SETTING THE SCENE
Super randomly a good friend, Crissy, texted me out of nowhere with the following message “Hamada!!! Where in the world will you be Memorial Day weekend? I have a ticket to F1 Monaco with your name on it!” Honestly that is all it took and next thing you know I’m booking a flight to Nice for the long weekend! After all that is what Final50 is all about: Impromptu life experiences to satisfy a curiosity and live life to the fullest! I last visited Monaco in 1999 with my father and sister on a trip through the Cote D’Azur, so I was eager to re-explore it but more importantly experience F1’s most famous circuit! And it did not disappoint: Rain delays, crashes, glitz and drama — all the ingredients that makes the Monaco Grand Prix such a bucket-list life experience!
COVID TESTING: So a few weeks before I went to France, the government had reduced its travel restrictions (probably in preparation for the summer travel season). So all I needed was to show the usual COVID vaccination card (BUT you still had to show that your last shot was less than 9 months from the date of travel. I had the booster a few months before so I was in good standing). On the way back to the U.S. I just got the rapid antigen test at an airport pharmacy. Note, in Nice the testing line was super backed up for an hour since there was a flight to the U.S. and many of the passengers had the same idea to get it at the airport (I left on a Monday so all pharmacies in Nice were closed on Sunday, so the airport pharmacy was my best option).
FLIGHTS: For this trip I really leveraged Google Flights and tried many different ways to get a ticket that was not out of this world expensive, while ensuring the timing of the flights made sense since I was only in France Friday to Monday (and I had to leave LA Thursday night). I broke up the trip into two separate flights: (1) flew French Bee (likely the tightest seating arrangement of any trans-Atlantic carrier), which had a direct flight to Paris for a reasonable price, (2) round trip ticket from Paris to Nice, which was pricey because of the GP and Cannes Film Festival, but the flight times made a lot of sense.
ACCOMMODATIONS: My friend booked us in the AC Hotel (Marriott) in Nice. While it was super well located and the rooms were nice, it was way overpriced for what you got, but I’ll chalk that up to the demand of that weekend. There are certainly other options out there and if you have a group, Airbnb is a great option for more authentic stays.
COMMUTING: Since we were staying in Nice there are a few ways to get to Monaco: Uber, Taxi, Train, Bus, Car Rental (or even helicopters, I’m serious). The distance is about 30kms so not too bad. Uber was not badly priced to Monaco (40-50€) and trains are amazing (roughly 5-10€). But the main issue is returning back to Nice if you have a late night, which we did each night. Uber doesn’t work in Monaco and trains stop at 12AM (no clue about the bus schedule). Taxi is your best bet, but many of them only operate within Monaco and others are extortionist. So what we had to keep doing was hailing cars and limo minivans and asking them to take us to Nice, then we recruited others tourists around us who were also staying in Nice so we could reduce the overall cost of the ride (we literally would ask tourists, “anyone going to Nice?”). Somehow it worked out miraculously each night! Note, from the Nice airport to the city center, the local tram is excellent and took us door to door for 1.50€!
Race day was on Sunday and I was getting in Friday night and leaving Monday morning, so time was tight and I wanted to maximize every minute of it. Here is the play by play to help help you maximize your F1 experience!
Quick background of Monaco and the Grand Prix. The country is bordered by France and the Mediterranean sea and has been independent since 1814. However, the principality (it’s still a governing monarchy) has very few natural resources, so in 1869 Monaco became a tax haven thereby attracting all the wealthy elites from around Europe. Today it has around 36,000 residents of which only 8,000 +/- are ethnically Monegasques (yet this still makes the country the most densely populated in the world, 18,000 in habitants per sq. kilometer).
With the elite came cars, boats, a panache for gambling and a desire for glitz and glamor.
In 1929 the Automobile Club of Monaco decided to capitalize on this and hold a prestigious race in the country but had to design the circuit to be only within the principality. That made it tricky but it worked and in time became one of the most elite circuits and coveted race to win in any F1 season.
FRIDAY: PARTY NIGHT IN MONACO
I arrived in Monaco early in the evening and went straight to the hotel. After freshening up I jumped in an Uber straight to Monaco to have dinner with Crissy and her crew. I have to say this from the jump: My friend works for a company that sponsors the Red Bull Racing Team, which luckily for us is one of the better teams on the circuit, so that made the experience possible and very special! Make sure to watch ‘Formula 1: Drive to Survive’ on Netflix to get to know all the ins and outs of this crazy sport.
We had dinner at Rampoldi, which is an iconic Italian restaurant in central Monaco. Great vibes, fancy crowd, and they gave us a signature cap of the restaurant to boot (food I have to say left something to be desired). After dinner I then contacted another close friend who happened to be in Monaco. Now again I have to say this was VERY fortuitous, since he founded a very successful sports and entertainment agency, so he graciously plugged us right into their insanely itinerary for the weekend. We toured the city by night, even stopping in the iconic Monte Carlo Casino (you typically have to wear a shirt and dress coat to get access!)
This was the theme of the weekend since there were celebrities all over the GP. That night we finally headed back to Nice around 4AM. I was surprised I lasted that long since I was running on very little sleep!
SATURDAY: THE TRACK, QUALIFIERS & NIGHTLIFE
On Saturday, we had a late start (obviously since we ended up sleeping at 5:30AM). But I started the day walking around the corniche in Nice, swimming in the ocean.
This time we took the train to Monaco (door to door in about 20 mins), and had a chance to explore a part of the track and the city before the qualifiers began. In qualifiers there are three rounds where the bottom 5 drivers (out of 20) are dropped each round and in the last round, the fastest lap times dictates where you will be in pole position.
What makes the Monaco GP Unique? The track is very narrow with no real straightaways meaning that there are very few opportunities to pass other drivers, so where you end up in qualifiers is likely how you will finish the race barring any crashes, inclement weather, driver mistakes or pit issues. Well the actual race day had ALL of those issues! Stay tuned!
There are a few other factors that make Monaco so unique. Because it’s a city circuit, the road is super narrow and super windy meaning that drivers have to shift on average every 1.8 seconds. So while this makes for a slower overall average race speed (track record is averaged at 150km/h) winning in Monaco is said to be worth winning twice anywhere else!
Now I have never been to a car race of any kind so from nothing to F1 was a HUGE surprise! It was super intense, suspenseful and while the noise of the engines is almost deafening, it somehow is hypnotic as you start to feel at one with the track and drivers! An unbelievable experience! And because you are right in the heart of the race track, you meet all sorts of celebrities (Mick Schumacher below):
After the qualifiers, I joined my friend on a yacht in the harbor. Truth be told Monaco normally has a large number of private boats in the harbor but during F1 that number is multiplied with yachts as large as 90+ meters!
I enjoyed meeting a lot of new people from his entourage and their friends/colleagues especially in entertainment, sports, and the fast growing sector of blockchain and Web3.
To end the night I watched one of my favorite teams in the Champions League Final which sadly did not go our way, but it definitely was an amazing experience! After partying at the Red Bull Energy Station (remember I had tickets through my friend Crissy) we called it a night and headed back to Nice.
SUNDAY: RACE DAY & AFTER PARTY!
On Sunday we decided to get to Monaco earlier so we could take advantage and take in the ambiance.
Unfortunately, minute by minute the weather began to turn. This is a HUGE deal for the GP since it greatly affects racing conditions, the strategy behind driving, and a whole bunch of other related factors.
We were sitting in the GrandStand area with no coverage and it suddenly started pouring with rain. This caused a delay to the start, filling the air with suspense, drama and anticipation!! After the countdown and formation lap, the race was again delayed with the possibility that it would be canceled since it would be too dangerous! With rain coming down, tires were changed, strategies re-done, prayers made and finally the flag was waved to start!
The track was super slick causing drivers all sorts of issues and ultimately Mick Schumacher (son of the great Michel Schumacher) lost control of his car and crashed hard into the barrier causing his car to split into two (thankfully he emerged fine)!
Eventually the race positions changed due to a series of driver and pit issues and in the end Sergio Perez (aka Checo) held his own and WON the race with Max Versteppen coming in third!
Huge day for Red Bull! Such a mind-blowing experience and we celebrated hard!
Our tickets gave us access to the Red Bull Energy Station again that day so we got to see the whole Red Bull team and I even gave a congratulatory hug to Checo who was surrounded by hundreds of endearing fans from all over, especially his native Mexico. Well deserved!
Monaco during the GP can be difficult to navigate because of road closures, booking restaurants can be tough due to high demand, and hotel costs are abnormally high. BUT you can literally come to Monaco for the day and spend less than 50€ to see the race from the many free vantage points throughout the country (remember Monaco is quite elevated so there are beautiful views from all angles).
Personally, being right there on the track hearing the engines, seeing the drama of the race, meeting all the incredible people the event attracts, and witnessing the glitz & glamor is a once in a lifetime bucket list opportunity and I am so glad I took up my friend Crissy’s offer to experience it this F1 season!!
CHECK IN ONLINE & USE CARRY-ON: I was able to quickly check in for my flights not only the day before but en route. That helped me tremendously because I was able to go between terminals to catch flights that were not linked (two separate tickets). On the way back I did the same thing and it made traveling that much more seamless. Of course it also helped that I shoved everything into one carry-on, so I could hop between terminals without issue. Definitely recommend you do that as opposed to dealing with going to the check-in counter.
GOOGLE FLIGHTS: I often use Kayak and Skyscanner. But I have started using Google Flights, which just does a better job through a series of critical filters to find ideal flight times, alternative airports, decoupling flights to find the best routes and cost. Highly recommend this tool and will be using it going forward!
If you are still reading this blog, then that makes me super happy and may mean you like what you are reading and may want more awesome content. In that case, may I recommend checking out my Vlog/Blog to Baja California where I had the chance to play with gray whales!
~ Stay Curious. And I look forward to seeing you on my next Final50 Journey! ~