Hot Wheels, Majorette, Corgi …

This is the week of the Monaco F1 Grand Prix, another one of the Riviera’s prestigious events, which always overlaps with the Cannes Film Festival. Monaco is about 45 minutes drive east from Cannes and about 20 minutes drive west from the Italian border by the A8 autoroute. It is very popular tourist destination and common stop for cruise ships.

I mentioned before how Cannes triples in population during the Film Festival, well Monaco is probably no exception and possibly worse as it is only about 5 square kilometres in size. So with both the Cannes Film Festival and Monaco Grand Prix, you can imagine how trying to do any normal day-to-day business in these two places in the days leading up to and during these events can be a nightmare.

Nice Airport is saturated with the influx of travellers (provide the French unions aren’t taking advantage of the situation to stage a strike), the A8 highway sees increased congestion, accommodation is scarce (often booked a year in advance), traffic and parking are more painful than pulling teeth. If you can afford to go by helicopter, boat, or have the patience for the train, it is highly recommended to leave the car at home (or better yet, stay away).

Most employees working in Monaco during GP try to arrive by train, car, or scooter before all the parking is taken and before the track is closed to the public around 7h00, as the race circuit uses the streets of Monaco. Some repair services for bars, restaurants, and hotels even put up employees in hotels during this time in case of customer emergency.

I am a programmer by trade, preference, passion, and pleasure, but have also done technical field support over the years for some ISPs I’ve worked for. I still have one or two clients in Monaco that I still service and on a handful of occasions someone’s computer goes tits up in the days leading up to the GP or worse during race days. Panic occurs faster than Louis Hamilton can shift gears. Needless to say, it is always a good idea to have working backup and recovery solution.

The closest I’ve ever been to the Grand Prix was the week I spent “on-call” at Stars’N’Bars one year, in case of networking and computing problems with their Internet café. I didn’t really have to be there, but I was between gigs and could afford the time, and thought it would be a neat experience. SNB is on Quai Antoine (by Rascasse corner) on the sea side of the track where all the F1 mobile garages are parked. It’s impossible to access when the track is closed, unless you take the long walk around the Roche, which is pretty good exercise when you’re lugging a 5 kilo laptop bag packed with tools, CDs, parts, clean shirt, etc.

Stars’N’Bars is an American style sports bar, three floors, supervised kids room, video games, sports memorabilia, and 21+ TV screens. It is one of the livest spots in Monaco for young and old year round. The food is pretty good too for American style cuisine. (I sort of treat SNB as my “local” even if it is in Monaco.) SNB is a popular spot for many of the motor sport fans, because of its proximity to the “paddock”, since many of the F1 drivers and their crews can be seen nearby (or even in the restaurant at day’s end) and it’s often possible to snarf an autographed cap or shirt.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to see the actual race from the restaurant, even from the third floor, due to all the spectator stands and the low profile of the cars, but you can watch on all the TV screens they have going. However, forget about listening to the commentary, even if SNB bothered to turn it on, because when the race cars are on the track, all you can hear is something that sounds like a trillion mosquitoes on Red Bull. And you know how much I like mosquitoes.

All in all, Monaco F1 Grand Prix is said to be the highlight of the F1 calendar. It’s a very special F1 event for motor racing fans and I’m sure it’s worth attending at least once. Monaco and the surrounding region just have so much character both by day and by night, that there is always something to do, even if it’s just finding an out of the way restaurant for a long lunch or attending the restaurants, bars, and clubs after the days events.