Paddock Postcard from Monte Carlo 27 May 2012
Motorsport understandably takes centre stage for the Monaco Grand Prix weekend, but tradition dictates that proceedings open with a charity football match on Tuesday night. This year the annual World Stars game - the 19th to be held - raised money for a local charity which helps underprivileged children around the world.
Whilst the Star Team for Children was captained by Monacos very own HSH Prince Albert II, the Formula One side featured Saubers Sergio Perez, Mercedes Michael Schumacher, Ferraris Felipe Massa, Caterhams Vitaly Petrov, Marussias Timo Glock and Lotus tester Jerome DAmbrosio. HSH Princess Charlene, patron of the charity, was also in attendance, watching from the sidelines.
Down at Pirelli, culinary escapades dominated the build-up to the on-track action, as the Italian tyre manufacturer launched a recipe book, Miles and Meals, inspired by the secrets of Pirellis on-the-road chefs. As part of the event, McLarens Jenson Button and Lotuss Romain Grosjean tried their hands at cooking, under the watchful eye of Paul Hembery, Pirelli's motorsport director. Button and Grosjean even deigned to don some comedy chef hats, before chopping and flambéing in front of the media.
Out of the kitchen and back into the cockpit, many drivers have opted to use specially-designed helmets this weekend. Lotuss Kimi Raikkonen and Toro Rossos Jean-Eric Vergne have chosen to honour their sporting heroes. Raikkonen is using the helmet design of 1976 world champion James Hunt, whilst Vergne is running in a design which matches that of fellow Frenchman Jean Alesi, who will make his Indianapolis 500 debut this weekend.
I had thought it would be great to go and watch Jean race in Indy, but then came the news I was driving for Toro Rosso and of course that meant a clash with Monaco, said Vergne. But I was still determined to do something special to mark Jeans Indy debut and so we came up with the idea, which is quite common here in Monaco in fact, of me using a special design in tribute to him. I think it looks great and I hope it brings us both good luck this weekend.
Also sporting a new lid this weekend is Ferraris Fernando Alonso. Designed by Alonso himself, the helmet is gold and white in colour and features statistics and motifs that are significant to the Spaniard, including '28' for the number of Formula One wins hes taken and also '2006 and '2007', which are the years of his two Monaco victories. Theres also an illustration of the 1964 championship-winning Ferrari F158 of John Surtees.
Saubers Sergio Perez is another racing with a unique helmet design, dedicated to Mexican writer, actor, director, comedian, songwriter and poet, Roberto Gomez Bolanos. Best known by his stage name Chespirito, Bolanos is a cultural icon throughout Latin America and Perezs idol. Despite being severely ill, the 83 year-old took time to thank Perez for his support via a video link. One version of the helmet will be handed to Chespirito, whilst the other will be auctioned to raise money for the newly-founded Fundacion Checo Perez, which has been set up to aid orphans in Mexico.
Other helmets of note include that of defending world champion Sebastian Vettel, which features sequins, and Charles Pics design, which commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Monaco race.
In Monte Carlo youre never far away from a party and on Thursday night Force Indias Vijay Mallya hosted his now traditional opening event aboard his mega yacht, the Indian Empress. Antonio Banderas sipped champagne alongside fellow actor and huge Jim Clark fan Michael Fassbender, Las Vegas Casino mogul Steve Wynn, Top Gears Jeremy Clarkson, and Daniel Snyder, who is the owner of the Washington Redskins American football team.
Formula One group CEO Bernie Ecclestone led the Formula One contingent at the event, alongside CVCs Donald McKenzie, McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh, Lotus counterpart Eric Boullier, the inimitable Eddie Jordan, former world champion Damon Hill and, of course, Force India drivers Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg.
Red Bull are no strangers to a party either and the team toasted the start of the Monaco weekend with cans of a newly-launched, Formula One-branded version of their energy drink, which has been developed in close cooperation with Formula One group CEO Bernie Ecclestone.
Although Red Bull's Formula One Edition wont be available for public sale, the sports official energy drink will be on tap at Red Bulls Energy Station motorhome, Grand Prix paddocks across the globe and at all parties connected with Formula One. It certainly went down a storm at the Red Bull party and, when asked, Ecclestone said he was a firm fan of the orange-flavoured beverage, declaring honestly - I drink three cans a day!
Friday evening saw the return of the ever-glitzy Amber Lounge Fashion Show and charity auction, which was held at Monacos Le Meridien Beach Plaza Hotel. Caterhams Petrov, Lotus third driver DAmbrosio, Toro Rosso team mates Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo, Force India reserve Jules Bianchi, Marussias Pic, and Williams Bruno Senna were among the Formula One drivers-turned-models taking to the catwalk for the night. The drivers all wore suits by German designer, Philipp Plein, whilst the professional models in action sported Issa London.
Guests enjoying the show, meanwhile, included Formula One group CEO Bernie Ecclestone and his daughters Tamara and Petra, Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, Hollywood actors Nicholas Hoult, Jennifer Lawrence and Vanessa Hudgens, Aston Villa player Emile Heskey and former F1 driver Eddie Irvine.
As well as those at the fashion show and at Mallyas party, Monaco was the place to see and to be seen throughout the weekend, and the principality was teeming with famous faces from the sporting and entertainment worlds.
From the former were the usual suspects such as Sir Jackie Stewart (and son Paul), Niki Lauda, Christian Danner, Marc Surer, Alex Wurz, Jacques Laffite, Martin Brundle, Johnny Herbert and Damon Hill, joined this time by Mika Hakkinen, Alain Prost, drivers steward Nigel Mansell, Patrick Tambay, Roberto Moreno, Alan McNish, Gerhard Berger, Riccardo Patrese, Maria Teresa de Filipis, Daniele Audetto and Jo Ramirez, who was celebrating the 50th anniversary of his first working visit to Monaco. Patrick Head also made his first visit to a race since his retirement from Williams last year, celebrating his new wife Monicas pregnancy. Down at Marussia, meanwhile, Graeme Lowden was reciprocating some recent hospitality by entertaining Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew.
Among the famed from the film world knocking around the paddock were Monaco regular George Lucas, Men in Black star Will Smith, actor Liam Cunningham and movie maker Ron Howard.
On track, the GP2 races provided victories for Johnny Cecotto Jnr and Barwa Addax in Fridays feature race and Jolyon Palmer and iSport International in Saturdays sprint.
The Venezuelan dominated his rivals with a seasoned performance to lead from lights to flag and claim a historic victory in this morning's feature race in Monaco, looking untroubled by iSports Marcus Ericsson and Caterhams Giedo van der Garde as he emulated fellow countryman Pastor Maldonados Spanish success by making the top step on his first appearance on a podium.
Fellow front-row starter Max Chilton was slow off the line for Marussia, handing Cecotto an easy run to Ste Devote. Ericsson squeezed by the Englishman and Van der Garde had an open line around the outside to follow the Swede up the hill ahead of Chilton, Luiz Razia, Jolyon Palmer, Davide Valsecchi and Esteban Gutierrez.
Cecotto held on against race long pressure from Ericsson, while van der Garde crossed the line five seconds later. DAMS Valsecchi boosted his series lead with fourth just ahead of Chilton, with Palmer sixth from Calado and local driver Stephane Richelmi, who was thus on pole for the sprint.
Calado got squeezed at Ste Devote as fast-starting Palmer clipped Richelmi and spun him across the road and into the escape road when the sprint race got underway the next day. That enabled Palmer to pull clear as Calado held off Chilton, until the former pitted for attention to his damaged car. Eventually the Racing Steps driver was forced to retire, ending an extraordinary run of 55 consecutive race finishes.
Going up to Massenet on that opening lap there was a massive shunt when Cecotto spun and triggered mayhem as he tagged Valsecchi (who had almost stalled on the start line), while DAMS Felipe Nasr rode over the top of Victor Guerin causing several other cars to collide. The safety car was deployed as the mess was cleared up, and as Calado momentarily fended off Chilton and Van der Garde, Palmer was able to open up the 10s advantage that would prove crucial.
With Calado out Chilton had a clear run and sliced down Palmers advantage, but the latter was controlling his pace and swept home to a victory in the Principality that had always eluded father Jonathan. The pair celebrated the former F2 stars greatest career success, relieved that electronic problems that had plagued his iSport machine for several races had been solved - by substitution of a new car!
Van der Garde took third and his fourth consecutive top-three finish, from Ericsson, with Caterhams Rodolfo Gonzalez holding on for fifth ahead of Ardens Luiz Razia for fifth, with the Brazilian claiming fastest lap. Racing Engineerings Nathanael Berthon and Lotuss Esteban Gutierrez completed the point scorers.
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