Monaco Memories

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For the first time since 1954, the Monaco Grand Prix will not take place this year. Károly Méhes looks back on some of his memories from the principality.

Monaco occupies a unique position on the F1 calendar. The location, the heritage. The people who live there and the fans who attend the race make for an atmosphere you won’t find anywhere else.

I visited the Monaco Grand Prix as a journalist for the first time in 1994. It was a bleak weekend, coming so soon after Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger lost their lives at Imola. The mood was worsened after a serious crash during Thursday practice, when Karl Wendlinger suffered serious head injuries after crashing at the exit of the tunnel. Everybody hoped for a smooth race and Michael Schumacher delivered, making it four wins from the first four races of the season as Martin Brundle brought some smiles with a fine second place in the Peugeot-powered McLaren.

Despite the circumstances, I relished the opportunity to discover the place that I had been watching on TV for so many years. I drove my Renault Safrane on the circuit and I was invited to noble places like the Hotel Leows for the Marlboro party – Philip Morris’ PR rep Agnés Carlier had been so kind to me since I had approached her some years earlier as a simple fan, asking for help. Strangely enough, my little pocket camera was stolen from the table in this supposedly high society environment.

In 1995 there were so many VIP events that I was in a constant hurry from one place to another. It began with the presentation of the Bugatti EB110 in the Hotel de Paris. Just being able to enter the world-famous hotel was a privilege. The name Bugatti was also a magnet, of course. To top it off, the guest of honour at the event was none other than his royal highness, Prince Albert. After the usual speeches and cocktails, the Prince moved among us, just another face in the crowd.

The same weekend saw the low-key launch of a new powerboat bearing the name of Ayrton Senna, who won the Monaco Grand Prix six times. One year after his tragic death, the great Brazilian was still in the hearts and minds of the Formula 1 paddock in Monaco.

I was also invited for lunch at the Monaco Yacht Club as a guest of the Porsche Supercup, which was another surreal experience. Not the kind of place I would normally be allowed to enter, let alone afford to pay for a meal! I sat next to Hans-Peter Porsche, the grandson of the German marque’s founder, who agreed to a short interview and some pictures.

I also met the Argentinian football icon Diego Maradona who, when he learned I was from Hungary, duly recalled the match when Argentina had beaten Hungary 4-1 at the 1982 World Cup in Spain – his memories of the match were a little more positive than my own!

Many extraordinary situations and encounters. This is what the Monaco Grand Prix is all about. The race itself sometimes feels like it’s only a footnote to all the parties!

The circuit has been modified since my first visit, but you cannot change the essence of this special place. The narrow streets, the harbour and the bars that fill up with thousands of fans in their favourite team’s gear soon after the cars are parked for the day; where you can order an Aperol Spritz and just watch the yachts, the supercars and the beautiful people.

None of this will happen this year, of course. The coronavirus has seen to that. But we look forward to the world getting back to some kind of normal. And the return of the Monaco Grand Prix in late May of 2021.

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About the Author ()

Károly Méhes (born 1965) is a Hungarian F1 journalist and author. He has been covering F1 since 1990 for Hungarian and international magazines (The Paddock Magazine) and is also an expert for the Hungarian broadcaster. Since 1998, Méhes has published two dozen Formula 1 books, most recently a popular volume of interviews about Gilles Villeneuve (Pitch Publishing 2018). He lives in Pécs, South Hungary.

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