By Contessa de Russe
Us girls decided on a whim to have a fast weekend in Monaco, packing bikinis for a little sunshine and light for a day on the grandstands for the Second ePrix. We landed in Nice, and wasted forty-five minutes of bends and tunnels to Monte-Carlo as passengers in the back seat of a C-Class sedan. We cringed at the miles of precious speed-limitless subterrain that lay at a safe pace with our driver. These roads, with their long straights and tough Mediterranean flections were built with speeding performance cars in mind. We note to ourselves that a California or Vantage is on the menu for our next trip south. We love fast cars with great handling. I wonder if we could rent anything good with manual transmission. My friend thinks we need a spider. We plunge into darkness with dashing strobes of fluorescence. “These tunnels are meant for fun over 130mph, darling!”
After check-in, we walked to Port Hercule among the scaffolding and rolls of steel mesh recreating the local street scape for the next few weeks into the Formula One at the end of May. We took a bite to eat at a bistro by the Quai l’Hirondelle and watched the mens 470 European Championship. The Germans were very cheeky rolling out on the dock, and in hindsight might have done better if they concentrated on the race rather than us girls! Each boat synchronised artfully in front of a monstrous cruise ship before setting out to sea, and in the overcast gloom they were happy sails in the breeze.
Monaco is a tiny country with ornate, typically French architecture and floral composure, mixed in with some pretty horrific concrete developments that we are certain were not approved by Princess Grace. We did our best to avoid the Grimaldi Forum strip and after getting changed, tip-toed up the stairs to Jardins du Casino. We find Café de Paris and recline with a Monaco menu staple club sandwich and sip verveine tea. The scene is terracotta-boxed white and red Geraniums, the mode of the patrons and demode of the tourists, and most most importantly the silver Mercedes McLaren, burgundy Bentley and lush Lambourginis parked and driving about the most filmed casino in the world.
A chauffeur for Jaguar kindly offered to drive us to the entrance of the track in La Condamine. After an evening of haphazard dining, we were hungry for an omelette. Not knowing a city means having to rely on instinct, so after a few cafes inspiring “No thank you” eye rolls to each other, we chanced upon a sunny spot that made possibly the best Caprese salad in the world. La Brasserie du Mystic. Between bites of Buffalo Mozzarella and adoring the sunshine, we threw at each other the pros and cons of coming to such a grand city relatively unprepared. The Pros are that we have an opportunity to discover the undiscovered. Like the beautiful boutiques behind the cafe on Rue Princesse Florestine. The Cons are that we are foreigners in a city full of famous and glamourous everythings, and we chose the only hotel with a beach party every night of the week. We know now already that you don’t come to Monaco without a super yacht.
My friend greets the equally charming Alejandro Agag, founder of the FIA Formula E Championship. We both deny our love for the grunt of petrol-cars for a brief moment on Darse Sud, to acknowledge Agag’s tenacity in bringing about the electric racing revolution. This event is a monumental exercise in promoting non-polluting and sustainable fuels internationally, though refuelling at present requires an active power grid somewhere in a coal-polluted centre of the universe. “Ban diesel,” I say. We shrug.
When we get to the pit lanes, the striking neon orange on bright white catches my eye at the Mahindra garages. I note the ACM Race Marshals are in orange jumpsuits. Now there is something very manly about a man in fluoro drill, we joke to each other. “It must be the way they can handle the heat… under this Mediterranean sun!”
The ePrix track extends around the marina of Port Hercule for 1.765km only. There are no hill-climbs on Avenue President JF Kennedy into Monte Carlo and no roaring, oops, buzzing through Tunnel Dorsal back into La Condamine like the Formula One track.
If you don’t have a super yacht moored in Port Hercule facing Quai Albert-I , or l’Automobile Club de Monaco membership, the best vantage point for the Formula E race is Stand A and Stand L. Both capture pivotal turns into a small curve and straight.
As well as exclusive pneumatics and aerodynamics, the Formula E engines are charged by battery. The race teams must choose an optimal time to swap the driver to the new battery vehicles. The batteries can also be charged remotely by #fanboost, requiring a social media login. This regretfully meant that when we tried to support our favourite drivers we are were blocked by the etiolated requirement for what we call ‘facade-book’. We wished them well with old-fashioned air punches and occasional shouts from
There was very little drama on track, with all drivers quite particularly aware and respectful of the damage they could easily do these new and expensive machines. Twenty-three minutes into the rather mellow, relatively short 51-lap race, Nelson Piquet Junior of NextEV Nio wouldn’t let Jean-Eric Vergne of Techeetah pass on Turn 3. This ended with a lock of wheels and Piquet in the wall. Far from spectators, the non-explosive crash mounted a bit of unease for a few passing vehicles at the hairpin turn. It was quickly neutralised by the safety car, and conveniently allowed all drivers to change their cars. The hairpin at Turn 3 also had Felix Rosenqvist of Mahindra crashing over Oliver Turvey of NextEV Nio in a practice session before the Qualifying laps. The race was otherwise an hour of electric cars driving smoothly and soundlessly around
The ePrix coincides nicely with the city’s preparation of grandstands for the Formula 1, two weeks later at the end of May. If we plan to attend another ePrix, it would need to be with a real VIP experience or through the ACM. We dined at La Piazza on Rue du Portier, which was quite a lovely, homely contrast to the stifled snobbiness we received down the road. The staff were fun and charming, and their little coconut biscuits served with the best coffee in Monaco are made with love. So much love that we brought a box home.