I was fortunate enough to be one of 6 winners of the 2014 F1 Connectivity Innovation Prize. The prize for those 6 was a VIP trip to the 2015 Monaco GP. The winners were comprised of 3 individuals and 3 teams, with individuals getting a plus one and the teams limited to sending 2 people. My plus one choice was pretty easy considering my sister and I had grown up surrounded by motorsports and we both shared the same dream. There should have been 12 of us overall, but unfortunately one of the individual winners couldn’t make it as he had emigrated. The organisers offered him the Melbourne GP instead, which we thought was cool.
I entered Challenge 2, which was to devise a concept for a virtual museum of Mercedes racing history. My solution brought together several well-known platforms to provide a unique and intuitive user experience. Essentially it was Google Street View for Formula 1 circuits, with elements of Pinterest and Reddit layered on top so that users can add their experiences to the relevant parts of the track and vote on their favourites.
The Big Wednesday
Surreal, would be my one word description. Wednesday was our VIP day and we were made to feel pretty damn special. Up at half 4 in the morning to get to Gatwick on time, touched down in Nice by midday and a half hour transfer to Menton. The weather was glorious and Menton looked like a paradise. We also met the other winners on the plane. Everyone was really nice. Finding out how the teams managed to select their 2 members was something I had been wondering for a while.
A quick lunch by the sea before being chauffeured to Monaco. Wandering down to Rascasse we made a quick stop for a photo with Paul Di Resta. I’m not the kind of person to ask for a photo from someone in the street, particularly if they’ve just been stopped by several others. So I offered Paul to carry on with his day if he didn’t want to, but he said he didn’t mind and instantly garnered some major good guy points in my book.
The next part was a bit of a surprise. We had a short wait at Rascasse, blissfully unaware of what was about to come. 2 Mercedes men popped down to chaperone us, we were given our “no access” paddock passes and off we went, down the pit-lane.
The pit-lane was quite quiet aside from the bustle of teams building and testing their cars. Ted was doing some bits for Sky so we didn’t interrupt him. Being let through the barriers and right up to the garage felt extraordinary, especially when all of the press guys with tabards weren’t allowed. Lewis’ car was half built as they focus on one to get it ready for pit-stop practice as early as possible.
It just so happened that it was then time for said pit-stop practice, so they asked us to stand aside while they wheeled out Rosberg’s car and we took in the sights and sounds of being a few feet from a pit-stop. It was interesting to see them ramp up their pace. The first few runs were quite casual, but it doesn’t take long for them to be really pushing it and it is impressive. Lewis and Nico were floating around at this time, looking pretty busy.
We continued down the pit-lane, absorbing the atmosphere, taking photos, standing by safety cars and firing plenty of questions at the Mercedes guys. Before you know it, it’s all over and you’re back at Rascasse being escorted along the marina. At this point our “no access” paddock passes failed to let us pass, so we had a short wait and then we were unleashed on the motorhomes. We didn’t walk along all of them, primarily because Mercedes’ was second along. First was Bernie’s, which is somewhat smaller than the rest. Mercedes’ on the other hand was a 3 story leviathan that made you wonder how on Earth they pack them up. Inside was pristine and modern, brimming with screens showing their racing heritage, it was a seriously awesome place. We quickly went up to the roof terrace, passing Lewis on the second floor who was on the phone.
The roof terrace was magnificent. We were presented with a grand view of Monaco and the marina glistening in the bright sunshine. Champagne and canapés were readily available along with A3 boards of each winner’s entry placed strategically. We had anticipated that this would be a corporate affair with many guests, so it only made it more special to discover that we were the sole focus. A couple of glasses in and we were asked to stand near our boards. It wasn’t long before Crofty turned up, and then Brundle and DC. Lewis also popped up and made his way around each entrant. We undoubtedly caught him on a good day, considering he’d just signed a rather good contract a few hours before. That said, we had no idea until we saw it on the news later.
It was a pleasure chatting with him. We spoke about my idea, he asked some questions and I returned the favour. Our chat went on a little longer than I think they had planned as they had to usher him on. I had a good chat with all of them, aside from DC, which is a bit of a shame because my father was involved with Mercedes’ engines (Ilmor engines) at the time when he was winning Grand Prixes. To round off the roof terrace episode they took a group photo and I positioned myself next to Lewis once more, stealing another quick chat thereafter. I gave him a swift jibe about his Schwarzenegger comment and my sister asked him about where to go out in Monaco, so we were set for our Friday night.
Back downstairs the tables had been laid for the evening. Crofty did an introduction and managed to grab Paddy as he made his way through the motor-home. Paddy gave us a quick speech, which put a different perspective on what we had achieved and the competition we had won. We were then treated to a delicious dinner of lobster, chicken and the richest chocolate dessert ever, which had me beat. Our Canadian table compatriots were the friendliest people on the planet. It was great discussing our experiences of Canada and finding out all about each other’s lives in general.
We spent the evening on the motor-home, the sun disappearing behind the mountains, discussing just how crazy a day it had been. It must have been around midnight when we were asked to depart, they wouldn’t let us stay despite our wishes. In hindsight requesting to stay forever may have been unrealistic. However, John Morrison, FOM’s CTO, one of the competition judges and full-scale Scotsman was staying in Menton too and decided that we should all go for a drink. It was brilliant talking to John and finding out more about the technical side of delivering a sport to billions of people. A few beers on and it was soon 3am, everyone was ready to crash and the most unbelievable day of my life was complete.
The Next Days
The weather turned a bit for practice day. We also failed to make it to first practice due to the influence of the previous day. We were now on trains between Menton and Monaco. The station was roughly a 15 minute walk from the hotel and the train is 10 minutes in to Monaco. We didn’t pay much attention to the train timetable, but were pretty lucky. Even with delays we never spent ages at the station and never queued for a train.
P2 we were there and ready to see some cars, which we did for a short while. Our grandstand K tickets were excellent and we sat as close to the track as possible at Tabac. So close that we were being dotted by tiny black oily specks. At that distance the GP2 cars do become irritating without plugs, but the F1 cars are quite manageable. We then spent quite a while huddled under the umbrella, and thereafter amused ourselves with Mexican waves and communicating with the yacht folk on the other side of the track. After practicing we spent ages trying to get up to Monte Carlo and it was painful. If you ever go, wait until they open the track in the evenings to get about. We also saw a bit of the Porsche cup, which always serves to remind me of the chasm in performance between the classes.
Friday was another wonderfully sunny day. A bit of lounging by the beach was in order before heading up to Monte Carlo. This was parade day and the track was open so it’s much easier to get around. Everyone had brought their Ferraris and Lamborghinis out to play. We headed up to the Grand Casino and sat in the square at Café de Paris. The beautiful people had brought their beautiful things with them. Despite all of the wealth on show I couldn’t help but think that hardly any of them will have experienced what we did on the Wednesday. Still, I’d have liked one of the Aventadors, although the body-kit one was a bit too extreme for my daily driver.
On the hill up to Beau Rivage we passed a seafood restaurant called La Marée, which we remembered from our chat with Lewis. Needless to say, this wasn’t the cheapest restaurant on the planet. I felt slightly inconspicuous asking them to explain how much the langoustines weighed, but when they price them at €30 for 100g I was pretty glad I did. They were the best tasting langoustines I have ever had, I just didn’t have as many as I usually would. We skipped dessert at the restaurant in favour of the second place Lewis mentioned, the ice-cream parlour at Sainte Devote. It was good and the gastro-Lewis experience was complete. We headed down to the party zone around the swimming pool complex and Rascasse. We found a GP2 team having a pretty good time, not sure how they fared in their race the next day. We made the last train out of Monaco as we didn’t fancy feeling terrible for qualifying.
I felt terrible for qualifying. My body wasn’t impressed with the combination of champagne, seafood, ice-cream and mojitos. We made it there though, the weather changeable again. We were now in grandstand K8, which was closer to the swimming pool. We had a good view of the cars out of Tabac and into the pool complex. Leaving the track was particularly busy, even the trains bound towards Italy were busy. If you go and stay on the French side then be prepared to queue at the station. We had a pretty quiet evening, mainly in my hopeful recovery for our final day.
Race day, I was feeling much better and the weather was looking favourable. We were flying back after the race so everything was packed and we made our way to the track. It didn’t feel as busy as qualifying day for some reason, but the grandstand was full come lights out. The bonus of K8 is it’s also right over the pit-lane exit, close to the grid and podium. It’s like being at the heart of the race throughout the whole event. We were quite near the top anyway, so a quick glance over the back of the stand and you’ve got celebrities and mechanics doing their grid thing. I got some nice photos of Lewis prepping, which I took through a tiny hole in the grandstand’s steps. My sister grabbed some great podium shots.
The race was going excellently, if a little predictably. Everyone knew Lewis had it in the bag considering his dominance throughout the weekend. Sport can be a pretty cruel mistress sometimes. The last 10 laps provided an odd atmosphere with only a few Italians now cheering Vettel as everyone else tried to fathom exactly what had just happened. The podium highlighted this further with a courteous clap for Rosberg and a huge cheer for Hamilton. It was particularly odd for us considering the contrast to our week’s elation. Nevertheless we had a plane to catch so we departed fairly sharply in case of delays. There was a queue up to the train station, but again the trains towards Italy were not overcrowded and we actually had a relaxed departure. So relaxed in fact that when I let a man in a pink shirt out in front of me at Nice airport I didn’t realise it was Ted until too late for me to say “hi” without it being weird.
And just like that it was all over. A huge thank you to Tata Communications, Mercedes AMG Petronas and FOM. Special thanks go to the guys who chaperoned us throughout the week and made sure everything went perfectly both before and during the week. It was a once in a lifetime experience, a goal achieved much earlier than I had ever anticipated.