At the Monaco Grand Prix, a Toned-Down Weekend
The Monaco Grand Prix has returned after the pandemic forced its cancellation in 2020, ending Monaco’s 64-year continuous streak of holding Grands Prix. This will also be the first Grand Prix to be held on city streets since 2019.
Street courses are the most challenging for drivers, and Monaco is considered the most arduous. Where most racetracks have expansive runoffs, Monaco is perilously narrow, with Gucci stores, Hermès boutiques and five-star hotels just beyond the track. It takes the Automobile Club de Monaco, the event organizers since the race’s inauguration in 1929, six weeks to transform the roads into a circuit.
“It was a huge effort, a huge work, to convince everybody to restart,” said Christian Tornatore, general commissioner of the club. He said that because of Covid restrictions, the event would “feel a little bit different” and that it was “a little bit strict” for attendees.
Getting the track ready is a process that Charles Leclerc of Ferrari, who grew up in Monaco, has been watching.
“I live in Monaco all year, so I’ve seen the preparations, in terms of how the circuit gets mounted,” he said. “It’s very special to see all that process and all the buildup, and it makes me very eager to race. Unfortunately, last year there was no race, and the three editions I’ve done before went very badly for me, so I’m motivated to come back and hopefully get a good result.”
Reuters reported that the Covid-19 infection rate in Monaco had been decreasing and that a total of about 30 people had died from the illness. Formula 1 is using its existing pandemic protocols at the race, which include testing, masks and bubbles. Access to the paddock is restricted to essential personnel, with hospitality areas smaller.
But while the race for the titles continues on Sunday, the frenzied off-track activity for which the race is renowned will be toned down.
Monaco’s government has allowed 7,500 grandstand spectators daily, about 40 percent capacity, the largest crowd for a Grand Prix this year. People who watch from the usually packed apartment balconies must be about three feet apart, while boats in Port Hercule can have no more than 12 people on board. Just over half of the usual 140 boats are expected to berth.
The government has also imposed a 10 p.m. curfew, with no music after that, and closed nightclubs. Restaurants can’t have music at all, and diners cannot share food.
This has presented an enormous challenge for the hospitality business, which is known for its lavish parties during Grand Prix weekend.
“We’ve had to be as flexible as possible, as things change all the time,” said Sonia Irvine, chief executive of Amber Lounge Group, a hospitality company. In the past, she put on a charity fashion event with drivers, and a post-race party, events that this year will have mandated reduced attendance.
“Most people are really accepting, and those that aren’t accepting of it have postponed to 2022,” she said of the restrictions. “Some guests want the full-blown experience. Fifty percent postponed, and 50 percent said they wanted to come. As time has gone on, that 50 percent has dropped off to some extent.”
Ms. Irvine has had to scale back, but is sanguine about the situation.
“Financially, it’s a total disaster — it was a total disaster last year,” she said. “We thought this year would be better, but it is really damage limitation.”
It may be hard to sympathize with a reduction in big parties, but for Monaco and the Côte d’Azur region, the Grand Prix is a vital economic asset.
“The economic part of the Grand Prix is around 90 million euros (about $110 million) in normal times,” Tornatore said.
“I think it will not be the case this year, because of the different situation, but it is very important,” he said. “And, not only because of the reward, but also for the image” of Monaco.
“During April,” he said, “I met a lady in Monaco who told me: ‘But last year it was very quiet, why do you organize still the Grand Prix? It was so quiet and tranquil, it was incredible.’ And I said, ‘Madam, I’m sorry, but we have to restart!’”
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