Cars

What to Do and Whom to Watch at the Monaco Grand Prix

The world's wealthiest and most glamorous gather every year because it's much, much more than just a Formula 1 race.

Monaco's Grand Prix, So Much More than Just a Race

Everyone is in Europe right now.

Between the Cannes Film Festival, AmfAR Gala, the Mille Miglia, and the Grand Prix de Monaco Historique, it seems as if every star investor, Hollywood ingénue, It Girl model, and party monster seems to have decamped for the 35-mile, sun-drenched stretch between Cannes and Monaco.

Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner, and Bella Hadid make their way to the grid during the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 24, 2015, in Monte Carlo, Monaco.
Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner, and Bella Hadid make their way to the grid during the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 24, 2015, in Monte Carlo, Monaco.
Photographer: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

The long month abroad swells to its highest point next weekend, when those with true globe-hopping bona fides will converge on the palatial terraces of Monte Carlo for the Monaco Grand Prix. Preliminary rounds start on Thursday; the race runs through the city streets from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.

This is the premier race on the Formula 1 calendar. It has been held in one form or another since 1929 and in modern form since 1950. With its 78 laps and 19 aggressive chicanes, it is the most technically demanding of any F1 race of the season. And barring possibly the night race in Singapore, it is the most exciting to watch, since Monte Carlo’s race emphasizes chassis nimbleness and driver skill more than the engine power. The fastest cars will complete the two-mile lap around the Monte Carlo circuit in about 75 seconds.

Felipe Massa of Brazil and Williams drives during the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco during the race last year. The Monaco race is a crowd favorite because it's so easy to see from many plazas, homes, hotels, and restaurants in the city. 
Felipe Massa of Brazil and Williams drives during the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco during the race last year. The Monaco race is a crowd favorite because it's so easy to see from many plazas, homes, hotels, and restaurants in the city. 
Photographer: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Grace Kelly, Aristotle Onassis, and Elizabeth Taylor spent years attending. More recently, Gigi Hadid, Cara Delevingne, Kendall Jenner, Mark Ronson, and Cristiano Ronaldo have turned into racing fans over the event.

Tickets, of course, aren’t cheap. But they aren’t prohibitively expensive, either. Adults can set foot in the peanut-gallery bleachers that rise high above the far turns of the race for as little as €71 ($79.52; children cost €24). Otherwise, pay as much as you can possibly afford, since you will get the view you pay for.

Some of the best views for the Monaco race are from the decks of the multimillion-dollar yachts that pull up trackside every year.
Some of the best views for the Monaco race are from the decks of the multimillion-dollar yachts that pull up trackside every year.
Photographer: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

The top tickets cost €2,799: That places you in a balcony suite above the main straightaway, with views of the entire racing grid as far as the Sainte-Dévote Chapel. The Formula 1 cars will be racing past just a few meters below the balcony ledge, as will be the starting line and Prince Albert II's private box, where the podium ceremony takes place. Champagne and amuses-bouches are included, but of course.

Hotel rooms sell out a year in advance—most attendants have standing reservations year to year—so if you’re late to the game on this, try staying in Nice (13 miles away) and arriving extremely early the morning of the race. (If you arrive later than 7 a.m. or so, the roads will be closed, and you’ll find yourself walking for miles and very likely missing the race.) Airbnb condos in Monaco are another viable option. I’ve done both, with success on each. Better yet, charter a small yacht to park in the water that weekend. Those boats have the prime view, and you can watch the race from your chaise lounge, if you want.

Two weeks before the main race, the Grand Prix historique race happens on the same race course. This view is one of the turns around the famous Place du Casino.
Two weeks before the main race, the Grand Prix historique race happens on the same race course. This view is one of the turns around the famous Place du Casino.
Photographer: Eleonora Strano

If you do stay in Monaco, leave your car parked somewhere else and rent a Vespa. It’s at least three times faster to get around that weekend, and parking is never an issue. And it’s very attractive to the more adventurous, fun people you hope you meet and befriend during events like this.

It will also help you make friends if you can speak—for a minute or two, at least—about the actual race. This year, everyone will be watching Red Bull Racing, which took the Spanish Grand Prix last week in an upset win. Renault, with a new engine upgrade, and Mercedes, which seems always to do well in Monaco, will also be strong contenders. Ferrari has not won Monaco since 2001, so it’s a bit of a long shot for the top prize, but it has a massive and rabidly loyal following and always makes a big presence at these events.

Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Ferrari drives during the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco last year. This year, teams from Red Bull Racing and Mercedes are expected to do well. 
Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Ferrari drives during the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco last year. This year, teams from Red Bull Racing and Mercedes are expected to do well. 
Photographer: Dan Istitene/Getty Images

In individual standings, Nico Rosberg won last year for Mercedes. Mark Webber and Red Bull Racing won in 2012; Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing won in 2011. Look out for 18-year-old Max Verstappen, who last week at the Spanish Grand Prix became the youngest F1 winner in history, the first Dutch driver ever to win a grand prix, and the youngest F1 driver to lead a grand prix—all in his debut for Red Bull Racing.

Table talk in Milan last week among auto executives at a very old, very prestigious Italian automotive brand had him placing fifth or so this week, but you never know. In Monaco, anything can happen. That’s what makes it magic.

Star driver Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP signs autographs for fans during previews to the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix last year. He was the Formula 1 World Champion in 2008, 2014, and 2015. 
Star driver Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP signs autographs for fans during previews to the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix last year. He was the Formula 1 World Champion in 2008, 2014, and 2015. 
Photographer: Mark Thompson/Getty Images
Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE