F1 drivers feel at home in Monaco

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AFP

Nico Rosberg gets ready for the first practice session at the Circuit de Monaco on Thursday.

It is hard to improve on Nelson Piquet's description of the Monaco Grand Prix as like trying to ride a bicycle around his living room.

Not only are the twisting, metal-fenced streets of the principality narrow and lined with numerous hazardous obstacles ready to trip the unwary, but they bring with them an unexpected homeliness.

Silverstone, Suzuka and Monza all have their special characteristics, particularly the thrill of racing on such fast and demanding layouts, but nowhere are the Formula One drivers more at home than slow-speed Monaco.

Most of those on the starting grid live, have lived or will live in Monaco at some time in their careers. Some have even grown up there.

The billionaires have their floating palaces, bobbing on the not-so sparkling waters of the crowded harbour, celebrities and fashionistas can shop all day while gamblers fritter away fortunes in the imposing casino.

The racing community can meanwhile get on with something approaching normal life.

For Nico Rosberg, son of 1982 champion Keke and now a race winner in his own right, the track brings memories of the school run, either rumbling through the tunnel on the bus or in the passenger seat of his mother's car.

“I've grown up here, all my friends are here and my family, I know everybody and it's very special to race here,” said the German in a Mercedes preview for the 70th running of the sport's glamour event.

McLaren's 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton, a favourite for Sunday's race, arrived only this year but has already fallen in love with a daily workout routine that involves jogging through the same tunnel.

“I love it here. To be able to wake up in your own bed and drive just down the road and be at work is a fantastic feeling,” said the 27-year-old, who found his previous residence in Switzerland too quiet for his liking.

“It's incredible to run around your favourite circuit every day. I go through the tunnel and I just cannot believe that I'm here,” he added.

“You have to pinch yourself every day, thinking 'Wow, I'm running through the tunnel that the greats like Michael (Schumacher) and Ayrton (Senna) used to race around and now I'm one of those drivers but also living here'.”

LOCAL LIFE

Racing drivers rarely get to spend much time at home in a packed season, with 20 races and an increasing number of long haul destinations, so every opportunity is to be treasured.

In a world of hectic PR appointments, sponsor photoshoots and travelling, Monaco allows a rare escape even on a crowded grand prix weekend.

“For sure it's really good to be here and to race at the same time. I can sleep a little bit more as well, so it's good,” said Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado, winner of the Spanish Grand Prix for Williams last time out and a Monaco resident since last year.

For drivers, this is a race where the excitement can literally be seen building up as the scaffolding for grandstands is erected weeks in advance and barriers are bolted together.

There is also the camaraderie that comes with being part of any small, highly focused community.

Drivers such as McLaren's Jenson Button, Force India's Paul Di Resta and ex-Red Bull racer David Coulthard cycle and run together in the Mediterranean sunshine.

The locals also become part of the event.

“I have lived here for 20 years and the thing you realise is that the people who work on the race track are also the people who live and work in Monaco - the police, the pompiers,” said retired double champion Mika Hakkinen.

“In everyday life, these are the guys you see in the street and they say 'Hi' as you walk past. To win in Monaco is like winning in your home streets, and you recognise faces all through the weekend.” -Reuters


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