Paddock Postcard from Monte Carlo 29 May 2011
Monaco may turn itself over to Formula One racing for the weekend of the Grand Prix, but tradition dictates that football takes centre stage before the on-track action begins, with the annual pre-race World Stars charity match. This years event - the 18th to be held - was raising money for the reconstruction of the church in Port au Prince, Haiti.
Whilst the Star Team MC, made up of international sports names, was captained by Monacos very own HSH Prince Albert II, the Formula One side was captained Ferraris Fernando Alonso. Saubers Sergio Perez, HRTs Vitantonio Liuzzi, Ferraris Felipe Massa, Renaults Vitaly Petrov, Virgin Jerome DAmbrosio and Force India reserve Nico Hulkenberg were amongst the other drivers in action.
Glamour was firmly back on the agenda on Thursday. Not only were we treated to the unique sights and sounds of Formula One cars winding their way round the Principalitys narrow streets, but one of the most expensive watches ever created was unveiled to the media and a spectacular Bollywood-inspired yacht party was thrown to delight the paddock glitterati.
The watch came courtesy of luxury Swiss brand Hublot, the Official Watchmaker of Formula 1. The Two Million Euro BB was presented in the presence of Formula One group CEO Bernie Ecclestone - and a crowd of reporters - in the paddock on Thursday afternoon. Made up of 637 baguette diamonds the watch weighs in at more than 140 carats and required 2,000 hours of work by master gem-setters.
The yacht party, hosted by Force India boss Vijay Mallya, has become something of tradition in recent years and Thursday nights event didnt disappoint. With Mallyas boat, the Indian Empress, decked out like a Bollywood studio, guests including Sir Richard Branson, Princess Beatrice of York and hoards of famous Formula One faces enjoyed delicious Indian canapes, cocktails and music.
Friday - traditionally Monacos rest day - was as busy as ever. Record-breaking free diver Pierre Frolla got the day off to a brisk start in the harbour, retrieving the official chequered flag for the Monaco race from a depth of 60 metres. The flag, which had been signed by a host of athletes and driver, will eventually be auctioned for the Peace & Sport charity.
Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel was also among those in charitable mood and made time to meet children from the Starlight Foundation, which helps to brighten the lives of seriously and terminally ill children. Vettel was joined at the meet and greet by Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.
Glitz is never missed off the Monaco agenda and several drivers unveiled some sparkly new helmet designs for the Monte Carlo race. HRTs Vitantonio Liuzzi had an exclusive new livery which featured a picture of himself dressed as a pirate captain with gold bullion. McLarens Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, meanwhile, got their hands on special-edition, diamond-encrusted helmets. Produced by sponsor Steinmetz, each helmet was embellished with 10 carats of handcrafted diamonds.
On Friday at the Yacht Club Bernie Ecclestone made a nice speech bidding farewell to his longtime business partner, former Autosport Grand Prix writer and Marlboro publicity manager Paddy McNally, who after 38 years is stepping down from his day-to-day role running Allsport Management, which handles circuit advertising and the Paddock Club.
Friday evening saw the return of the ever-glamorous Amber Lounge Fashion Show and charity auction, which was held at Monacos Le Meridien Beach Plaza Hotel. With Taio Cruz providing the soundtrack, Ferraris Felipe Massa, Lotuss Heikki Kovalainen, Renaults Vitaly Petrov, Saubers Sergio Perez, Toro Rossos Jaime Alguersuari, Force Indias Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil, HRTs Tonio Liuzzi and Mercedes Nico Rosberg were among the Formula One drivers-turned-models taking to the catwalk for the night.
As ever, Monaco has been full of famous faces throughout the weekend. On the celebrity front, Prince Alberts fiancee Charlene Wittstock, the former swimmer, was naturally much in evidence, as were Kim Kardashian, Tamara and Petra Ecclestone, Michael Johnson, Sir Philip Green and actor Jason Statham.
Familiar racing faces included FIA President Jean Todt and his wife Michelle Yeoh, three-time world champion Alain Prost and racing son Nicolas, stewards assistant Allan McNish, former champion Keke Rosberg, Jochen Mass, Maria Theresa de Filippis, Max Welti, Eddie Irvine and Daniel Audetto.
In GP2, Team AirAsias Davide Valsecchi scored a terrific victory on Thursday as he led from start to finish to head home Racing Engineerings Alvaro Parente and SuperNovas Luca Filippi.
Poleman Sam Birds iSport car stalled at the start after a much longer than usual wait for everyone to line up, and as they avoided his stricken car Parente and Stefano Coletti (Trident Racing) banged wheels and Giedo van der Garde (Barwa Addax) made a strong getaway to follow them through Ste Devote ahead of Josef Kral (Arden) and Jules Bianchi (Lotus ART).
Further back Romain Grosjean (DAMS) was moving up fast from P19, while Bird set a string of fastest laps - at times he was two seconds a lap faster than anyone else! - as he launched a great recovery.
Filippi worked his way up behind the two leaders and stayed out longer during the pits stops, as did Grosjean. The gamble paid off as they pitted on lap 22: the Italian had a sticking left rear wheel but still emerged in third place, with the Frenchman on his tail.
Unfortunately for Bird, his brilliant charge ended in a tangle with team mate Marcus Ericsson, forcing both into retirement. Valsecchi handled the resultant safety car intervention, to win from Parente, Filippi and Grosjean, as Coletti just held off Kral for fifth ahead of Carlins British team mates Oliver Turvey and Max Chilton.
Saturdays sprint race, meanwhile, saw Frenchman Charles Pic dominate from pole position for Barwa Addax, and led from lights to flag ahead of Kral and Grosjean. His only real threat came when the lights went out: Kral got alongside him after making an excellent start, but had to concede at Ste Devote. Pic handled two safety-car periods - one to remove Kevin Mirocha's stricken car from the front straight and the other after Ericsson jumped the kerb at the Swimming Pool and hit the wall - without any problem from Kral, who had his hands full with Grosjean.
Chilton made a poor start from the front row but ran fourth for a while before finishing sixth over being overtaken by Filippi and Valsecchi. The result left Grosjean sharing the 23-point championship lead with Bird who was trapped in the inevitable traffic in ninth place after a great early charge which earned him fastest lap, with Pic on 22 and Valsecchi and Van der Garde on 21.
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