Home Featured Beyond Monaco’s glamour: negotiating the GP’s support race paddocks

Beyond Monaco’s glamour: negotiating the GP’s support race paddocks

by Roger Gascoigne

Photo: Roger Gascoigne / Formula Scout

The Miami GP may have boasted more film icons and sports stars, but Monaco remains motorsport’s home of glitz and glamour: the royalty, the backdrop and the yachts in the (real) harbour. But not for F2 and FREC

For the Formula 1 teams, the logistical challenges and the working conditions in Monaco’s cramped harbourside paddock are the most demanding of the year.

But spare a thought for the teams and drivers in the weekend’s main support races – Formula 2 and Formula Regional European Championship. Once their track sessions are complete the cars disappear off into the distance, far from sight of the celebrities, the spectators and the television cameras.

As one of the only media outlets to cover the support events on the ground this year, Formula Scout took the chance to trek between the two junior series paddocks to find out for itself about life away from the more glamorous side of the Monaco GP.

F2’s paddock is hidden away in a multi-storey car park, the Parking Chemin des Pecheurs, perched on the southern side of the promontory below Monaco’s old town, tucked away behind F1’s own harbour-front paddock.

Built in 1982, the car park at other times plays host to an indoor karting track, established by the nation’s own GP2 race-winner Clivio Piccione, but during grand prix weekend, the two storeys above ground are given to F2’s teams, parc ferme, scrutineering and the series’ communal catering facilities and media working area, with F1 media parking below ground.

Luxurious it isn’t, but as Van Amersfoort Racing’s chief executive officer Rob Niessink tells Formula Scout, “it’s Monaco so we have to get on with it as best we can”.

The teams’ transporters and working areas are spread out over the upper and ground floors, with teams squeezed together back-to-back and side-by-side.

As F2’s director of operations Marco Codello explains, getting the teams into position is rather more complicated than elsewhere: “Time slots need to be organised for each team as only two trucks at a time can enter, meaning the set-up operation takes slightly longer.”

With precision timing more associated with the Monte Carlo Rally, the teams are allocated a meeting point off the motorway and a time slot for the start of their escorted journey into the town.

“Driving the truck in the small streets is quite a challenge,” Charouz Racing System’s chief F2 mechanic Ludovic Moix tells Formula Scout. “You have a police escort but you still have traffic all around and some tight roundabouts, so you have to be quite careful not to damage the trucks.”

Whereas the trucks would normally be manoeuvring through the confines of the town early in the morning to avoid traffic, this year’s rendezvous was on the Tuesday afternoon as the teams were arriving directly from the Barcelona round, held the previous weekend.

Once on-site, parking up the trucks in the tight space of the garage requires all of the truck drivers’ skills.

“To maximise the working space, you need to park the trucks five to ten centimetres from the walls or pillars of the underground parking,” says Moix. “In that point it is quite challenging for the truckies to do all these operations without any scratches on the trucks.”

The low ceilings prevent the teams from maximising the full vertical expandability of their motorhomes and privacy is extremely limited. But the teams are nothing if not resourceful and with years of experience are able to operate effectively in the crowded working environment.

“And one good thing is that the teams don’t need to set up an awning as they already have a covered roof,” Codello points out.

In 2022, the teams arrived directly from Barcelona, a trip of 660km along the Mediterranean coast, meaning their awnings could stay safely packed away for the duration of the weekend.

“Yes, there is a bit less space than usual but the biggest difference is that it is resonating like crazy as soon as somebody burns up the engines or when they do a pitstop practice,” adds Moix. “It’s really noisy all day long compared to normal awnings like we have in Europe.”

Apart from the noise, the teams need to acquaint themselves to being indoors, with little natural light and typically low levels of car park lighting.

“You almost don’t see the sunlight for the whole day and sometimes you don’t even realise what the weather is doing. But you do get used to the darkness quite quickly and we set up some extra light and projectors in our working space so we have all that we need to work properly,” Moix says.

One major change is the paddock to pitlane procedure, as Codello explains. “The cars and equipment have to be transported in and out of the paddock via roads which are open to traffic – something that only happens in Monaco.”

Before each track session, the event notes set out a strict procedure to be followed. Trolleys and equipment lead the way, neatly arranged in pitlane order.

Once teams are installed in the pits, the cars can be pushed downhill on the short route to the circuit, through two tunnels and down the Avenue de la Quarantaine, behind the F1 paddock and the luxurious Paddock Club, entering the track at the Virage Anthony Noghes just before the pit straight. It is, laughs Moix “quite a nice warm up for the mechanics who are pushing it!”

F2 teams are used to having to transport everything they need to and from the pitlane, and Monaco is no different in terms of what they load onto the trolleys. But Moix notes “before leaving with the trolleys you double check that you didn’t forget anything because if you have to run back it’s quite hard”.

It doesn’t get any easier once in the pitlane, as it’s notoriously cramped.

“It’s a race where everybody needs to be really aware of what is happening next to you,” says Moix.

“We need to be really careful because other cars could be driving really close, [and particularly] during the pitstop we need to be really careful as it can be some [neighbouring] teams pitting at the same time.”

After each session the teams reverse their route, though fortunately the cars are allowed to drive back uphill under engine power.

Though some traffic jams are inevitable, particularly when one of the team’s trolleys sheds some of its valuable load, “the process is very well organised to make the journey from paddock to the pitlane as quick and efficient as possible” according to Codello.

In previous years, the F2 feature race took place on the Saturday evening giving teams plenty of time to pack up. With the schedule having been revised this year to condense the F1 programme into three days, F2 was on track on Sunday morning, necessitating a rapid departure post-race. Indeed, teams were already busy deconstructing their paddock bays on Saturday night. “This year they were really pushing to have us out for when the F1 starts so it was quite a big rush after the session to have everything packed up,” explains Moix.

F2, and before that GP2, has used the car park since 2005 so many of the teams have had plenty of time to get accustomed to the specifics of the Monaco weekend.

Even so, Codello rightly adds that “it’s impressive how teams manage the unique situation from the moment they arrive, when manoeuvring in the paddock, and throughout the weekend”,

And for the mechanics, Monaco does give them the rare opportunity to see the cars on track.

“[From] the pitlane you can go to the other side of the wall and really see the cars driving and racing. You are really closer to the action,” says Moix. “Normally we can see just the car passing on the straight but now we can see the cars going through the chicane, maybe see some overtaking or crashes during the race, so from that point it is quite nice.”

A crash will still mean an all-nighter for the mechanics, as was the case this year at VAR after Jake Hughes’ qualifying accident, although this year’s extended schedule did provide a full day between each on-track session to make mechanics’ lives a little easier.

But if there are no major repairs, “then we have the opportunity in the evenings to get some food or to grab a beer at Rascasse,” reveals Moix, who had reason to celebrate at Charouz as Enzo Fittipaldi scored 15 points in Monaco.

“It is one of the few tracks where we can experience a bit the atmosphere of what is happening in the evenings.”

At least the F2 teams are actually still located within Monaco. FREC’s teams are based on the other side of the French border in the Monte Carlo Country Club’s (MCCC) car park in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, 1.6km from the circuit’s Portier corner.

The MCCC is more famously known as the venue for the Monte Carlo Masters tennis tournament, traditionally the first major clay court event of the season. However in motorsport it’s been known as the home of the Formula Renault Eurocup paddock for a long time and now FREC’s on Monaco GP weekend.

The paddock itself is a throwback to the cramped facilities of days-gone-by. There is no space here for fancy motorhomes or expandable transporters and the drivers’ briefing on Thursday takes place in the ground floor of the car park.

Getting to and from the track involves driving the cars in convoy through the streets, reminiscent of scenes from the 1950s and 1960s when grand prix teams would often be based in a garage near to the circuit at venues across Europe.

Indeed, the La Chatre circuit in France, where the town square doubled as the paddock, continued holding European and French Formula 3 races into the late 1980s, and the Pau Grand Prix uses the river-side park and car park to base its entrants.

Dino Beganovic, the points leader in FREC and winner of race two in Monaco, enjoys the special atmosphere that the coastal city provides and, in particular, the drive to the track each day.

“It’s different,” he says. “To say ‘hi’ to the people around. They wave and I wave back, of course,” he adds, laughing.

“But you need to be ready earlier in the car, you need to wake up early because everything needs to be earlier to be on time.

“It’s a race like any other; I mean you get the same amount of points. It’s a bit special because it’s Formula 1 and it’s Monaco, but it [means] less running, which is the main part in my opinion.

“But, yeah, it’s Monaco. It’s a bit of a diamond in the season which sticks out a bit more and if you tell somebody that you’re going to race in Monaco this year, it’s always like ‘wow!’.”

His Prema team-mate Paul Aron shares the enthusiasm for the circuit. “I love it,” he says. “It’s really cool and, to be able to drive to the circuit with the car through the streets is an awesome experience. I love being here and I love the atmosphere and I don’t mind the small hiccups we have to overcome being in a completely different paddock and so on to enjoy the track time at Monaco and to be together with F1.

“I think this is clearly one of the highlights of the championship. I heard something that they are planning to replace it with Pau for next year and I really don’t support that because I think nothing really beats the streets of Monaco.”

Aron would welcome more street circuits in F3 as “in the top categories you have many street circuits so the experience for young drivers will always be good”, and Melbourne in Australia has just been announced as joining the calendar in 2023.

R-ace GP’s Lorenzo Flux is another who really looks forward to Monaco, “to just driving on the streets, it’s amazing”.

“Just being here is special, the history and driving on the streets is just amazing,” he enthuses. “The only thing is that errors are so costly because the walls are so close.”

On the paddock location, Fluxa agrees that “it would be better to be in the centre of Monaco”.

“We are in France actually, which is not amazing but, in the end, we race in Monaco which is the important thing. At the end, it’s still nice here. I really enjoyed driving through the middle of Monaco, quite slow, and everybody’s looking at you, [taking] photos, so it’s not too bad actually.”

Asked about his first impressions of the improvised paddock, FREC and Monaco rookie Joshua Duerksen laughs: “It’s interesting. Normally the paddock is next to the [pit] boxes but this time our paddock is two kilometres away, I think. Monaco is so small, everything tight so they have to find a place where all the championship can fit in.”

For fellow rookie Esteban Masson, “it is quite an amazing atmosphere. It’s the first time I have [been in] a paddock and a weekend like this.”

Unfortunately for the FREC drivers there is little opportunity to enjoy the facilities of the country club.

The view from the FREC paddock

Aron didn’t get to play any tennis, but “I’ve been running a lot and swimming in the sea” as “we need to spend so much time at the track doing nothing, so I try to enjoy the off time as much as possible”.

Duerksen agrees that there is no time for tennis. “We are here to perform so now we are focused on doing our job at the track.” Masson meanwhile gazes wistfully at the cool turquoise waters of the swimming pool below but accepts that “we have a lot of things to do here at the track and in the paddock”.

For young drivers, every part of the Monaco experience is also an important opportunity for an Instagram post.

Fluxa jokes that if “we want to do anything, we have to pay, but I’d really like to play some tennis here because it’s where they play the Monte Carlo Masters so the courts are really amazing, but the weekend is really packed with racing, so I don’t think I’ll get to do any of that.”