We got into F1 racing the way the most Americans have and in the most American way possible. We watched the Netflix series, F1: Drive to Survive. We began watching in January of 2022. I became way more entrenched in the sport than I ever imagined. I chose a favorite team. It’s Scuderia Ferrari. (I am a fan of the Buffalo Bills, so I am accustomed to cheering for an underdog.) I zeroed in on a couple favorite drivers, Charles LeClerc and Carlos Sainz. I didn’t choose them because they were the current leaders. I chose them because they seemed like good, solid guys, not unlike Josh Allen and Jim Kelly. We got an F1 TV membership and began watching the races on race day. I have followed along with live updates of qualifying sessions and have watched races on my phone when I wasn’t near a television. I have woken up multiple times at 5 a.m. to watch a race happening across the globe in real time. I may have issues. There is so much more I have yet to learn about the sport, but I’m hooked.
Years ago, my youngest sister told us for her 50th she wanted to experience the Monaco Grand Prix, and it was her wish we would join her in this adventure. We started researching and saving. Last fall, I got online an snatched up grandstand seats for us. Then I secured lodging in Nice because, well, we aren’t A-list celebrities with A-list bank accounts who can stay in Monaco. I bought some Ferrari merch. We were really going to do this. On May 25th, two days before my 55th birthday, we landed in France, F1 tickets in hand.
It’s not easy to encapsulate what happens in Monaco on Grand Prix weekend. The city state of Monaco, encompassing an area of land roughly 60% the size of New York’s Central Park, swells from 37k residents to roughly 200k people. DJs pump club tunes through speakers. It’s not a place for agoraphobics or claustrophobics. Myriad fans in all their team paraphernalia follow signs through winding, fenced passageway and, in some cases, over recently constructed bridges over the race track, to reach the grandstands. Each grandstand offers a unique vantage point of the race. Ear plugs are a wise choice. I got the chills the first time I heard the cars in the midst of their first practice. I could not believe I was actually there. None of us could. The race is iconic. The location is beautiful. The yachts are plentiful. The mix of languages being spoken is mind boggling. The excitement is palpable everywhere you walk.
My husband and I attended two practices and qualification to prepare ourselves for race day.
Between the driver’s parade and the race, Steve and I decided the Monaco Grand Prix experience would not be complete without some libations. We noticed you could purchase an entire bottle of champagne. Done, thank you very much. With paper cups and straws in hand, we texted our group our shaded location and told them to hurry. We started pouring and when everyone had a cup we tried to made a toast to commemorate our day. A woman who was standing nearby offered to take our group photo. Okay. That happens all the time, right? Well, this particular woman wasn’t just a kind onlooker. She was a gem, the kind of person my sisters and I would love to be friends with in real life back home, bold, hysterical, and smart as a whip. We stood conversing with her for a while after she took the photo, learning she was at the race with her daughter and husband. She’s from Virginia. We gabbed and giggled with her like we were long-lost friends. We gave her a cup and asked her name. She told us we would never forget it. She was right. Blythe was fabulous. Before she went back to her husband and daughter, I asked if she’d be willing to be in a photo with us. Of course she would. Sometimes I really do love Americans. We promised we would toast to her for the remainder of our trip and we did. Each night we raised our glasses and toasted Blythe, the kind stranger who became an instant friend.
As for the race itself, F1 fans will tell you Monaco is not the most exciting race on the calendar. It is a narrow road circuit and passing is risky in the few places where it is possible. Two-time World Champion and current 2023 championship leader, Max Verstappen, started on pole position and with the fastest car on the grid was basically assured a victory. I watched Carlos and Charles, hoping one of them would make it onto the podium at the end of the race. A little more than halfway through the race, Max was well ahead of his closest competition. We’re talking like 17 seconds ahead. Max would whiz by and what felt like an eternity would pass until the next driver appeared. Max was stomping the competition like they were buildings in Tokyo and he was was Godzilla. We began to pray for rain to make things more interesting. About ten laps later, the sky opened up. Boy-Scout-level-prepared, I had ponchos for all six of us. We donned them, sat in the stands while the rain fell steadily, and watched driver’s slip around the Tabac Corner. Despite a few incidents among other drivers, Max won again to the delight of many fans in the crowd.
When the race was over and the cars were taking their final lap, the yachts in the harbor began sounding their horns. It was something else. While the race had not gone the way I hoped, the experience of the Monaco Grand Prix was everything I’d hoped for.
It’s never lost on me how fortunate I am to have “once-in-a-lifetime” experiences filling my memories. Swimming through the Green Grotto at Capri, hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, being close enough to an elephant in Tanzania to see her eyelashes, watching a blue-footed booby interact with my sons in the Galapagos Islands, witnessing a sunrise on Haleakala. The older I get, the more I am able to be present in these experiences and the more I understand how precious they are. I see so many people today in amazing locations and at impressive events, not noticing and experiencing, but preening and posing for photos they will share to prove they were there. I saw tons of them in Monaco, with an entourage filming an experience they were not really having, only documenting. We’ve become so obsessed with creating FOMO with our myriad selfies and our constant filming and posting that we don’t often recognize we may be the ones missing out.