AHEAD OF THE MONACO GRAND PRIX
So, you’re the unofficial chief cheerleader for the Monaco circuit, what makes you like it so much?
From the driver’s point of view – and maybe teams see it differently – the best thing about coming to Monaco is that it’s a circuit where the driver has more influence on events. Driving a Formula One car anywhere is special – the speed, the power and the acceleration just blows you away – but here it’s like trying to do a lap in a supermarket, and that’s just so, so cool. I know there’s that quote about racing at Monaco being like riding a bicycle around your bathroom – well when I was a kid I used to love riding my little bike around inside the house. It was more fun, there were more obstacles and a bit more danger. That really is what this is like: You have the walls around the circuit and the bumps on the track that make it a bit more real. The circuit has a lot of character; you can feel that in the car. You can’t afford mistakes, your concentration levels rocket and you tend to amaze yourself with how quickly you manage to do everything. Just completing a lap feels like an achievement. It feels like a challenge.
Is it all about the track?
Not at all. The Monaco Grand Prix is the real deal. There’s so much energy surrounding it: the big boats; the big spenders; the cool people, the Hollywoods – it’s all there. I wouldn’t say I’m massively into that stuff at any other time of the year, but it creates a crazy atmosphere over the weekend here and that really makes the adrenaline rocket.
You’re now a resident of Monaco – will you walk down to the paddock and take it all in over the weekend?
I could – but I won’t. I’ll be in team kit and I reckon I’d end up stopping for a chat every ten paces and get to work a couple of hours late. People in the garage tend to frown on that! Maybe I could wear a disguise. Hey! Perhaps I’m that guy with the moustache, sunglasses and baseball cap standing next to you right now.
What’s Monaco like for the other 11 months of the year? Where do you hang out?
You’ll be shocked to hear that there are some cool clubs and restaurants. You can’t see it from TV but there’s a really nice place – it keeps changing it’s name but I think it’s one of Flavio’s – underneath the entrance to the tunnel with a really nice view out into the Mediterranean. Then there’s the bars around Rascasse, they’re always fun – not that I’m a big hitter on the club scene or anything. Another fairly regular place for a lot of the guys is Sass Café. It has the advantage of being open seven nights a week and even on a Sunday night it’s open until 3am. That can be pretty handy if you’re getting back late from a race or team event and don’t fancy a dinner of instant noodles…
It’s often said that Monaco presents drivers with the ultimate test. Is that a fair description? Is it a daunting prospect for a racer?
It’s a real ‘confidence’ circuit. You need to be in tune with it. You need to find yourself, find the flow, you need to find the right approach mentally and with the car and then you just have to make it happen.
In the beginning it’s a big test. To go out and find that confidence is not easy and you always question yourself, asking ‘when is it going to happen, when am I going to feel it enough to really go for it’. But at some point in the weekend it just happens, you find the rhythm and the lap time comes. When it works like that, when you get yourself in the right place and you find a good understanding with the track, it’s great.
It’s a circuit you’ve only ever raced in Formula One. Are you still discovering new things about it?
Yes, definitely. I did pretty well in qualifying last year (9th) but I only did a handful of laps in the race because I had a problem with the car, so I would yes. I’m not sure there’s a special secret about it and there’s no one area that holds the key. It’s just a really massive lap, the whole thing seems to go by in one breath. It’s just as well it’s a short lap!
What about the sense of history in Monaco and the crazy atmosphere on the streets? Do you find yourself getting caught up in those things or do they get in the way?
In terms of the atmosphere and so on, I’ll be perfectly honest and say that, for me, it’s not the best. It’s really confined and there’s not much chance to get some space for yourself. It is totally unique and it is an amazing place but for me the trick is to try to remove myself from that and focus on what we’re there to do.