Grapevine: Paddock Life: Monte Carlo edition

AUTOSPORT brings you its regular column of life inside the paddock. This week: Monte Carlo

Grapevine: Paddock Life: Monte Carlo edition

The Monaco Grand Prix is well known as the blue riband Formula 1 race of the year - the glamour, showpiece event that is the highlight of the social calendar.

Yet this year it was clear that the world financial crisis was taking it toll on even Monte Carlo - with the whole event very much more low-key that it has been in the past.

The harbour looked quiet, with the fewer than normal big yachts - dominated once again by Vijay Mallya's Indian Empress - all shunted together in the middle. Elsewhere, there were gaps here and there in the normally packed water - and the boats themselves were smaller than they had been in the past.

Hotel owners were claiming that there were still rooms available on the normally sell-out weekend; restaurants were less busy, the roads around the principality much quieter than in recent years, and the crowds down around 25 percent on previous years.

That did not stop those who did attend from having a ball of a time at what remains one of the best grand prix weekends of the season. Stars from the past turned up, including Alain Prost, Mika Hakkinen, Nigel Mansell and Jacques Villeneuve - with MotoGP stars Casey Stoner and Nicky Hayden enjoying a look at action on four wheels.

The usual barrage of celebrities were also in town - with radio DJ Chris Evans, singers James Blunt and Geri Halliwell, film director George Lucas, plus 400m runner Michael Johnson all descending on the F1 world.

With bars open late, numerous parties and people looking for a good time, it is little wonder why Monaco is so loved by all. As Kimi Raikkonen said over the weekend, when asked how difficult it was to stay away from temptation at the Monaco GP: "It depends which temptation you mean!"

Only at the Monaco Grand Prix could Formula 1 team bosses choose to talk about cost cutting on board a £32 million super-yacht.

Friday at Monaco has usually been an off day, where the paddock is pretty deserted as team members enjoy the chance for a small break from activities - and a lot of people nurse hangovers from the annual Thursday night big parties.

This year was very different though, as the intense off-track politics involved with moves to a budget cap meant that Friday was the only real opportunity for team bosses to sit down, without on-track distractions, and thrash things out.

But in these austere times, why use a standard meeting room or motorhome when you could enjoy lunch and the luxuries of Flavio Briatore's much talked about Force Blue yacht? Look at any picture of the Monaco harbour and you couldn't miss the huge FB initials on its chimneys.

Having been refitted in 2006, the yacht features a spa, six staterooms, a Jacuzzi on the sundeck and a party area. There are elevators to all decks, a full gym, a sauna and spa centre, and a cinema room - with 60-inch plasma screen. And don't forget the bar area.

If you fancy a taste of what life is like on board, Briatore is kind enough to rent it out for charter. It does depend, however, on you having a spare 250,000 Euros per week!

At that fee, it meant the half day of meetings on board cost around 18,000 Euros. So no wonder when the team principals got together on race morning to discuss the progress of their cost-cutting talks they chose to do so behind some bits of stuck-on-paper down at Briatore's Renault motorhome

As well as a meeting theme to the weekend, it seemed that people liked to do a fair bit of running at the Monaco Grand Prix.

The most famous bit of jogging was, of course, race winner Jenson Button - who stopped his Brawn car in the wrong place on the slowing down lap. Rather than following tradition and parking on the start-finish straight, he headed straight for parc ferme.

"It's been a long time since I've been on the podium in Monaco. I thought they were directing me in (to parc ferme), so I went in with all the other cars, got out and had to make a spectacle of it, so I ran around and ran down the circuit," smiled Button.

"There was no other way to go; all the other ways were full of people, so I ran round the circuit. It's amazing how much energy you've got when you cross the line first but it was a bit embarrassing."

Button's efforts reminded the media pack of an amusing wind-up that took place during Friday's meetings. Immediately after the team principals' get together on Briatore's Force Blue yacht ended, they were scheduled to meet Max Mosley at the Automobile Club de Monaco on the main start-finish straight.

Some team principals were chauffeured there by car, some walked, and some were zipped there by waiting scooter.

The ACM club is a 10-minute walk from the press office so when a gang of reporters were phoned up by a fellow hack asking what was going on - he was told that Max Mosley was holding a press conference in just five minutes. Seconds later, he was told that the thing was going to start in seconds!

Panic set in and the journalist, joined by some of his colleagues, set about getting to the ACM as fast as he could on foot. They all arrived totally out of breath but at least they saw the funny side of the prank when told there efforts had been in vain as there was no press conference.

One of the contingent (we shall call him Barry to protect his identity), ended up soaked in sweat and unable to talk until his heart rate calmed down following a long rest against a wall for half an hour.

Imagine what he would have been like if he had had to do that run after winning the Grand Prix!

Monaco is not just about spending money - because the weekend's events also provide an opportunity to raise funds for good causes.

On Friday night the annual 'Amber Lounge' fashion event took place - with it ending with the special charity auction.

Star guests this year were actress and model Elizabeth Hurley and her husband Arun Nayar, Little Britain comedy star David Walliams, Olympic track legend Michael Johnson and Sir Richard Branson.

The focus of the night after the drivers joined the catwalk was when celebrity auctioneer Charlie Ross led proceedings to raise as much money as possible for the Elton John Foundation.

Prince Albert of Monaco spent 10,000 Euros on a Grey Goose Electric Oasis bar designed by Czech supermodel Eva Herzigova - while the biggest bid of all was 1450,000 Euros for an intimate dinner for 10 people with Sir Elton and his partner David Furnish at their villa in the South of France later this year. All in all, 340,000 Euros was raised.

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