The Monaco GP is like nothing on earth. I urge anyone who hasn’t been, whether a racing fan or not, to ink it on to your bucket list. The heady mix of glamour, history, hedonism and perilous racing is as addictive as it is surreal.
Our team from Sky Sports arrives on the Tuesday before race day, and our feet don’t touch the ground once we are in the principality. On top of our filming, there are so many events, parties and fundraisers. I learned early on (the hard way) that you can’t do it all in Monaco. Early work starts and late party finishes don’t mix. While I love my job, my kids Wilf (aged three) and Willow (nearly two) are my priority, so I have agreed with Sky to limit my travelling to the European rounds. Where appropriate I take the family with me, and Monaco is one such place. It gives me the opportunity to have breakfast with the kids and tuck them up at night, and they get to have a lovely holiday with their daddy and grandparents while I’m at work.
Red bull’s wings
We hit the ground running with features and interviews with the expectant drivers, all of whom say this is the race they most want to win. Realistically, one of six are in with a shot of the crown this year: namely Hamilton, Bottas, Vettel, Raikkonen, Ricciardo and Verstappen from Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull respectively. Such an open championship has kept fans gripped for the opening five rounds, and for the first time in 2018 Red Bull are the favourites to clinch the race. Monaco is a tight, twisty circuit with less emphasis on power, which suits Adrian Newey’s design very well indeed. And so it proves from the off, with Verstappen and Ricciardo smashing lap records in practice.
The race weekend is spread over an extra day compared to the others, with practice on a Thursday, and Friday is theoretically a day off. It’s our opportunity though to cram more features in – and this year we shoot a Bond-themed opener at the Monte Carlo casino. This requires acting from all of us on the team, something that reduces us to fits of giggles and means countless retakes. Simon Lazenby, aka James Bond, asking if I came there often was something I just couldn’t take seriously!
Later that day we meet up with the Starlight kids, seriously ill children who are granted their wish of coming to the Monaco Grand Prix. This is always a highlight for us, and a timely reminder, among all the excitement, about what really matters. These kids are always so impressive with their F1 passion and knowledge. The looks on their faces when they meet their driver heroes is incredibly moving.
The Friday evening is all about the Amber Lounge fashion show, organised by ex-Ferrari driver Eddie Irvine’s sister Sonia in aid of Race Against Dementia, the charity set up by Sir Jackie Stewart. I’ve been lucky to have presented it for the past few years. I’m pretty sure they only ask me to host it to save them from having to ask me to model in it with the other ladies of F1. I did that one year, and had about as much poise as a pregnant rhino.
Saturday is all about qualifying. Daniel Ricciardo had told me that he felt at one with his car and nothing but first place on the grid would be good enough. And so it is, as he hooks up a seemingly effortless lap.
After qualifying we’re invited to the Tag Heuer boat to interview their ambassadors Bella Hadid, Tom Brady and Geri Halliwell, who are hosting a party. Brady has agreed to throw a ball across the harbour to Ricciardo, who’s bobbing around on a nearby speedboat. Amazingly, the Red Bull driver catches it and even punts it back to the New England Patriots legend.
Race day is another early start, and involves me interviewing Mika Hakkinen on his yacht, as he celebrates the 20th anniversary of his first championship win. Somehow he has managed to get his title-winning McLaren on to the yacht, and it looks incredible, even two decades old.
Then it’s off to prepare for the track parade, where the drivers do a pre-race lap of the circuit to wave to fans. I interview them as they wiggle through the streets on an open-top truck. I always find it interesting to see which drivers stand together – it normally goes by nationality, but it’s telling to see who is friends with whom. F1 is unique in this respect – I don’t know another sport where the contenders are interviewed so close to performing.
The race is incredibly tense for the pole-sitter Ricciardo, who after just two laps loses 25 percent of his power and has to drive a smart, measured race to prevent Vettel from beating him to the chequered flag. After being robbed of the win in 2016, Ricciardo is desperate for victory, and when it comes there are tears from his parents Joe and Grace, who have made the trip from Australia to support their son.
Everyone is too exhausted to go out after the race, so it’s back to our Airbnb villa for a very chilled barbecue. The next day, energy levels have improved, so we go en masse to a local beach party with live music, and dancing. A fitting family fun-filled end to a gloriously chaotic, action-packed race week.
Natalie Pinkham is a presenter for Sky Sports F1.