MONACO – The Tip Top Bar has been located in 11 Avenues de Spelugues in Monaco since 1938.
Its facade has witnessed every Monaco Grand Prix since World War II, and legend has it that Graham Hill danced once on the bistro tables after one of his five Monaco victories in the 1960s.
However, in the 2021 COVID reality, Tip Top’s tables are stacked behind closed doors and partying is strictly limited by Monaco’s 11pm. Curfew and a sign at the entrance remind guests to wear a face mask for the safety of staff.
Even in the diluted world of Monaco, where studio apartments start at € 2 million and supercars have more taxis, the pandemic has left its mark. When needed, prove that money is not the solution to all of life’s problems.
The fans will be there this weekend – the 78th round of the most famous Formula 1 Grand Prix – but the temporary grandstands on the circuit will only be 40 percent occupied.
The lucky 7,500 who managed to get a ticket must have a negative COVID-19 test when traveling from outside Monaco, have official government documents with them at all times, and wear a face mask when trying to get 1.5 meters to stay away from each other in the network of narrow passages around the racetrack.
But for an hour on Thursday morning, just a few meters from the entrance to Tip Top, a touch of normalcy returned to the Principality of Monaco.
For the first time in 24 months, the sound of a Formula 1 car echoed off the concrete apartment blocks of Monte Carlo, and as is the local tradition at that time in May, Monaco residents went to their balconies to see what everything happened fuss went around.
Tip Top is just 200 meters past the highest point on the circuit, and the next half mile of the route winds back to sea level through two switchbacks, Mirabeau and Fairmont Hairpin.
When you watch TV on TV, the ride looks just as pleasant as the scenery, but you stand by the side of the road and see, hear and smell the forces involved.
The Fairmont Haripin, named after the hotel that overlooks the track on one side and hangs over the Mediterranean on the other, is the slowest corner in Formula 1.
That may not sound very exciting, but even here, in the slowest moments of a flying lap, F1 cars are a thrill when viewed up close.
As they approach the Fairmont, drivers cross one side of the track to the other, flash over road markings that mark a motorcycle parking area, and apply the brakes.
As they shift down gears, the noises and pops of the transmission sound like a civil war re-enactment as the transmission reluctantly accepts the driver’s request for first gear.
The car slows to 30 mph, which happens to be the speed limit for the rest of the year when the same asphalt is clogged with scooters, cars, and buses crawling on their way.
As soon as the transmission has triggered its battle cry, the front tires have to chirp in protest as the driver whips the steering wheel to the left and presses the full lock.
Initially, the tires are unwilling to cooperate, scrubbing and protruding above the road surface before they finally bite the car and hook into the curve.
At two meters wide, an F1 car isn’t designed to turn through such a tight radius, and it shows.
The entire vehicle appears to withstand the maneuver, and the front wing suffers some collateral damage as its titanium tip scrapes across the road, leaving a trail of sparks.
To complete the 180-degree turn, drivers must squeeze the throttle and slide the car against the raised curb on the right, risking possible tire damage if the tire makes contact.
It is an unworthy few seconds for such a fine piece of technology, but Grand Prix cars have been dealing with precisely that hairpin turn for 92 years and it remains a remarkable sight.
It’s like riding a dirt bike in a supermarket
The three-time world champion Nelson Piquet, who drove in Formula 1 in the late 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, compared driving a lap in Monaco to “cycling in your living room”.
But in modern cars that are several seconds per lap faster than in Piquet’s day, the analogy has taken a step forward.
“It is true, it is so,” Daniel Ricciardo, Grand Prix winner of Monaco 2018, told ESPN after Thursday’s practice session.
“But I’d say it’s like a dirt bike in a supermarket now – it’s crazy.
“When you’re in the car you’re fascinated by everything, so we don’t have time to think about how crazy it is.
“I remember once watching the Formula 2 car through the swimming pool [chicane] and into the Rascasse [corner]and I just thought, “It’s so tight, it’s so fast … it just doesn’t make sense!”
“It’s still scary. But a good kind of scary.”
The tight track in Monaco requires a different approach than any other on the F1 schedule, and drivers have to prepare for it within just three hours of training before qualifying.
“It’s so unique,” added Ricciardo, who drives for McLaren.
“If you compare it to Barcelona, where we were two weeks ago [for the Spanish Grand Prix] and everything is somehow normal – you have your 100 meter boards and you brake on it, it’s just not the same here.
“The 100-meter boards mean nothing [in Monaco]You have to find different references, the grip is low and even your driving style is not that traditional.
“You just have to find out right away.”
As impressive as it is to watch F1 drivers live on their instincts during a qualifying lap in Monaco, the race itself is often an anti-climax.
The tight layout means that overtaking is next to impossible and races are often won on Saturday by qualifying in pole position and staying in the lead at the start of the race.
Ricciardo did just that when he won the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix, and even managed to maintain the lead once the hybrid element of his engine failed and slowed his car’s performance by 160 hp.
He celebrated the win by dropping into the pool at the Red Bull Hospitality Unit and instantly taking one of the most iconic Monaco photos of the past few years.
“Someone asked me about that race the other day and they said, ‘It was probably the best day of your life, wasn’t it?
“I said those moments in the pool were probably the best moments of my life, but the day itself sucked!
“I hated the day because it was just full of stress and fear.
“Qualifying is still the most stressful day [of a Monaco weekend]But if you put it on pole you still have the stress: “If I don’t turn that into a win, then I did the worst you can do in Monaco because you.” to have convert off the shelf ‘.
“I remember [two-time Monaco winner] Mark Webber came up to me the day I was having lunch – and obviously he wasn’t trying to pressure, he was trying to give me advice – but all those moments I was like ‘f —!’ .
“I could really feel that everyone really wanted me to execute and win, but I couldn’t escape anyone to focus on.
“Even to the point that when I stopped on the grid after the formation lap and lined up in P1, I don’t know if it rained overnight, but there was still a bit of water on the inner barrier and I felt it I felt like I had parked the car on the right too much and felt like my right wheel was on a damp patch [which would impact the start].
“Even as I was waiting on the grid for the other cars to get there, I said, ‘oh f —!’.
“Nothing about this race felt good other than leading into Turn 1.”
Although there will be fewer fans and less atmosphere in the stands on Sunday, the race at this year’s Monaco Grand Prix will be no different.
Anyone who starts from pole position probably has the same nerves, the same concerns on the grid and the same relief if he leads to the exit of Turn 1.
Despite the year-long absence and the presence of COVID logs this weekend, the magic of Monaco is still there.