Blog - Musings from the Monaco E-Prix
Stories from the 2022 Monaco E-Prix
Walking down Rue Grimaldi not long past 8am on Saturday was an unusual experience. I'd been on the same Monaco street the evening before, regularly stepping off the narrow pavements on to the road to overtake many of the motorsport enthusiasts who would stop suddenly to read the posters now hanging from the lampposts: "MONACO E-PRIX - NO TURNING BACK." On this morning however, I stepped into the traffic-free street, alone and unbothered by the local authorities who'd proudly closed the road I was on, and headed towards the harbour. I could hear the faint noise of 1st Practice - already noticeably quieter than Formula One, even through these slower streets. I'd brought my earplugs, and very quickly felt foolish for doing so.
In my mind the idea of shutting down an entire city for a single event seems incredible. Monaco though, is an entire country (or Principality to be exact). An entire country that stands still whilst the world enters en masse for a weekend of racing is, and has historically been, a tradition. Though in recent years the streets of Monaco no longer solely belong to Formula One and the supporting racings; it's also the the home of an E-Prix, one that's rightfully becoming a classic on its own.
I'd spent the day previously wandering the Pit Lane and streets that surrounded the race, grasping my familiarities in a country that often turns pathways into vehicle-only tunnels and dead-ends. I'd been here twice before, including for a Grand Prix, yet my memory of the country failed me once more as I wandered too far down the street into a non-pedestrian zone whilst a car patiently waited for me to swiftly, ungraciously run from it. But the nearly 40kms that I covered over the weekend had served me well - I knew the track, I knew the layout and most importantly, I knew how best to spend my time.
The media centre is the calm in the chaos of the paddock. Similar to a library or a classroom, I found that my procrastination subsided when I saw how much progress everybody else had made with their own writing or editing. I revel in the atmosphere of shared creativity and enthusiasm for one another's work, and often that feeds into the interviews with drivers or conversations with team staff. All of us benefited from the environment, I especially made the most of the local staff's knowledge of the area - even now as I write this I'm beside a map of Monaco that's covered in hand-drawn notes by a staff member with the location of tunnels that go beneath the track, open footbridges and photography stands. The Principality might have closed its streets for the race, but it rarely felt off-limits.
When I was wasn't in the media centre I was in the Pit Lane, soaking up everything from the sun to the overheard rumours. I was lucky enough to catch the team photo for Rokit Venturi Racing, led by Susie Wolff who in turn stayed for a women-only photo of her team. I recall a strong percentage of her team stayed behind for the second shot - a remarkable testament to the team's diversity. Susie was in vogue and, frankly, in demand as she departed the track that day - I watched an abundance of admirers queue for photos and conversations with the Venturi CEO, who was happy to oblige.
There was no double header for Formula E this weekend which I particularly appreciated. Winning in Monaco is and has always been a crown jewel for drivers of any Championship. Watching the grid on screen as I dashed against the flow of human traffic attempting to get to reach their seats I could physically see the Royal impact on the race in the form of Prince Albert. There's something counter-intuitive about leaving a venue just as an event is about to start - sheer determination over sensibility told me I was making the right choice to watch the race from the sidelines rather than on screen, but it was more fortune over sense that got me to Saint Devoté in time for the race start. The following 45 minutes were some of the most frantic I've ever had, but the shots speak for themselves.
Having re-watched the 2021 race prior to my trip, I recalled the amount of Covid restrictions on entering the country and the impact that it had on attendance. In the end, it was a huge shame that so many seats were spare during what was one of Formula E's best ever races. This year however, couldn't have been more different. I emerged from the tunnel near the Swimming Pool Chicane as Wehlein took the lead from Evans and heard a thunderous blend of elation and exasperation from the grandstands. The queues for last-minute ticket purchases resulted in a lot of people missing the start, but the action on track seemed to wait for a full house before it all kicked off.
45 minutes (+1 lap), is not in fact, a very long time at all. I was grateful for the extra time (something I think other Championships should consider introducing) to make it back in time for the final laps. I'd appreciated the chance to watch the driving close up without the overriding fear of a crash happening close by - JEV told the press conference later that afternoon that the new qualifying format allows the best drivers to fight together at the front, something I saw first hand as Evans tried to unsuccessfully hold off Vandoorne. "Clean racing", he said, and I agree.
As a commuter from nearby Nice for the weekend I waited as late as I could to catch the once-every-30-minutes train that journeyed along the Côte d'Azur. Alas, the busy train left me asking a lady en français if I could take her spare seat, and after watching me as I scrolled though the day's pictures on my phone turned to me and said, "You are a racing driver?", I remember laughing at that. "No, but he is", I said, showing her my photo. A photo of a French driver and a French women curious to learn about my adventure felt very much like a full circle moment on my weekend. One stop before my own she stood up and said, entirely nonchalant, "Jean-Éric Vergne?" turning to leave, "Never heard of him." before departing.