples of billionaire wealth, has been transformed.

The steel stands and viewing platforms have grown up, almost like metal mushrooms, to cater for the thousands who will flock into the tiny Principality of Monaco on Sunday for the 67th running of the famous Monaco Grand Prix.

It’s where Princes mingle with Lords; billionaires of doubtful vintage are left to view the flying cars from the sanctuary of their yachts moored in the harbour.

The Monaco Grand Prix weekend represents one of the premier selling periods of the entire year for Champagne houses. The luxury yachts nudge close alongside one another to get the best view; the entire Principality is transformed for the occasion.

Monaco on Grand Prix weekend is a huge money making exercise. A room at the Hotel de Paris or Hermitage hotel for a single night isn’t possible. Rentals are for the week or long weekend and run into hundreds of thousands of euros.

Business at the famous Casino booms. Last night best view seats were still available for Sunday's race at a top price of 450 euros.

Monaco undergoes a radical alteration for this event. Building work starts in early April, as the whole centre of Monte Carlo is specially altered for the race.

Private cars are banned from the centre for the four days of racing. Street parking, even in roads away from the actual circuit, is impossible. On race day, trains offer just about the only route into Monte Carlo and the Ferrari fans will pour across the Italian border, just 20 minutes away at Ventimiglia, bringing a sea of red flags.

At non-Grand Prix time in Monaco, a stroll around the famous harbour is an absolute delight. You can stop and buy international newspapers from every European country, many of which, especially the English daily newspapers, are printed daily along the coast in Marseille. Reading them over a coffee in the sunshine is a popular past-time outside any of the cafes overlooking the harbour.

As the Grand Prix nears, the cafes close, their view and access obliterated by scaffolding.

Not even the International School of Monaco tries to compete on Grand Prix weekend. The school closes down early for half-term because, as secretary Angela Godfrey explains “We just cannot work while it is on. You cannot hear yourself think for the noise.”

Those doing exams relocate to a sound proofed hotel.

Monaco is the most chic of all the locations on the F1 circuit for a myriad of reasons.

Personalities and celebrities abound all year in Monaco, but on F1 weekend they gather in their thousands. Chelsea players John Terry and Frank Lampard watched the 2007 race from the huge yacht of club owner Roman Abramovic; David Beckham is a regular visitor and Boris Becker strolled among the crowds last year. Many F1 drivers, past and present, have their homes in Monaco, film stars likewise.

The huge income generated from the F1 weekend helps keep the Principality financially robust throughout the year. The event offers not just finance, but huge excitement and international renown.

But when the last roars of the engines have died away and in a few weeks time, the last of the temporary stands have been dismantled, the pleasures of Monaco will return. Those views from the coffee shops will once again be restored.

And for that, most of the locals probably heave a sigh of relief.

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