Monaco has rolled around again, and I can't be the only one who thinks it's a bit odd to have the race this early in the season: we only started the season last week, how can it be time to go to Monte Carlo already? Although it turned out to be helpful in one respect: when my flight home was cancelled in Barcelona, it gave me an option other than camping out in the airport for a few days.
“Where are you now?” Marco asked after getting back to Geneva and finding out I was left behind. “Can you meet up with Christian? He is still there, and will drive to Monaco tomorrow, if that helps.” A few calls later and it was arranged: with flights to London cancelled for the next few days, a road trip with the caterers promised unexpected salvation.
Christian and his crew were at the circuit until 1.30 in the morning, but at 8.00 they were packed and piling into the Espace for the long drive to southern France, with Christian driving the whole way and asking me constantly if I was alright or needed a stop: I'd had a full night's sleep and was still tired, so I have no idea how they do it. “It's normal,” he stated matter of factly as we pushed through Montpelier, “I sleep maybe 4 hours a night during the season: it's just how it is.”
His crew all defer to Christian, a father figure for many in the paddock, and their easygoing familiarity was obvious in every joke, every comment to each other, in how they use the diminutives of each others names, Fabri and Fede and Ale, in how they live in each other's pockets day and night and still have a hug or a cigarette or an affectionate nudge for each other when it's needed.
Their lives are like those of circus workers, travelling from town to town before setting up for the next show, relying on each other constantly to get through. Christian would point out each truck as we rushed by - “there's the Ferrari motorhome, there's HRT and Force India, oh, there's Ludovic in ours” - proud to be able to share some of his life with someone new. “The new GP3 truck is nice, no problems: it's faster than the GP2 truck, you know...”
And before we knew it we were in Monaco, with the guys setting up the kitchen and hospitality areas while Christian battled through the traffic to go and buy the supplies for the weekend as the F1 trucks came the opposite way, down the hill to the principality. “You see, this is why we push so hard to get there early: the traffic is impossible, so if we can get here quick then maybe we can have a little break before everyone gets here.”
It wasn't to be, as usual, as the GP2 trucks arrived at the same time as us, and the entire car park complex was a blur of activity almost immediately: back to back races leave almost no time to get everything done, so every second counts.
But just because everyone was busy, it didn't mean there was no time for a few cheeky comments. “Good morning Mister Prime Minister,” almost everyone smirked as they walked into the hospitality area, “where's your kilt?” The failure to get home meant that I wasn't able to live up to my now regular habit (although I wear it for my birthday really, which is 2 weeks away this year as Monaco has been pushed forward). But I was able to get out and pick up some very French looking check shorts, which were controversial enough to fill in for the errant tartan ensemble.
It was all quickly forgotten as free practice got under way in perfect conditions, the drivers all slightly nervous about putting the car into the wall with qualifying just a few hours away. They needn't have worried, as all bar one had no dramas to report, even if the cost was a little bit of ultimate performance. Pastor Maldonado picked up where he left off last year with just another expert Monaco performance: so fast was he that his best time put him ahead of three of the F1 cars in their first free practice.
They weren't too amused in the big paddock down the hill: the difference was the talk of the media centre, and when one journalist noted that Bruno Senna had raced and won here before and asked him straight-faced what was the main difference between F1 and GP2 in Monaco, the Brazilian deadpanned “in GP2 the car is quicker.”
Lucas di Grassi's time would have put him second in the GP2 session, with Bruno and teammate Karun Chandhok a little further back, but they're all ex-GP2 drivers: I'm sure they just wanted to feel like part of the gang again.
Qualifying was the polar opposite of practice, however, with a few spits of rain hitting its stride and turning into a deluge just as the green light went on in the pitlane, and stopping just as the session ended. It's exclusive rain just for GP2, one wag noted after the session: Bernie probably organised it so that we don't embarrass F1 again. Although technical director Didier Perrin had no problems with the rain at all: “It was great, because it gave us a chance to see that the reverse gear works really well!”
And then it was back to the car park for everyone, once again: the teams were back to working on the cars, Christian and the gang were preparing dinner for everyone, and I was back writing about it all. It never takes long for Monaco to get back to what it does best, no matter when we get here.