Monaco & its Grand Prix

In memoriam of the 2020 Monaco Grand Prix being cancelled, I decided to look back to the past. While re-watching Alfred Hitchcock’s 1955 film To Catch a Thief starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, I noticed the substantial difference between the Monaco of today and then. The landscape shots frame the coastal principality in a vintage and romantic light, with an emphasis on the beautiful neo-classical architecture. In contrast the glass and concrete from the 1970 high rises now dominate the landscape, altering that once sophisticated aesthetic. If you have had the pleasure of visiting Monaco you may agree with my sentiments. Monaco today is a shocking vision in comparison to its Golden Age: it is no longer the quiet hideaway of the rich and famous, but more of a fiscal paradise inhabited by families on holiday taking pictures outside the casino, “influencers” modelling in front of “their” supercars and yachts (as their actual owners watch confused), and the notorious wealth of its citizens in empty apartments. There is a clash of class and crass, old and new, & sophistication and ostentation. But deep down its soul remains intact.

While poking around the internet I discovered this clip from a West German documentary Flying Clipper (1962), shot on 70mm film that has been scanned to UHD. The video indeed acts as a time machine, transporting you to the race as if you were there.

Due to the poor quality of these early digital cameras and their resulting product, much of the 1970s-1990s has been “lost” to poor definition footage. Such footage is still accessible; however, the quality compared to digital or vintage films in the modern era is unmatched. Along with these attributes, the 1960s footage is cinematic and rigorous, unlike modern sporting footage. This is arguably due to the clip coming from a documentary, but the sentiment remains true for the variety of the footage from the time. As a result, the footage is more transformative, creating immense depth, and letting the viewer embody themselves as a spectator of the Grand Prix.

Waking up on a May morning there is a fébrile atmosphere, an exciting fever in the region as the start of the Grand Prix week begins. This feeling is provoked by the bustling of helicopters flying into the Monaco Heliport, the mega-yachts coming to anchor offshore, the super-cars racing through the tunnels of the Autostrada A10/ A8 autoroute, and the private 737’s landing in Nice Côte d’Azur Airport. The Monaco Grand Prix provides a glimmer into the true heart of Monaco’s soul. The complexity of the event, the yachts moored along Port Hercule, the lavish terrace watch parties, are all inherently Monaco. The entire week is unlike any other, it is as magical as Disney; however, it may be slightly more palatial and grand.

With the attention to detail it is a race for all, Formula 1 fan or not. Although if not fortunate enough to be on a yacht or under a terrace, the May sun may be harsh but definitely worth the ordeal. If you are a fan of the vintage aspects of the Grand Prix there is the lesser-known event of the week, the Grand Prix Historique de Monaco, an event run by era-appropriate cars on the same course of the years they ran originally.

If you have the chance to go to the F1 or Historique Grand Prix, you will not be disappointed.

Make sure to follow the Automobile Club of Monaco for all your Grand Prix needs.